Elijah who? The amazing new stars of The Lord of the Rings | The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

If there’s one thing we know about The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, it’s that this eight-part series is big. Filmed in New Zealand and on a rumoured budget of $1bn for seasons one and two, the show sports massive battle sequences, hordes of marauding monsters and special effects that will make Peter Jackson’s films of JRR Tolkien’s trilogy look like DIY fringe theater.

Creature feature ... An orc in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
Creature feature … An orc in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Photograph: Amazon Prime Studio undefined

But for all its monumental scale, Rings of Power is still a story about characters: from haughty elves to ale-swilling men, from thatch-bearded dwarves to a new race of eco-friendly proto-Hobbits called Harfoots. The cast that showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay have assembled is remarkable: a lineup that is short on bankable names (unless you count Lenny Henry) but is huge on talent and promise, from indie movie mavens to theatrical darlings, from dashing former child actors to (at least) one alumnus of that other fantasy franchise, Game of Thrones.

We sat down with four of them – two elves, a dwarf and a man – to find out how this epic was forged, and whether they’re ready for fan-screaming stardom…

‘We somehow got this golden ticket’
Morfydd Clark

Savior ... Morfydd Clark as Galadriel.
Savior … Morfydd Clark as Galadriel. Photograph: Prime Studios

Embarking on any major creative project is a leap of faith. For the Welsh actor Morfydd Clark – star of indie horror Saint Maud – that leap was larger than most. “I moved to New Zealand without knowing which character I was playing,” she says in disbelief. “That seems insane now. All I knew is she was an elf. I never for a moment thought that it could be her.”

Luckily for Clark, her turned out to be Galadriel, the elf queen immortalised (in all senses) by Cate Blanchett in the films, and perhaps the most rounded of all Tolkien’s women. How did Clark feel about slipping into the silk robes of one of the world’s most venerated actors? “I didn’t try to get away from it! I’ve watched those films three times a year since they came out. I’ve got them memorised.”

But, she reveals, this is a very different elf than the one we met in the movies. “The show takes place thousands of years before The Lord of the Rings. Middle-earth is experiencing peace, which doesn’t happen very often, and Galadriel doesn’t feel at ease with it. She feels the shadow rising.”

This sense of a world on the brink was easy to conjure for the cast and crew, as New Zealand became an oasis of sanity during the pandemic. “It was very surreal,” Clark says. “We were very far away from home, with everyone we loved experiencing something awful while we’d somehow got this golden ticket. So we were carefree to a degree, but there was always a glass ceiling to our happiness.”

Surely you have to laugh when you’re confronted by an actor in a 3ft beard waving an ax around? “Of course! Getting the giggles on set is always equal parts terrifying and hilarious, but when you’re with an elf, a dwarf and an orc, it’s pretty special. I’d have a really scary scene with all these terrifying creature actors, then it’d cut and they’d go (she adopts a perfect Kiwi accent): ‘Mate, I need my protein smoothie!”

The world of Middle-earth is also, famously, a fount of tricky-to-pronounce names, something the actor is all too familiar with. “It was suggested at drama school that I change [my name],” she says. “There was this idea that someone called Morfydd would only get cast as Welsh people. To which I said, well, that would be fine! But, to be honest, it’s nice to have a name that takes people a bit of effort. The English, though, can get a bit scared. It’s fine, guys, just go for it!”

‘My Dad wishes I played for Barcelona’
Robert Aramayo

Lord in waiting ... Robert Aramayo as Elrond.
Lord in waiting … Robert Aramayo as Elrond. Photograph: Prime Studios

At its heart, The Lord of the Rings is a story of fate, destiny and being in the right place at the right time. Hull-born actor Robert Aramayo can relate. “The first book I ever read was The Hobbit. Then when the movies came out I was so excited I’d play Lord of the Rings in the playground. Elrond [Lord of the elf kingdom of Rivendell] was the one character who always really intrigued me. Who is he, where does he come from? And then all of a sudden, I’m on a plane to New Zealand.”

But again, this is a very different version of the character from the one played by Hugo Weaving in the films. “Elrond’s not a lord yet,” says Aramayo. “He’s young, at least for an immortal. Every elf around him is older. He’s inexperienced, but he’s curious.”

