The Rings of Power is under a lot of pressure to deliver. Fans are starting to make their minds up about the first two episodes, and although the early stages of any series involve slowly building the world and setting up the storytelling to come, many will have already decided whether they’ll watch the remaining 48 episodes or not. As the most expensive television series ever made, the pressure is even higher.
These expectations inevitably extend to those working on and acting in the show too. While the likes of Morfydd Clark and Charles Edwards have the pressure of showing new sides of well-known characters in Galadriel and Celebrimbor respectively, other actors are embodying completely new characters, invented for The Rings of Power, and therefore have another level of pressure to deal with. They have to ensure their characters not only feel real and honest, but also they have to feel Tolkienian, despite having little of the author’s text to work with. Charlie Vickers, who plays Halbrand, told TheGamer that reading the breadth of Tolkien’s work helped him immerse his character in the spirit of Tolkien, but I also chatted to Ismael Cruz Córdova (who plays Arondir), Nazanin Boniadi (Bronwyn), and Tyroe Muhafidin (Theo) about the challenges of portraying three new characters in Middle-earth.
“As Ben Walker [who plays Gil-galad] says, diamonds are made under pressure,” says Boniadi. “We're not canon characters, but that gives us an ability to build something from the ground up, and it's exciting to enter something with fresh eyes and inject it with your own essence.”
“For me, it was just a matter of just focusing on doing the job and doing it well,” adds Muhafidin. “Forgetting about the scale and forgetting about the pressure of anything, and just thinking about the character and doing him justice.”
While Boniadi feels like she thrived under the pressure and Muhafidin tried to ignore it, Cruz Córdova barely felt it at all. “I did not feel that type of pressure at all, honestly… I think there's other pressures that as actors and as artists we put on ourselves, and that’s to find truth, honesty, and motivation for our characters – and that's how you can approach it. If you spend time wanting to please the world, not only as an artist, you will just waste time and derive from your authenticity. So I think we brought a lot of authentic energy to our roles.”
That authenticity doesn’t end with the acting, however. Nearly every actor I spoke to commented on the level of intricate detail put into the sets, costumes, and props, from Fëanor’s hammer in Celebrimbor’s workshop to the whole Harfoot village which could up and migrate when they needed it to, both on screen and behind the scenes. One piece stood out to me when I watched the first two episodes though: Arondir’s breastplate, a carved wooden costume designed by Kate Holly, depicting a Green Man-esque figure, possibly an Ent.
“It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever worn and hands down one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen,” says Cruz Córdova. “It was not super comfortable and at one point they were like, ‘do we cut this or we cut that?’ and I was like, ‘I will be uncomfortable at the service of this beautiful [costume]’.
“It really gives you the mythology of who he is and his people, and it’s kind of regal, but gritty. It's very regal, but there's a brokenness that’s more down to earth. I love it.”
Boniadi also explains that Arondir’s stunning costume helped her to connect to the character in a romantic way, and cement their characters’ relationship. “Every time I saw it, it was so beautiful it makes you connect. Costumes are so important.”
Tolkien is about more than costumes, though, he wrote about people. You might remember the Mithril Coat or the shards of Narsil from The Lord of the Rings, but they pale into insignificance when compared to the characters who wore and wielded them. Tolkien wrote about people, and the scenes in The Southlands are arguably the most people-driven in the first two episodes of The Rings of Power, focusing on the forbidden relationship between Arondir and Bronwyn, and her relationship with her son, Theo.
The three cast members who play these characters are people of colour, which is a rarity for Tolkien adaptations. The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Phillipa Boyens are held in the highest regard by most Tolkien fans, but the ensemble cast was entirely white, and people of colour were often relegated to roles as Orcs or other foes. As such, this became the standard for fantasy this millennium, and only in recent years have shows and films started to cast more diverse talent.
Boniadi explains that diversity and the bonds between characters from different backgrounds is at the heart of Tolkien, and that’s why it should be represented on screen, too. “[We’re] a fellowship of Elves and Dwarves and Númenorians and all these different creeds and cultures – Harfoots and humans – coming together to overcome adversity,” she says. “What better way to portray that than having people of different backgrounds bring that to the screen?”
Cruz Córdova is the first Elf of colour in any Tolkien adaptation, and the power of that is not lost on him. “I think it's about time that we’re included in this world of fantasy,” he says. “Tolkien is for everyone. The world is for everyone. So in that sense, I feel extremely honoured to be part of the show. But I need to highlight as I highlight every time, we got these roles fair and square with talent and skill, and we're just here to win it. And I think we won it.”
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