The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is reported to be the most expensive TV series ever made. There will be around 50 hours of television in all spanning five seasons, with Season 1 encompassing eight episodes. The story, for those that don’t know, is adapted and expanded from JRR Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings saga and its appendices and tells the story of events in Middle-earth’s Second Age. It’s set around 4000 years before Bilbo and Frodo’s adventures in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings respectively, and recounts the story of Sauron’s re-emergence, the forging of the Great Rings, and the downfall of Númenor — the island kingdom of Men.
The series follows in the footsteps of some notable Tolkien adaptations – not only Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning trilogy but also Ralph Bakshi’s cult 1978 animation which Jackson cites as an influence. But more importantly than matching either of those in terms of their impact, The Rings of Power must live up to the expectations of Tolkien fans. To do that, the series has to be both faithful to Tolkien’s writings – as faithful as it can be working from (albeit detailed) snippets of backstory from the book and appendices – and capture the right tone. That, so Celebrimbor actor Charles Edwards told us in an interview earlier this month, is the key to a successful adaptation.
So how exactly do they do that? We caught up with Edwards and the rest of the cast at San Diego Comic-Con, where Edwards elucidated on his answer.
Capturing the Tolkien Tone
We’re chatting after the show’s spectacular panel in Hall H in which composer Bear McCreary, who created the series music alongside Howard Shore, opened proceedings by conducting a full orchestra. Playing music from the series, there were even singers performing in Elvish.
“Music, for an example,” begins Edwards, whose character Celebrimbor is the pivotal Elf responsible for crafting the three Elven Rings. You can read more about Celebrimbor and his role in The Rings of Power in our exclusive interview here.
“That music [played during the panel] made us cry when we heard it,” continues Edwards. “It’s all about soul. It’s humanity. And, you know, the struggle — and all those things. Actually, the music is a very good example of it. It encapsulates exactly what I meant. In terms of acting, it’s respect for the source — always return to the source material. And that’s how you get the tone right. And that’s how I know that we’ve done it.”
Edwards mentions both “humanity” and “the struggle”. While Tolkien’s stories feature all manner of races and creatures from Men, Dwarves, and Hobbits to Elves and Orcs, the academic and author’s writing is about the human experience, the struggle of being human and the battle against darker impulses, and the importance of ‘humanity’ as defined in terms of being ‘good’ and kind; it’s about the importance of the prevalence of benevolence, altruism, and empathy over their opposites. During the SDCC panel, co-showrunner JD Payne emphasized that this is what the series is essentially about.
“It’s a human story,” said Payne, which asks “how far into the darkness would you go to protect the things you love the most?”
Does this mean that the darkness is something that all of the characters struggle with?
Heart of Darkness
“I think we can all feel it,” says Sophia Nomvete who plays Princess Disa, wife of Owain Arthur’s Durin IV and the first-ever woman Dwarf portrayed on screen in a Tolkien adaptation. (We saw Dwarf women briefly in The Hobbit but they were background characters.) “We all know that it’s there. It’s almost like a bird’s eye view, there’s just this rumble across the entirety of Middle-earth. And every single Kingdom, race, or section of Middle-earth is just feeling the heat and feeling the ripple. Over the course of the season, and time, you will see how all of the above will affect us and the tapestry of how it unravels for each world.”
With Tolkien a stickler for incredible depth of detail, another of the ways in which the show’s creators and creatives channel the Tolkien tone is in their similarly keenly observed attention to detail. The cast shares some significant details about characters, costumes, and props that fill in information about both character and story and promise a rich and rewarding viewing experience.
The Devil Is In the Details
Megan Richards who plays Poppy Proudfellow – a Harfoot, ancestor to the hobbits we know from The Lord of the Rings – says that all Harfoots carry something special about their person.
“They have these apple seeds,” she says. “And the apple seeds represent all of those Harfoots who have died before; who have passed away in previous migrations.”
Dylan Smith, who plays another Harfoot, Largo Brandyfoot, continues, “We bury our dead in an apple orchard that we hold very sacred. So you’ll see the elderly having many, many apple seeds, because they’ve seen all those people fall.”
Richards adds that the apple seeds can be found “all over their costumes, which just proves the amount of life that they have lived and how many souls that they have known. Every single Harfoot has some. Some have them on bracelets, some have them hidden in pockets. It’s just a really small detail, but it’s just so wonderful. It’s something that I hold very dear to my heart.”
Sara Zwangobani, aka Marigold Brandyfoot, says, “They carry a lot of significance for each of our characters. And I believe that every tribe had something similar that had significance for them.”
Harfoots, though mentioned in The Lord of the Rings, are something of an enigma. It’s been revealed that they’re a nomadic race that carries their home with them. “They travel the lands and they try to stay hidden from the wide world due to elements in their past,” explains Zwangobani.
Given that the Harfoots’ descendants, the Hobbits, have always been central to Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, can Dylan Smith help us to understand how the Harfoots fit into a tale that seems to focus on other characters to drive the story? Are they, like the Hobbits of the books, the heart of this series?
“I always think of the Harfoots as having a little flame. And if that flame goes out, the whole of Middle-earth is in trouble.” — Largo Brandyfoot actor, Dylan Smith
“Lots of the cast have often come up to me and said, ‘Oh, the Harfoots are the heart of the story,” says Smith. “I think they are insofar as they’re probably the only world that doesn’t have agency over the story. Whatever political negotiations, whatever sort of decisions that are made regarding the rise of evil, all we do is suffer. We just receive, receive, receive, receive. I always think of the Harfoots as having a little flame. And if that flame goes out, the whole of Middle-earth is in trouble. So our reason for hiding, for moving, is to keep that little flame alive. And unlike the Hobbits of the Shire, we’re very conscious of what we’re fighting for every day, because there are no luxuries, and we’re constantly under duress and suffering.”
Dwarves, and The Glory Days of Khazad-dûm
It might be nature’s apple seeds for Harfoots, but it’s a naturally occurring metal that has significance for Dwarves. If you’ve seen the posters of hands that were released, you might have noticed that Durin’s hands were covered in gold. Owain Arthur explains, “Being in Khazad-dûm with Khazad-dûm being at the height of its glory … having gold on us was quite a big part.”
“Dwarves have a different physicality to humans. What we discovered is that there was a lot of weight in their feet, in their legs.” — Prince Durin IV actor, Owain Arthur
Khazad-dûm, latterly known as Moria, is an underground kingdom, rich with mithril mines and treasuries, belonging to the Dwarves of Durin’s folk that lies beneath the Misty Mountains. Its presence in the Third Age stories that we know is as an abandoned once-great sprawling settlement, laid to waste ultimately by the Balrog disturbed by Dwarves mining too deeply in their greed causing the Dwarves to flee. The Balrog became known as Durin’s Bane because it ended up slaying King Durin VI. It’s the same Balrog we’ve seen in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy – the one that pulled Gandalf to his apparent death and led to the wizard’s subsequent rebirth.
Arthur says that the significance of the gold is to amplify the wealth of Khazad-dûm. As with the gold on their hands, says Arthur, “the same with our boots — Dwarves have a different physicality to humans. What we discovered is that there was a lot of weight in their feet, in their legs. And from that came these big golden toes, that are quite prominent, of Durin and Disa.”
Prince Durin IV
During the panel, JD Payne pointed out that Dwarves are often the butt of jokes, but promised that in the series, they take them more seriously, saying that “there are really cool things to do with Dwarves.”
One cool thing was shown in a clip played to the crowd in Hall H, in which Durin, in Khazad-dûm, challenges Elrond to a duel of sorts, in which both have to split rocks with a pickaxe amid the chants of assembled Dwarves.
“There seems to be a lot of depth to Durin,” says Arthur. “We go to every extremity of his emotions. So, we see him blind with fury. We see him bawling his eyes out, laughing at the top of his head, every emotion … what’s not surprising, I suppose, is that we’re quite sensitive. I think Durin has a sensitivity to him and reacts quickly to what happens in front of him.”
As for Durin’s feelings towards Disa, who, as we learned during the SDCC showcase, has a beard like all women Dwarves, “he absolutely adores her. And [he’s] a little bit terrified of her, I’m not going to lie. She wears the trousers. But what’s great, it’s in Sophia [who plays her] as well — Sophia and Disa are not far apart — there’s a lot of passion between them. We explore that but there’s a real closeness to them.”
