Dispatches From the Front Lines
Dispatches From the Front Lines
New Zealand actor Craig Parker never expected that his minor role as the Elf Haldir in the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy would spur such a strong response from fans. A well-known face to New Zealand TV viewers, Parker is a relative unknown beyond his home country- but no more! In response to many requests from Fan Club members, Dan Madsen spoke with Parker recently about his role in The Lord of the Rings.
Parker was born in the island paradise of Fiji, where he says he has an “idyllic childhood.” He moved to New Zealand with his family when he was 10 years old but says Fiji is still a “very special place to me- it was a very relaxed place to grow up.” Likewise, working on The Lord of the Rings was a bit like paradise for the actor who says he “would have made cups of tea on the set just to be a part of it!”
Craig, when did you first realize that you wanted to be an actor?
I think I was interested in acting very early on. I have a very clear memory of watching a production of Peter Pan when I was a kid and seeing him fly on stage, which just blew me away! I must have been able to see the wires and such, but as a child that didn’t matter- the magic of the theatre removes those details. That was a great thrill for me. It was really only in my teenage years that I considered it as a job. I intended to be an actor and was very fortunate that things happened the way they did. You know, we walk ourselves to the cliff and then fall over it accidentally!
How did you get the role of Haldir in LOTR?
Many years ago, when Peter, Fran and Phillippa were putting together the script, they got a group of us in to make a radio play from the scripts. At that point, there were only two scripts, and Miramax was going to make the films. We recorded the scripts over a period of weeks in the studio and then came back a year later and recorded what has become three scripts. We came back yet again a few months later and re-recorded them. I had a small amount of involvement there. Then, when it came time for the films to happen, I did a reading for them- as everyone in the country and the world did!- and got a phone call saying I got the role, which was very exciting!
Have those original recordings ever been heard?
I don’t know if they have ever been released. They were largely for Peter, Fran and Phillipa to see how it flowed as a film and to see how the dialogue sounded. I’m sure it was used as a selling tool as well. Perhaps they may turn up on a DVD at some stage. A lot of work was put into them. They were also made into animatics, which is where it is all animated, and the dialogue is placed over it.
Did you do those recordings with any of the other actors who actually appeared in the films?
I think Cameron Rhodes (Farmer Maggot) might have been involved with it. Liz Mullane, the casting agent in New Zealand, did one session with us. I don’t recall the other people involved with it.
Did you play Haldir in the recordings?
No, I played Frodo mainly and Boromir. There were only eight of us, so there were fantastic moments where one person was playing three different characters in one scene- it was slightly schizophrenic! I’m not sure who played Haldir; I don’t know if I even remember Haldir being in it!
When you auditioned for the film, were you reading for the part of Haldir?
Yes, I was. I think there were probably six different pieces of the script, which covered different racial types like Elves and Hobbits, Haldir was the Elf I read for.
Once you were told you had the role, did you study the books to understand who the Elves were?
I had read the books previously, and I did reread them. I had actually started reading them before I heard I got the role, just because the interest was huge around here. It also becomes a collaborative process when you arrive on the set. You meet the producers and the director and the makeup and costume people, and from all of them, an idea emerges. So you take all of that and decide how the character should act.
What was your first reaction when you saw yourself in the makeup and costume with the long blond hair and pointed ears?
We laughed a lot! The joke around the set was that the Elves were the drag queens! I’m sure it is easy to have the beauty of the Elves when you live in a place like Lothlorien, but sitting around on a dirty film set, tired, with your hair messed up, smoking cigarettes, was not a pretty sight! There were some very funny sights on the sets with the Elves.
Did you create any particularly tight bonds with other actors on the set?
I think I found a great sort of humor match in Billy Boys and Dom Monaghan, whom I spent a fair amount of time with. They have a great sense of humor. I mainly worked with Viggo Mortensen and Sean Bean and the Fellowship. I have a huge amount of respect for someone like Sir Ian McKellen, whom I have watched for years. I was very nervous about meeting him initially. I think others have said this about him and the rest of the cast, but they were all utterly charming, with no arrogance or playing the “star.” It was a very relaxed set, and everyone felt as ease with each other. No one was throwing tantrums. We all had a great time.
How would you describe Peter Jackson?
He is remarkably calm. Often, he would be looking at three or four different sets through satellite link-ups, directing all of these areas and making sure they all fit together. He always had time for questions. When it came time to shoot, he was there, ready to go, calmly describing what was requited and how it would all work together. He was an ideal director. I cannot imagine the stress his brain must have been under shooting three films at one time and having such a huge post-production aspect to it. He was constantly thinking about where the computer generated characters fit in and how this jigsaw fit together, and he constantly remained sane and was polite. I have a great deal of admiration and respect for him as a human being; he is genuine. You meet people who are busy being humble, but I think Peter doesn’t have time for all the nonsense around filmmaking- he is busy making the film. It’s not about the other aspects of it.
When you were filming- especially on the Helm’s Deep set- did you ever stop and marvel at the size and scope of the project?
Constantly! The project was shot over three years, and my involvement was very minor. I would come down for a week, disappear for a month, and then go to another set for a week. Every time I arrived, there would be something wonderful and new to look at. We filmed part of Helm’s Deep outdoors, and other parts were done in a studio with computers. We shot for three months in a quarry in Wellington in the middle of winter; it was cold and bleak, and no one saw daylight. The crew was working under very difficult conditions, yet there was a wonderful camaraderie and enjoyment to it. We enjoyed the horror of the whole thing! It is breathtaking to arrive on the set and see that they built a castle, a fortress, and it is not made of polystyrene, it is made of concrete and rock with exquisite artistry. Is it movie-making on a grand scale. New Zealand has a wonderful little film industry, but we have 3.8 million people, so we don’t have the budget to make blockbusters. Compared to America, our films are low-budget. To suddenly work on a piece with the money to do these wonderful things and realize a vision was so exciting! I think all of New Zealand was just elated.
The country must be very fortunate to have had these films made there by native New Zealanders.
There is a wonderful sense of ownership and pride here. It is almost as if everyone in this country either worked on, knows someone, or is related to someone who worked on these films. We are all very proud of them It is quite nice. I think New Zealand sees them as “our little films we whipped up in Wellington.”
The films are also driving a lot of tourists to New Zealand as well.
Yes, we have quite a big place, and there are not many of us, so tourists are welcome. The tourism department here is very aware that a lot of the places where we filmed are protected land, so any tourism that happens around those areas has to be very carefully monitored. We don’t want a million people trampling through and throwing Coke bottles on the ground, but I don’t think that is going to happen. If someone makes the effort to travel into the mountains, they usually tend to have a slightly higher degree of responsibility about the environment.
As with other interviews, we’ve asked Fan Club members to submit questions. Or first question comes from Dennis Basden of Hoffman Estates, Illinois. How did you get in the mindset of playing an Elven warrior?
The most difficult thing about being an Elf was trying to walk while looking ahead without tripping over your feet! However, I also spent a lot of time thinking about how they are and trying to get my head around the idea that these people live for thousands of years, which is not and easy leap! But a lot of the preparation happens without you being fully aware of it.
How long did it take you to get into the full makeup and costume for Haldir?
The whole thing took about two hours at some terrible hour in the morning each day! It wasn’t a huge prosthetics session- many people had much longer makeup sessions than I did. But putting the ears on and getting them absolutely seamless and perfect too a good hour.
What was the most difficult moment for you on this production?
On the first day of fighting at Helm’s Deep, I had been working with sword master Bob Anderson, and his crew. I had done a little sword fighting before on Hercules and Xena, but, suddenly we are doing a full run of this scene and literally hundreds of giant Uruk-hai, who are twice my size, come charging at me with axes and swords and knives! I had to trust that they had instilled in me the sword-fighting skills to defend myself. Moments like that were a bit terrifying! But I came through t entirely unscathed, as the stunt crews were fantastic. It was very exciting. I am 5’11”, and I was fighting boys who were 6’5″. Because it was written in the script, I could beat them! That was fun!
Julia Ballard of Colorado asks: Given that Elves are advanced in both matters of mind and body, is it possible that we will be seeing Haldir in The Return of the King? In other words, did Haldir, in fact, die at Helm’s Deep?
Anything is possible!
What have you learned from your work on this film? Do you have any lasting memories?
I think the thing that has truly amazed me on this project is that one person, like Peter Jackson, can say, “OK, I’m going to do this,” and such a mammoth creature can be birthed from that one person having the courage and the idea to follow it through. Many, many people were involved in that birthing, but ultimately, one person can change the world.
Are there particular scenes that you wish had made it into the finished films?
I really don’t regret where things were cut and changed, because that was done for a story purpose. There was one scene we shot with Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Martin Csokas, and I, and I am sorry we never saw that because I adore Cate and Hugo so much. The two films I have watched so far are so wonderful that I don’t really watch them worrying about me- I am just taken with the whole magic of it. I also have to say that Gollum was just magnificent!
Thessa and Marike van Aerde of Tilburg, the Netherlands, have asked about the scene in which Galadriel, Celeborn, and Elrond discuss the state of the world in The Two Towers.
Yes, we did film that scene. The purpose of the scene was to show the argument of the Elves who were saying, “Our time is done, we’re moving on, and the world is left to me.” The other argument is, “We have a responsibility here- we have lived together and fought together, and now it is time to honor the agreement we have with Men.” That is pretty much what that deleted scene was saying, but that comes across in the film, anyway, I think; it all makes sense in the final cut.
Do you think that scene will be added into the extended DVD of the Two Towers?
I really don’t know; it is possible. that’s the great thing about DVDs- you can get all this extra material. I’m in love with DVDs at the moment!
Sue Herrera of Winnemucca, Nevada asks: Your portrayal of Haldir’s death was truly heart-rendering- what were you thinking as you acted that scene to be able to capture such emotion?
Well, the reason Haldir turns up at Helm’s Deep is something that Peter Jackson was keen on right from the start: Elves are immortal. They live until they choose not to, or they die in battle. Peter wanted to see that, He wanted to show that the world was changing to much that we would see Elves die. I think he achieved that quite well. When we were shooting that scene, in front of me were literally hundreds of bodies lying around- Elves and Orcs and Uruk-hai. the make-believe aspect was not that difficult because there was a battle carnage scene in front of me. Who knows what death is like? But at that point, Haldir loses faith. He believe all is lost, and there is nothing that can be done anymore. They have rallied and done what they can. but I think he believes that is is over. It’s not the greatest way to die.
Where you able to do that in just one take?
Yes- I don’t think it was particularly difficult. There was a lot of fighting from the first blow until the mortal blow, and that was difficult- trying to remember that there is a big guy behind you with an axe, and you’ve got to fend that off or otherwise your head gets split open! Those were the things that were difficult; the actual acting side of it was reasonably easy.
Was there some significance to Aragorn putting his hand on Haldir’s heart in the death scene?
I’m not sure. Aragorn has a relationship with the Elves. He has lived with them and is aware of their ways and customs. There is a fellowship between him and the Elves, I guess it is an Elven aspect of Aragorn.
When you took on the role of Haldir, did you know he was going to die in the second film?
No, not initially. I found out later, when I was talking with Philippa Boyens, and she said, “We’re thinking of doing this.” I thought, “Oh great! More shooting, and I get to go into battle!” I was thrilled that I was able to be a part of the film in a small way.
