The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey … *Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins) might be the star and hero of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” but its Andy Serkis (Gollum/2nd Unit Director) who always elicits some of the most visceral feelings from “Lord of the Rings” fans.

There was even a demand from fans that he be nominated for an Oscar for his role as Gollum. Since that role he has come into his own right as consummate actor and director. What is even more remarkable about Serkis is his down to earth quality. I was totally thrown off guard while having breakfast one morning just before the “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” junket was to start at the Ritz Carlton in New York last year. A colleague had arrived to the Breakfast just as I was about to leave for the interviews so I joined her and had a cup of coffee.

While we chatted, in walked a dapper gentleman, sat at our table and we talked. We joked that he didn’t look like the usual crop of junketeers and that he must be one of the producers or screenwriters. He just laughed and continued with our casual conversation. As we left and headed towards the room for the interviews, I realized he was the star of the film, the ape Caesar!

Serkis reprises his role as Gollum in “The Hobbit” he explained how it felt this time around.

“Well, you know, he’s 540 years old in this film and not six hundred so he’s much hotter and will have a huge fan base with the teenage girls [Laughs]. What was great about Gollum this time around what obviously when we were working on “Lord of the Rings,” there was no modus operandi in terms of motion capture. So that was an ongoing kind of sidetrack alongside development of the character. What we established on “Lord of the Rings,” and actually returning to the character 12 years was that we were able to play our scenes out and [the] performance capture happens at exactly the same time. When Elijah [Wood] and I worked together, we acted in the scenes together but I would have to go and repeat the scenes afterwards on a motion caption stage.  Now the technology is in the room on the set at the same time we play out our scenes.”

Whether on set or off, one can only imagine how many times a day someone goes up to Serkis and says, “my precious.” Laughing, he says, “432. No, but quite a bit.” Serkis and his cast mates were at the Waldorf Astoria last week to discuss promote “The Hobbit” and The Film Strip’s burning question was what they personally took away from journey to middle-earth?

RICHARD ARMITAGE: One of the things that I really find, when I look at J.R.R. Tolkien’s book is that I can get a sense of Tolkien’s Catholicism, his Christianity. Not necessarily in a denominational way, just in terms of his chivalric view of the world, but his nobility which is expressed through kindness and mercy. I think it’s inspiring.

MARTIN FREEMAN: Well, it seems like the classic tale of a small guy who ends up being a hero against his will. And I think that’s what is always what true heroism is. It’s when deeds of bravery, or whatever, are done when you’re scared. If you’re not scared then you’re not being brave. Then you’re just being normal. But if you are scared and you do something anyway, that’s real bravery. I think that’s the case here. When I read it, I read it all looking at Bilbo, I guess. I can’t read it and tell you the story as a civilian. But certainly for that main character, that’s a big thing for me. He’s a small, literally, a small guy thrust into a huge world who manages to do the right thing most of the time. I think it’s not a lesson and it’s not a lecture to us. But it’s got very interesting things to be drawn from that as a reader, and hopefully as a viewer.

IAN McKELLEN: He takes old people very seriously and gives them a fuller and greater weight and with young people he’s very key on. I think the message that resonated with everyone who has read the books or seen the films, is that, yes the world is organized by people who are extremely powerful and have an overview and are concerned for the preservation of Middle Earth. But they are entirely dependent on the little guy.  For somebody who has been through two world wars to accept that it’s not the great people you build statues to, but the world is dependent upon the foot soldiers who measure up to the moment.

Would anyone else like to comment on this personal journey?

ELIJAH  WOOD: Well for me this time it wasn’t really an entire journey. You know I can certainly speak to The Lord of the Rings, and I’ve done a lot of talking about it in the last ten years. My experience was unique. We all have unique experiences. For me I was 18 when I traveled to New Zealand, so they were formative years for me growing into being a man, and that’s kind of what it meant for me. It was the first time I lived away from home for a great length of time. It was a huge journey for me as a person. I made some of the best friends of my life, and connected with this country, endured a responsibility as an actor I’ve never encountered before. So it totally changed me as a person. You know I think through the collected experiences of making the film, and going on that journey, and all of the people encountered partially made me the person I am today.