Aramayo was cast as Elrond when another actor, Will Poulter, was forced to drop out, and it’s a big step up for a performer whose CV includes a smattering of supporting roles, notably as the young Ned Stark in Game of Thrones. Not that Aramayo lacks expertise: at just 19, he won a scholarship to study at arguably the world’s most prestigious acting academy, Juilliard. “I had no idea of ​​the magnitude of what was happening,” he says. “I didn’t know I’d end up staying in New York, that it’d become my home. I just thought it’d be cool. Getting Lord of the Rings was similar. They were both just these incredible things that happened.”

I tell him I found an article from the Hull Daily Mail in 2011, crowing about teenage Rob’s Juilliard place and quoting his dad saying: “It’s like hearing your son has been picked to play for Barcelona.” Aramayo laughs. “I’m sure my dad still wishes I played for Barcelona! But my parents are very supportive. And I’m proud to be from Hull. It’s where I discovered I wanted to do this for a living.”

So how does a young actor prepare for the very real prospect of becoming the most famous person from their home town? “Ha!” he snorts. “I think the Beautiful South and Tom Courtenay might have something to say about that!”

‘They built a flap in my costume so I could breastfeed’
Sophia Nomvete

Rising high … Sophia Nomvete as Princess Disa.
Rising high … Sophia Nomvete as Princess Disa. Photograph: Prime Studios

An experienced theater performer with only one TV credit to her name (Captain HeyHo in the CBeebies’ pirate show Swashbuckle), Sophia Nomvete is preparing to see her level of fame skyrocket. She plays Princess Disa, not only the first female dwarf to be seen in Middle-earth but the first Black woman of any note. “This is it!” she beams. “I spent 16 years rolling up my sleeves and learning my craft, now I’m in this bonkers situation where I get to be the poster child for a revolutionary piece of TV.”

Not that she’s expecting it to be easy: online trolls have rushed to criticize the casting of non-white actors. “I’m human,” she says. “I’m not immune to all that. But Disa is an absolute force. She’s a titan. And I’m already getting feedback from other women saying: ‘I see myself in her, my little girl sees herself.’ It’s all about redressing the balance.”

Nomvete’s journey to a career-defining fantasy role hasn’t been straightforward. “Never in all my years did I think anything like this would be possible for me. I’m a plus-size, curvaceous woman of colour, so there just hasn’t been that much opportunity. Then at the first audition, I was weeks away from giving birth! But the character breakdown said they wanted someone warm and maternal, so I thought: ‘Well, I don’t know how much more maternal it gets. Let’s go for it!”’”

When they flew to New Zealand, Nomvete’s daughter was 10 weeks old, leading to a whole new set of challenges. “They built a flap into my costume, so there were literally times when I’d have the baby on my boob, I’d go: ‘Right, are we ready to shoot? Great,’ and I’d take her off. But that’s how it should be. We can do it too!”

‘They didn’t even give me a prosthetic nose or ears!’
Maxim Baldry

To Gondor ... Maxim Baldry as Isildur.
To Gondor … Maxim Baldry as Isildur. Photograph: Amazon Studios

Of all the Rings of Power cast, Maxim Baldry is the only one disappointed by his experience. “When I first got into makeup I was so excited,” he says. “What am I going to get? A prosthetic nose? Ears? Wig? Teeth? And they said: ‘Well, you already look like Isildur,’ so all they did was give me a bit of a shave and kick me out of the trailer.” On the plus side, won’t that mean he’ll be one of the more recognisable cast members? “I suppose so. It’d be weird if I couldn’t still go to the pub, though. Hey, that’s when I can use the prosthetics!”

He’s kidding, of course – like his colleagues, Baldry’s experience of filming the show was pretty near perfect. “I’m a hardcore fan,’ he says. “The films were part of my DNA growing up.” His character will grow into someone who has a significant role in the One Ring’s journey to its place in the more well-known Lord of the Rings stories. “But right now he’s a young sea cadet from the island of Numenor, which is Tolkien’s Atlantis. It’s a beautiful place but it’s stagnant, and he’s hungry for change. He’s at a crossroads.”

That feeling is one Baldry can relate to, because acting isn’t his only love. “I’m also in a band, called Terra Twin. It’s nice to have something outside of acting. This job can take over your life, so having another outlet is really refreshing. The ideal would be to spend six months filming then head off across Europe in a little van with my friends.”

Is he familiar with the dubious history of actors in bands, from Keanu Reeves’s little-missed Dogstar to Russell Crowe’s gnarly pub-rock outfit 30 Odd Foot of Grunts? “Yes, but it’s not all bad!” he says. Have you heard David Duchovny? He’s great! And Jessie Buckley got a Mercury music prize nomination!”

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’s first two episodes are on Prime Video from 2 September, with new episodes released weekly

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