Wellington actors John Callen and Peter Hambleton have just spent hours filming a scene for The Hobbit trilogy at a makeshift sound stage in Upper Hutt, a gigantic space that was once a former car assembly factory.
It’s late at night when we meet, with them out of costume and free of the prosthetics and makeup that transforms Callen into Oin and Hambleton into Gloin in the US$500 million project. The two joke often, usually at each other’s expense, as they explain the characters they play.
At this stage the two have been filming for about 18 months. So by now you’d expect the actors playing the 13 dwarfs to be getting on each others nerves. ‘‘No, we're a very happy band of players, actually,’’ jokes Hambleton, who has had a high profile in Wellington theatre for years.
‘‘We've all had our moments, but, by crikey, it's a great gang to be part of. There's been very little, if any, difficulty in all hanging out together. It's been great.’’
‘‘It's very much like having an old school theatre company, really,’’ says Callen, who is just as well known for his voice as his face. ‘‘That's what it's like. Having a group of people together you get to know their strengths, you get to know their weaknesses, and some of them have more weakness's than others, of course. Don't you, Peter? But, generally we get on very well.’’
In JRR Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit several of the 13 dwarfs are only briefly sketched out. The movies will be different in that respect, they say. ‘‘The book's a very good place to start. It's not where the film finishes,’’ says Callen. ‘‘The film is that story, but a number of the dwarfs, including Oin and Gloin, are not what I would say ‘terribly well-formed’ in the book. And what our writers, director and producers have done is create real solid characters. So not everything is exactly as it is in the book. In some places we have managed, dare I say it, to improve.’’
‘‘We all look very individual and different, and interesting, hopefully,’’ says Hambleton. ‘‘And there's been space in the pre-production period for us to try and find more than is perhaps... But to build on some of the stuff that's hinted at, or implied in the books, and expand the characters a little bit because the audience has to grow to care about them, over three films. [They have to] care about their fate and their adventures. We felt we've been able to make a contribution to fleshing out the characters to a small degree.’’
In The Hobbit Gloin – who is the father of Gimli, played by John Rhys-Davies in The Lord of the Rings – is the only dwarf who is married. It begs the question – is he more attractive to female dwarfs? Hambleton laughs.
‘‘Well, he's got magnificent red hair. His hair and his beard, of course, are a huge attraction for the lady dwarfs. He's just a big-hearted sort of a person. He's a real grump at times. He takes things very seriously.
‘‘It's not typecasting at all,’’ Callen says, poking fun at Hambleton.
‘‘He has a very warm side to him, even though he appears to be grumbling and complaining about things a lot of the time.’’
And what’s the main characteristic of Oin? ‘‘Have you seen any of the dwarf women? No, you haven't, have you? No. Well, if you had it would explain why he's the only one who's actually married. All right? That's all I'm going to say about that.
‘‘Oin is an interesting character. In the book he rather thinly sketched as they both are. They appear in the book as the firelighters... that gave us, I wouldn't say carte blanche, but in developing who this character Oin is. He is something of an apothecary and that means that he carries with him a bag of potions, and lotions, and things like that.
‘‘He did mix some which he called ‘Oin-ment’ and apparently that word "Oin-ment" has been bastardised and is au courant around the world these days. The English-speaking world anyways. Ointment, but it is actually a mispronunciation of "Oin-ment," which he invented. So, he is a carer of the sick and the weak.’’
Hambleton says he and Callen are hopeful audiences will embrace their characters as well as the other dwarfs.
‘‘I think it's safe to say that the story won't get bogged down by too much character development, in terms of the dwarfs. But, as John says, we need to be able to bring a richness to each moment, and also our audience, hopefully, needs to believe in us, and have something emotionally invested in us for the journey.
‘‘They might hate us, I don't know... They're very differently, richly colored individuals within the team of dwarfs, but we are a team on a mission. In fact, there's a phrase ‘feel the fire of the dwarfs’ which is mentioned and shouted out at times. We share a common objective, which is to reclaim our birthright for our people.’’
- The Dominion Post
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