The crucial role of the Hobbit gave Academy Award winning filmmaker Peter Jackson many sleepless nights.

“Martin was the only person we ever wanted in that role. We knew him from The Office and Hitchhiker’s Guide. He had qualities that would be perfect for fussy English slightly repressed quality. He’s a dramatic actor with rare comedic skill. There’s a lot more comedy in Hobbit than LOR and it’s a fish out of water comedy too, Bilbo reacting to the adventures he finds himself in. we met him early and locked into him for the role. With the delays that happened, 18 months of us developing but not able to get green lit, we couldn’t do anything contractually. Then Martin was contracted to Sherlock series and did first season and we were in trouble and I was panicking. We literally couldn’t think of anyone else and I was having sleepless nights and six weeks away and I was tormenting myself by watching Sherlock on iPad at four in the morning, it had just come out on iTunes and I’m thinking there is no one better we are insane and when I woke up that morning and I called martin’s agent and asked if we could find a way to coordinate and the answer was yes if it could work out. What we did with studio approval we started shooting Hobbit for five months and then stopped for eight weeks and Martin came back and we went on again. I had time to edit the first four months of shooting. It was 266 days of shooting, 18 months and that break was welcome, very civilized way.

Q No women! And you’re making three movies, if LOR was three movies three books and squeezing this lemon to death.

Philippa – if we hadn’t made LOR first this would have been different story. The Gandalf in these films was the Gandalf of ?LOR. we got to bring in Cate and Sauramon and we know what happens when Gandalf disappears, you start to draw that bigger mythology that this is set against. It’s easy to forge the depth of storytelling and how dark it is. it doesn’t end with Snaur, it took you further and I loved that. There are strong elements of tragedy regarding Thorin and when you go into appendices you realize and it wasn’t hard. One of the things is greed and once you take notion of how much gold is too much and literally sickenss of the mind you start getting great actors and if you give them slight material you won’t get them. We wanted women and we felt that lack of feminjne energy. Tokien wrote brilliantly for women and Gladyrl was the most powerful being in Middle-earth and it informs The Hobbit. It’s going to get good for the girls.

Jackson – we didn’t really add Cate. It goes back to the appendices and I think it was going to write companion book to Hobbit and he never wrote that or published it but a lot in the back of LOR and they talk about White Council and the attack of Dromidor, so it’s still part of the Tokien myth.

Boyens: We did add Evangline Lily but its based on story thread from LOR and is in the second film.

Boyens: I loved Azog the Defiler, I loved that name. we loved that backstory and not have him be dead but kept him alive.

Simple acts of kindness versus great acts of heroism

Carrying that thing thru?

I could connect little pieces from LOR and in Fellowship in the mines of Loria and quiet moment where Gandalf is talking to Frodo an Bilbo had a chance to kill Gollum and that he didn’t created the story of LOR for good or bad. It was interesting 12 years after we shot that scene to show the moment where Bilbo stays his hand, the reason he doesn’t when he’s invisible and standing over Gollum is because Gandalf had said true courage is deciding when not to kill.

JACKSON: What I’m fascinated by is the reactions. Anyone under the age of 20 doesn’t care and thinks it looks cool and doesn’t understand it. 3D at 24 frames is interesting but at 48 it achieves the potential it wants to achieve, it’s less eye strain and more comfortable to watch.

I had a direct experience. I did the King Kong attraction for Universal Studios in CA and six minute film for the train ride and I thought this was so cool I wish we could do a feature but the advent of digital projectors allow these developments to happen.

We decided to take the plunge and prove the 24 version would look normal which it does and first day at 48 frames not a single cinema could project that. It was a leap of faith. It’s not an attempt to change the film industry, it’s another choice.

Syndicated columnist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected].