Friday afternoon in Centennial II-III of the Hyatt, Bifur (William Kircher) and Dwalin (Graham McTavish) sat down for a chat with their arch enemy, Azog the Defiler (Manu Bennett). Kircher set a rousing mood by proclaiming, “Feel the fire of the Dwarves!” in flawless Dwarvish. He kindly translated the line for attendees not fluent in the ancient tongues of Middle Earth.
Asked to share their reactions when they learned they had been chosen for roles in the Hobbit trilogy, Kircher said, “I nearly died. I jumped up and down and screamed—quietly.” McTavish not only remembered the exact day but also the time and place: September 8, 2010, 3 PM, standing outside the gym. He added that it was one of those “seminal moments of your life that you can never forget.” Unlike his Dwarvish foes, Bennett did not win the part initially because he wasn’t tall enough. When Peter Jackson decided to use motion capture to portray Azog, however, he selected Bennett for the part. “When you get a call from Peter Jackson to do Tolkein, it’s mind-blowing,” Bennett said.
Each of the panelists received portrait sketches of their characters and helped develop their quirks. When Kircher saw the sketch of Bifur with an axe in his head, it gave him many ideas. They decided Bifur would speak in ancient Dwarvish and wouldn’t know where he was sometimes or whom he was with. After all, he had an axe in his head. McTavish explored the warrior aspects of Dwalin, a character who doesn’t trust people easily. “They have to prove to me that they’re worthy of trust,” McTavish said. If Dwalin is on your side, he’s a loyal friend. But if he’s not—look out.
Character development was entirely different for Bennett, since motion capture—using a green screen—is done separately. He based Azog on a combination of Jaws and Darth Vader, but he had to imagine the other characters. In fact, he didn’t even meet the rest of the cast until after the filming. At one point, he was sitting in the green suit on a pommel horse and was told that he was riding a warg. He asked, “Is it my warg? Do I like my warg? Can I have a relationship with my warg?” At which point, he started stroking the pommel horse. “Motion capture,” he concluded, “is a very isolated world.” He pointed out, however, that CG gave his Orc far more detail of expression than the masks used in The Lord of the Rings.
All three panelists agreed that New Zealand is an awesome location. Their favorite place is aptly called Paradise, which McTavish said is so gorgeous you can hardly believe your eyes. They used the spot for the exterior of Balin’s house. Kircher spoke about being driven to places in the early morning darkness, and as the sun rose, he saw vistas that were so stunning they seemed magical. Bennett, who is part Maori, grinned proudly and said of New Zealand, “I come from there.”
What was it like to return to Middle Earth? “It was as if we’d never left,” McTavish said. They get together regularly. “Throwing plates,” Bennett joked. What can we expect from the next movie in the Hobbit trilogy? According to the panelists, part two of the trilogy is going to be amazing. Yes, we feel the fire!