The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a hallmark of amazing cinema. It has won an unprecedented amount of awards, and the books they're based off of were the first of their kind (epic or high fantasy, the kind that takes place in another world).
Now, over fifteen years after The Return of the King hit theaters and swept the Oscars, people are still curious about how such an ambitious project came to be. What happened behind the scenes, what are some of the characters' backstories, and if Sir Christopher Lee actually know what sound someone makes when they're stabbed, how exactly did he come by that little tidbit of information?
Well, we have assembled fifteen of the craziest, funniest, and amazing facts that make The Lord of the Rings what it is today.
15 Eowyn was inspired by Tolkien's daughter.
We all know that The Lord of the Rings series was published in the 1940s, so Tolkien can be forgiven for having an all-dude cast and keeping all the women on the sidelines. Except, his daughter didn't like that. She read The Fellowship of the Ring right after it came out, and when Tolkien asked her what she thought, her response was along the lines of, "Well, it's cool and all. I love the world-building. But...where are all the girls? Can you have one woman doing something cool? Like, oh, I don't know...ending the Witch King?"
So that's how Eowyn was created. And thank goodness, too, because she's one of the coolest people in the whole story! No wonder Faramir fell in love with her.
14 Big feet, big effort.
With a world as rich and fantastical as Middle Earth, it makes sense that there would be a lot of makeup and even prosthetics involved in recreating it on screen. Orlando Bloom, for instance, had his fake ears and blue contact lenses. But it was the hobbits of the main cast who had the toughest time looking good. Actors Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, and Elijah Wood all needed a specific set of makeup and prosthetics for their roles as Hobbits of the Shire, and they had to wake up earlier than anyone else to get it done. It took an hour and a half to glue on their cute hairy feet. And even when all was said and done, they usually had to get re-glued later in the day.
13 Viggo Mortensen: Matchmaker and Heartbreaker
Apparently, Viggo Mortensen (who played Aragorn) is a bit of a heartbreaker who loves to spread the love. Not that anyone is surprised. There was at least once instance where he was filming an intense scene with Bernard Hill (King Theoden), where the two characters are arguing about the upcoming war, and instead of replying with his line Viggo kissed him on the cheek.
While that was a practical joke, Viggo did use his kissing abilities for good.
You know that adorable wedding at the end of Return of the King where Sam and Rosie finally get married? Well, apparently the actors were having a little trouble with the scene. So Viggo decided to inspire them by giving a little demonstration with Billy Boyd (Peregrin Took).
In a documentary, Boyd said, “Viggo grabs me and kisses me hard on the mouth. I mean like, I’ve never been kissed from man nor woman and…by god. I saw stars and I think I fell in love for a split second and then I felt a bit sick.”
12 It ain't easy being grey.
Most of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed in New Zealand. It's a gorgeous country, but in the summer, it can get pretty toasty. And that's without all the costumes: armor, cloaks, and layer upon layer of clothing and makeup. And then there are the poor souls who have beards, like Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf).
Gandalf may be known for his long cloak and iconic gray hat. But off-screen, it was a different story. The man has to find some way to keep cool, after all. In this behind the scenes photo, taken in 2000 while filming on the set of The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King, McKellen is chilling under an umbrella with a baseball cap and sunglasses. Normally I'd scorn a guy who uses an umbrella when it's not raining, but the man walks around in a cloak with a staff and can probably kill us all with his pinky. I'll save my jokes for later.
11 Mini Tirith
One of the greatest things about the Lord of the Rings series is its strong attention to detail and amazing production quality. We'd get wide, sweeping shots of beautiful cities and terrifying citadels that don't even exist. For close-up scenes that include characters, that's relatively easy to do: you build some props for them to interact with and cover the rest of the area in a bright green screen. But how did they get those shots of the entire city of Minas Tirith?
This is how.
They created a miniaturized version of the entire city of Minas Tirith, then played with the lightning and cameras so it looked like the real thing on screen. It's unbelievable. That thing must have taken weeks, if not months to build.