Never Mind That Sword, What About the Jacket?
You’ll have noticed in the trailer a young boy character who finds a fragment of a mysterious and apparently magical black sword. There are theories about what this sword might be but the actor who plays the newly-created character Theo, Tyroe Muhafadin, clams up when pressed. Instead, he teases the origins of the jacket he’s seen wearing.
“You’ll notice in some of the promo for Theo, he’s wearing a jacket,” says Muhafadin. “And that jacket is someone’s jacket who we don’t get to meet. There’s a lot of questions about that and Theo has some about it as well. That’s all I can say. I may have said already too much.”
Theo’s mother is, like Theo, another new character created for the series. She’s called Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) and we heard during the panel that she is a Southlander and healer (who also “taps into her inner lioness”). It might be significant to note that she is involved in a forbidden romance with Silvan Elf, Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova).
Another significant Elf in the series is, of course, the Half-Elf Elrond, with whom Tolkien fans both avid and casual will know. In the Peter Jackson films, the character was played by Hugo Weaving. Here, the younger version is played by Robert Aramayo.
“Me and [costume designer] Kate Hawley had some great conversations about [Elrond’s] history, where he’s come from, and his family — and there’s some great cities in his line that crossed his parents and where his parents come from,” says Aramayo. “So there are elements of the costume — either directly or in the idea of them — that are related to his familial history, which I thought was a really cool idea by Kate. The idea of wearing history, with Elrond’s name obviously meaning lore, and he is a loremaster. That was cool.”
Interestingly, Robert Aramayo is a bit of a loremaster himself, we hear, such a fan is he of JRR Tolkien’s writings and was consulted by cast members regularly if they had questions around Tolkien lore.
From Elves to Men, and Lloyd Owen who plays legendary Númenorean Elendil says he has a cool element in his costume that fans might not spot. And he isn’t referring to the legendary sword, Narsil, known from the books and referenced in Jackson’s trilogy as the broken sword — aka the Sword that was Broken — from which Aragorn’s blade Andúril was forged, and which Elendil’s son Isildur used to cut the One Ring from Sauron’s finger.
“[Elendil] is a widower and he’s trying to bring up these adult children [Isildur and Eärien],” begins Owen. “It’s a very turbulent effect that bereavement [has] on all of us. But he wears a ring that his wife had given him — and what they carved in Elvish on it, because he’s a mariner and a sea captain, is ‘safe return’ in Quenya. So that’s a beautiful piece, there.”
He mentions his daughter, Eärien, a somewhat mysterious character created for the series.
“She’s Isildur’s younger sister,” says Ema Horvath, who plays her. “They’ve both been raised by a single dad. So despite being the youngest, she’s kind of trying to be the mother that’s not there. She’s quite capable, and therefore kind of overlooked by her dad, because her brother is far more of a troublemaker. And that lack of attention makes her quite vulnerable to attention from other sources that may or may not be [she pauses] good.”
Isildur: Desperate for Something Else
Oh dear. So what of Isildur?
“He’s an interesting character, because you’ve obviously seen where he ends up,” says actor Maxim Baldry. Isildur was seen briefly in flashback in Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and is the Man who cut the Ring from Sauron’s finger but failed to destroy it, leaving the Sauron’s spirit alive to return. “That’s kind of his splash in the films and the books, but the show is set thousands of years beforehand. We have that wonderful gift of being able to explore the characters, just as they’re starting out.
“So you get to see him around his family, around his friends. And I kind of wanted to explore this character, in more of an honest way. He’s confused as to where he belongs, what his aims and goals are. He’s trying to fulfill his father’s destiny and be a sea captain. But he’s also desperate for something else. And there’s a deep yearning for the other. So I think you can relate to him in that in that way — that he doesn’t really fit in anywhere.”
In the books, Númenor is ruled by Ar-Pharazôn, its 25th and last King. He’s the man ultimately responsible for the downfall of Númenor due to allowing himself to be tricked into an alliance with Sauron as a result of his desire for eternal life. In the series, the ‘Ar’ appears to have been dropped, and the character is known simply as Pharazôn in publicity materials. Trystan Gravelle plays the character, and says that there’s nothing hidden about the man – everything about him is laid bare.