Fan Club member “Bear” asks: I’ve heard the members of the Fellowship discuss the weapons training they went through for their roles. Did you also have this kind of training and can you tell us a little about it?
I had spent quite a bit of time with the stunt team and with Bob Anderson, who was very cool. He had fought with Errol Flynn in older film and had played Darth Vader in the Empire Strikes Back lightsaber duel. He is a masterful swordsman and a wonderful English gentleman. He tool me through a lot of the basics of fencing and fighting. I would then work with the sword crews, stunt crews, and fight coordinators. We spent a lot of time going over the sequences of the battles. We all left slightly bruised at the end of the day but feeling really good and really tough! It was great fun!
You were also using a bow weren’t you?
Yes, a little bit. They were probably the most difficult things, because they are so big and awkward. We did do a series of shots with the bows. In some shots we were using arrows, and some were done without. Some shots we did out in the quarry, and the volleys went into the black abyss in front of us. Others were done in the studio, where there were mattresses and various people hiding behind armor and stuff to deflect them. It was a mixture of all sorts of things, and I am not even sure what is real and is CGI when I watch the film.
Shiela Conners of Pennsylvania asks: Were you pleased that we got to see more of your role in the extended DVD of FOTR?
You now, I haven’t seen the DVD yet. I got a copy for Christmas, but it is till in the box! I haven’t been home for the last two months, as I have been in Wellington doing a play. I’ll be back home in a week and a half, so I’ll watch it then.
Frances Sangil of the Philippines asks: If you didn’t play the role of Haldir and had a choice, which character would you have loved to play?
That’s a hard question. My attitude, right from the beginning when I knew these films were going to happen, was that I would have made cups of tea on the set just to be a part of it! I would have loved to play any character!
Are people starting to recognize you from the films?
In New Zealand, I do a television show, so I am recognized locally. I think people here are proud that another “Kiwi” is in the film. But I am in no danger of being mugged as I walk down a Tokyo street… at least not yet!
Alice of Reading, England, wants to know: You recently attended a LOTR convention in Germany. What did you think of the reaction you received there?
I was blown away by it! I have a number of friends who have been involved on the Hercules and Xena shows and have been to those conventions and would tell wonderful stories of them. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I assumed it would be full of mad people, which was definitely not the case, thankfully! I was there with some friends of mine, and we just had the best time. The people were wonderful! I didn’t meet any mad people. It was wonderful seeing the power that this story as… People knew it so intimately and cared so much for J.R.R. Tolkien that it seemed like the films had done well by them; the films hadn’t twisted it too much. It was a very surreal time but quite wonderful. It was very strange to get up in the morning and wander downstairs for breakfast and see Hobbits and Ents wandering around!
Melanie Candra of Yardley, Pennsylvania asks: What is your reaction to the incredibly large internet fan base that has developed around you and the character Haldir and the outcry against his death at Helm’s Deep?
Well, Haldir doesn’t die in the book- he’s there at the end hopping into the boat. I find it very flattering that people care so much about all of this. I haven’t really waded onto the internet yet. It’s a Pandora’s box as far as I’m concerned. You don’t want to look too closely, because just as you begin to feel very flattered, you will also read something that isn’t so flattering. So I try to avoid doing that! It’s often best that you don’t know what people are saying about you behind your back. But I do find it very flattering and a little odd!
What are you currently doing? Anything coming up?
At the moment, I am finishing a season of doing the musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I then go back to working the next six months on a series called Mercy Peak, which is a television series here in New Zealand. I think it’s playing in Canada now, too; at the end of the series, it will probably play in Europe, but we tend to not sell a lot to the United States. It is an hour-long series that takes place in a small town- individual stories each week but with recurring characters. It is kind of like the US television show Northern Exposure. That takes me to the end of the year, and then, after that, I have no idea what I’ll be doing- maybe I’ll take a long holiday!
Craig, thanks so much for talking with us.
Well, thank you very much! Good talking with you!