Few stories are more beloved than J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and as Amazon Studios is set to release Prime Video's The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power series (premiering Sept. 2), the lofty, unavoidable questions are, will the series do Tolkien’s work justice and how will the show compare to Peter Jackson’s famed films?
“As filmmakers, storytellers and fans of Lord of the Rings and J.R.R. Tolkien, obviously huge admirers of Peter’s films in this world,...certainly that sets a high bar,” showrunner Patrick McKay said. “I think in some ways, we felt liberated from that particular pressure because we're telling a story that's thousands of years before those stories are set, it's a different Middle-earth,...that allowed us to kind of approach Tolkien, hopefully, from a different perspective, but a perspective that we always hoped would feel familiar.”
“There is no pressure greater than the pressure we put on ourselves… I think we also felt that our job and our responsibility was to just be true to the ideas and when in doubt, go back to the books.”
'Anyone who comes to that kind of wisdom and self awareness comes by it hard'
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, establishing some of the characters we met in the The Lord of the Rings. A key player in this story is Galadriel (Morfydd Clark), played by Cate Blanchett in Peter Jackson’s movies, but in The Rings of Power Galadriel has committed to a journey to avenge her brother’s death after a war with Sauron. While everyone believes Sauron has been defeated, Galadriel thinks otherwise and is on a journey to find the lurking evil.
“The goal with this show is to go deep into the texts and go back to Tolkien, and go back to the books,” Patrick McKay explained. “In the case of Galadriel, she’s such a beloved character and she's so wise, and this incredible ethereal presence welcoming the Fellowship into the woods in 'The Mirror of Galadriel' and the other chapters around it, but on that part of their journey in the books, she also alludes to a real history, she talks about her own temptation to evil,...she talks about knowing Sauron’s mind and knowing darkness and knowing evil.”
“Anyone who comes to that kind of wisdom and self-awareness comes by it hard and we thought that there might be a really wonderful journey for her going way back, maybe before she'd attained all that wisdom, but where she's still powerful and, in her own way, hunting down evil and confronting darkness.”
For Morfydd Clark, who plays Galadriel, while it might seem like a lot of pressure to take on a character that is so recognizable from Jackson’s films, the actor actually thought of it as a positive tool for her work, but still stresses that it was a “a big responsibility.”
“It's a previous-future version, which I find quite useful,” Clark said. “It's nice to know where your character ends up.”
“Those films are so amazing and obviously Galadriel was Cate Blanchett, so very amazing. I kind of just took that as another kind of positive, [to have] so much available to research. As someone who grew up watching Lord of the Rings, reading the books, and kind of being part of the fandom, I guess, I knew that it was a big responsibility. There was a pressure to do it justice, but that was because I knew it was beloved.”
'We're not super into spectacle for spectacle sake'
When The Rings of Power series was announced, headlines flashed about its massive budget, which is evident from the impressive scale and stunning visuals seen right at the outset of the show, but Patrick McKay stresses that it's not “spectacle for spectacle sake.”
“We felt there was so much there that hadn't been seen on screen before and we were determined to realize it in a way that had the scope and the breadth, and the depth, of what we feel when we read those books,” McKay explained. “We're not super into spectacle for spectacle sake,...but we do think there's a special emotional connection in those books and it means something to people, and there's a reason for that, it's timeless and it's universal.”
“Talking about numbers and budgets can sort of make for a flashy headline, but really, we hope when people tune in, they just feel immersed in a fully realized world, because that's what we feel when we read the books.”
“I hope people see the money is on the screen,” executive producer Lindsey Weber added. “I think new Middle-earth needed to be done right, if we're going to do it all, and it's a grand sweeping place that we've tried to capture on screen.”
'A blessing and a curse' to create new characters
For Patrick McKay and his co-showrunner JD Payne, and executive producer Lindsey Weber, one of the most exciting aspects of creating this prequel story was being able to mix characters fans of the books and films have experience before with new characters to enrich this landscape.
For the actors who didn’t have J.R.R. Tolkien’s past texts to work from in developing their characters, there were some benefits, as well as disadvantages, to working on characters specifically created for The Rings of Power.
“I don't necessarily think it's easier, I think there are different challenges,” Charlie Vickers, who plays Halbrand, explained. “You don't have direct source material to give you your character, or to give you more clues to your character.”
“I didn't feel like I was working on a clean slate, basically, in creating this original character, I felt like I was able to build upon the essence of Tolkien and I think that's what the original characters do so well in this show,...they have Tolkien within them.”
“I think it's a blessing and a curse,” Tyroe Muhafidin who plays Theo added. “It's really nice to have a level of creative freedom with the character and the fans sort of don't already have an expectation of what the character should be like.”
“It's almost like I'm building this character from the ground up alongside JD and Patrick, who have given me a lot of guidance and a lot of context. I've grabbed what they've said and I've interpreted it to try to find a way to bring that out on screen. But obviously, sometimes it would be nice to have source material that you can go to... It works really well, at the same time, it is a little disappointing, but it's all part of the fun of the job.”
Many of the cast members are in agreement that what really makes this new series work is that it was created by fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work.
“The show is being made by fans, JD and Patrick, everyone who's involved in this process,...fans are in the process,” Leon Wadham, who plays Kemen said. “Everyone wants to make this the best thing it can possibly be, we’re excited to share it.”
“I don't personally feel any pressure to be part of the franchise because I very much trust all the people that have come together and worked so hard, and so passionately and so diligently on creating the world,” Sara Zwangobani who plays Marigold Brandyfoot also indicated. “I think that people have thought long and hard, and passionately, about this project.”
“I think at the end of the day, all you can do is do your best on it and then we take it to the world, and we let people decide for themselves.”