“I don’t think we see a totally altruistic character when you see him. We see a person who is very committed to the cause of bettering his civilization.” — Trystan Gravelle, who plays Pharazôn
“He has a deep love for his community,” says Gravelle. “He has a deep love for his people. He has a deep love for Míriel. And when you can love that deeply, what do you do? It can make you do things to protect your kingdom, to protect your people, to advance your civilization. How far do you go with that? So I don’t think we see a totally altruistic character when you see him. We see a person who is very committed to the cause of bettering his civilization.”
Pharazôn has a son, Kemen (Leon Wadham) – another specially created character – who says that there is a friction between the two that stems from Pharazôn being obsessed with his legacy.
“He’s further along in his life. He’s thinking about what he’ll leave behind. I think for the Men of that island, they’re always thinking about how they can leave an imprint on this earth. Whereas Kemen is young. And he’s having a great time. The status quo is suited to him really well. He’s not necessarily trying to buck anything or trying to create massive change that he’ll be remembered by. He’s just enjoying living in a golden age. And I think his dad would rather he brought some new ideas to the table rather than just wear silk and drink wine.”
What’s the Deal with Queen Regent Míriel?
Gravelle mentions Míriel, a character from the books who Pharazôn forced into marriage out of his ambition to rule and whom has been given the title Queen Regent in the series.
“’Queen Regent’ is a clue, right? It gives you some information [about her],” says Cynthia Addai-Robinson who plays her. “And you will definitely have a better understanding as we sort of let the story unfold. In terms of having this female figurehead sort of ruling or looking to rule over Númenor, a) that’s a very special thing.
“I’m very proud to embody that. But I think there’s something to be said, whether the character is male or female — my view of it was [as] a person that is burdened by that responsibility and wanting to make the right choices for her people. So, there’s that sense of wanting to keep the peace, wanting to keep the stability of a society that she can feel is beginning to shift under her feet.”
We haven’t talked a lot about Sauron as a character – and that’s because nobody knows who’s playing him. In the books, Sauron is known as a shapeshifter. Many of us may know him as the flaming eye from The Lord of the Rings but in earlier eras, he took different forms. One of which was Annatar, a ‘fair’ aka good-looking incarnation that was manipulative and charismatic. It was in this form that he manipulated the Elves into forging the Rings and it’s this story that we will see unfold in The Rings of Power.
“When we know what we’ve poured into it, it makes us more confident that we’re doing exactly what the fans hopefully want, which is respecting that love, pouring all our energy into giving them what will enable them to enjoy this when they finally see it unfurl.” — Daniel Weyman, who plays a mysterious character called The Stranger
Despite a new, fair-skinned and fair-haired character revealed in the Comic-Con trailer that instantly had people assuming to be Sauron, there has been speculation that Daniel Weyman’s The Stranger or Charlie Vickers’s Halbrand could be Sauron in disguise. The actors have both historically not had much to impart on the topic, but what’s their reaction to the speculation, which has also seen Gandalf as a name thrown at Heyman’s character?
“I think it’s amazing,” says Weyman. “It’s fantastic that so many people out there have such ownership of this material, that they understand the nuances and the finer detail that they’re able to extrapolate what we’ve given them and turn it into really well-rounded arguments as to why a character might be such and such person or such and such a being. It just makes me appreciate the fandom even more and what their relationship is with the source material. And then going to Charles’s point, when we know what we’ve poured into it, it makes us more confident that we’re doing exactly what the fans hopefully want, which is respecting that love, pouring all our energy into giving them what will enable them to enjoy this when they finally see it unfurl.”
As for Vickers, he simply adds, “think that’s the key to it. It’s waiting for things to unfurl, as the show progresses, because that’s the exciting stuff. You wait to see what happens. I could not have said it better myself.”
Read into that what you will. Watch the rest of our interview with the cast of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power from San Diego Comic-Con in the video at the top of the page, in which they also reveal their favourite Tolkien creatures!
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premieres on Prime Video on September 2, 2022.
Check out more content from SDCC 2022 below.