Benedict Cumberbatch has had a bad week as The Fifth Estate bombed at the US and UK box offices, but his next film is as close to a guaranteed box office winner as they come. In fact, it might be said he will set the box office ablaze, as Cumberbatch voices the dragon Smaug in the forthcoming second Hobbit movie.
We visited Middle Earth to meet the cast and crew in anticipation of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which is out on Boxing Day, and in our day on set we learned of five different Hobbit films we nearly got instead.
For Sir Ian McKellan, The Hobbit doesn't have enough day-to-day detail. "The one disappointment is that Peter had half-promised, 'Wouldn't it be fun to see Gandalf getting up in the morning'. Peter's always saying he likes the guy who does sleep under a hedge and gets up and saves the world. So do I," McKellan mused.
"We see the dwarves eating a lot and drinking a lot. They never seem to go to the loo."
The non-McKellan Hobbit
Not only didn't we get a domesticated wizard, we almost didn't get the same wizard. "I don't like to play a part that I have played before," McKellan told us. "Once you've played Gandalf, you get offered a lot of parts for old men with white beards. And it's hardly worth you reading the script because however good it is, I feel I have done that. So there was a lot inside me saying, "No, no, no."
"What persuaded me was could I bear the thought of somebody else playing Gandalf? I couldn't actually face talking to an eight-year-old and explaining why I didn't want to be Gandalf again."
The Office Hobbit
Martin Freeman wasn't worried about being branded Bilbo Baggins for life, after all he started out as Tim from The Office. "When you're younger, you can see it more as a trap. Actually you should be so lucky that you do a role where people identify that with you anyway, because most actors don't get one."
He's even contemplated a cross-breeding of the two roles, a film where Bilbo often turns to look at the camera "and he has an unrequited love thing with Dori as well. Who sits behind a desk."
The English Hobbit
Middle Earth is synonymous with New Zealand, yet the Hobbit films almost returned to the home of Tolkien, and it was all Australia's fault says Peter Jackson.
"A whole dispute we had with Actors' Equity in Australia nearly made us take the movie over to England to shoot. We came within a day or two of that decision. Then I had an ulcer. I won't blame the Australians for that, although, well, you know, it's debatable."
The Early Hobbit
Jackson also confirmed it could all be finished now. "Our original plan was to make The Hobbit as a single movie, and then if that was successful, then to do The Lord of the Rings as two movies back to back. And that's what we pitched Harvey Weinstein back in about '95 or '96."
They couldn't get the rights to The Hobbit, so they went with the Rings, and the rest is Middle Earth history.
- Sydney Morning Herald