10 Viggo Mortensen: Horse Whisperer
Considering the fact that Viggo Mortensen later went on to film the movie Hidalgo, which is based entirely around the relationship between a man and his horse, the fact that he absolutely fell in love with the horses he worked with during The Lord of the Rings is no surprise. Brego, whose real name is Uraeus, especially. Brego isn't in the books, but he's the horse that Aragorn rides in The Two Towers the The Return of the King.
After the filming was all said and done, Mortensen decided to purchase Uraeus, as well as several other horses that he worked with during production. In an interview with Horse Nation, Mortensen said, “I bought the two horses I rode in Lord of the Rings, as well. I bought the one in Lord of the Rings 'cause I had – even though I wasn’t with him all the time, I just developed a real good friendship with him.”
9 This happened:
In the Lord of the Rings universe, the Nazgul are Sauron's most feared and terrible servants. Known as Ringwraths, they are merciless, relentless, and downright terrifying. And that's only when they're on horseback! When they got their hands on the winged fellbeasts, then it just got worse. Because now they could fly. Not even Gandalf could kill them. It took a very angry Eowyn to defeat their leader, and the destruction of the Ring to take out the rest.
But apparently, the Nazgul (or at least the men playing them), weren't a fan of getting rained on.
One day, during the filming of The Fellowship of the Ring, it rained. This naturally led to the actors using umbrellas when they were off-camera. Which naturally led to this.
I can die happy, now.
8 Sir Christopher Lee was a bigger, sassier BAMF than anyone ever thought.
Sir Christopher Lee, who played Saruman, was a not-so-secret BAMF. In addition to playing this pivotal role, he was also a veteran of World War Two before coming to Hollywood.
In a scene that never made it to theaters, but is in the book and extended pack (yet another reason every true LOTR geek should watch the extended edition), Saruman is literally stabbed in the back by his trusted servant Wormtongue (played by Brad Dourif), then tossed off the tower and into the water, which is how Pippin finds the orb (it was in Saruman's sleeve when he fell).
Peter Jackson attempted to prep Lee for the big scene, but apparently the veteran was having none of it and said, “Have you any idea what kind of noise happens when somebody’s stabbed in the back? Because I do.”
7 Arwen and Aragorn are cousins
...about seventy times removed, so it's okay.
Weird, and probably enough to put a little damp washcloth over Arwenagorn shippers, but okay.
Arwen, as we all know, is Elrond's daughter. What most people don't know is that Elrond had a brother named Elros, and the two of them actually aren't full-blooded elves. They're half-elves, with the ability to choose between mortal or immortal lives. Elrond obviously chose to live as an elf, while Elros decided that that was too mainstream and instead picked life as a mortal. He then had kids with another mortal, and eventually it all went down to Aragorn. This is why Aragorn, even though a mortal man, has lived for so long and will continue to live for a while yet (he was eighty-seven at the time of his coronation).
6 The trilogy was originally two movies, then one, then three.
The script for this movie series went through a ton of revisions. Originally it was supposed to be only two movies. But then executive producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein looked at the massive budget that was only getting bigger, and tried to convince Jackson to condense it all into just one movie. Thank goodness Jackson refused to budge, and instead landed three movies! Could you imagine how weird these films would be if they'd tried to squish everything into one or two movies? They were going to get rid of Eowyn entirely! Arwen was going to be the one to dress as a man and kill the Witch-king, which admittedly would have made Arwen a lot cooler and less damsel in distress-y, but Eowyn! Plus, Rohan and Gondor were at one point combined into one kingdom to cut out all the politics between the two. And the Mines of Moria? Glossed over as a flashback told by an older Frodo Baggins. Excuse you, but Sir Ian McKellan does not pass away off-screen.
5 Viggo Mortensen hopefully had very good health insurance.
Everyone got their butts kicked during the filming of these movies. Orlando Bloom, for instance, broke a couple of ribs. But Viggo Mortensen especially had it rough. The man is a magnet for injuries. And swooning ladies and fellow actors. But mostly injuries. One of the best-known injuries he had was when he was filming The Two Towers: he broke two toes when he kicked the (very heavy) orc helmet and let out that scream of defeat. Jackson later recalled that,
"Viggo turned a broken toe into a performance."
Because he's just that big of a BAMF. During another fighting sequence, Elijah Wood remembered that Mortensen got "half of his tooth knocked out during a fight sequence," and then he insisted "on applying superglue to put it back in to keep working.”
4 Sir Christopher Lee really wanted to play Gandalf.
One of the most evil wizards of our time was a huge Lord of the Rings fanboy, and his first choice was to play Gandalf. Not that we can blame him. Everyone wants to be Gandalf. He played a wizard in the TV series The New Adventures of Robin Hood specifically "to show anyone who was watching that I could play a wizard and that I would be ideal casting for The Lord of the Rings." Well, he did get to play a wizard. Just not his first pick. Later, as a joke, he sent a picture of himself in gray wizard robes, even though he was pretty sure Jackson had already made up his mind to cast him as Saruman.
Fun fact: Lee actually met J.R.R. Tolkien in person, and later said in an interview with Cinefantastique, "I was very much in awe of him, as you can imagine." Yes, we can imagine, and we are soooo jealous that we missed seeing it in person.
3 Bob Weinstein really wanted to end a hobbit.
Jackson recalled the conversation he had with executive producer Bob Weinstein in an interview: “‘Well, we can’t have [all of them surviving],’ he said, ‘we’ve got to [redacted] a Hobbit! I don’t care which one; you can pick—I’m not telling you who it should be: you pick out who you want to kill, but we’ve really got to [redacted] one of those Hobbits!’ In situations like that, you just nod and smile and say, ‘Well, that’s something we can consider.’”
Could you imagine what would have happened if Jackson had decided to go for it?
Which hobbit do you kill? And how? Do you have Pippin killed by Denethor as he tries to save Faramir? Have the Witch-king take out Merry during his fight with Eowyn? God forbid you so much as touch Frodo or Sam! (It probably would've been Sam. It just makes sense, story-wise.)
2 Bill the pony was actually two men in a horse costume.
You remember Bill the pony, right? He was not only in the movies, but also appeared in the books, giving one of the orcs who tormented him during the invasion of the Shire a fatal kick. The lovable pony was actually played by two people in a pony costume: one in front, and one in back. And it was hellish to work with. “We had a terrible struggle to get the pony to walk through the marshes because the performers were completely blind, buried in this costume and up to their waists in a real swamp,” shared Jackson. “Bill would try to walk and then would start to wobble and everyone would have to rush in and catch him before he fell over! There was one hilarious moment where the front legs moved without the back legs and Bill got stretched into a sort of long sausage dog!”
It was probably for the best. Viggo Mortensen had already purchased enough horses. He didn't need another.
1 One of the biggest, most gut-wrenching scene of the whole trilogy was filmed over the course of a year.
Obviously movies aren't made overnight, especially not a trilogy like Lord of the Rings. The actors would film a scene from the beginning, then the very end, then bounce around the middle, then go back to the beginning, etc. But the most extreme example of this was the scene in Return of the King, where Gollum has convinced Frodo that Sam has betrayed them and eaten all of their food, so Frodo orders him to go home, and Sam just breaks down. That scene was filmed over the course of a year. First they filmed Sam's part, then did Frodo's.
"So, every time we cut to and fro between Frodo and Sam we are actually jumping back and forth across a year-long gap,” explained Jackson.
In fact, Elijah Wood asked to redo his part as Frodo, because the script originally called for him to scream at Sam to go home, and he didn't like that. So they dressed him up in all his hobbit gear and re-shot it so instead it was a much quiet, much more powerful "Go home."