We talk to Aidan Turner, up and coming Irish star and one the youngest dwarves in Thorin Oakenshield’s company.
One of Ireland’s rising stars Aidan Turner first shot to cult fame playing a vampire in BBC’s much loved ‘Being Human’. It was here that Peter Jackson first spotted Aidan and invited him to come in for a reading, six months later he found himself in New Zealand cast as Kili in ‘The Hobbit’, the long awaited prequel to ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ trilogy. We caught up with Aidan on a rare visit home to Dublin, currently shooting in Toronto, the actor had a few days off and flew in for some home comforts.
Middle Earth is a long, long way from Dublin city, how did you get from Tallaght to New Zealand? It makes me feel like a phony sometimes, I really just fell into it. I had just finished my leaving cert and for some reason, I don’t really know why or how, I took a class at the Gaiety school of acting. I think it was a course in acting for the camera. I then did theater for five or six years, then a couple of jobs for the BBC. I didn’t go to many plays as a kid and I wasn’t a movie buff, it’s just something that came along and has always been exciting. There were no school plays, nothing like that.
How familiar were you with the world of Tolkien before you started shooting ‘The Hobbit’? I was a fan of Peter’s films, especially the ‘Lord Of The Rings’ trilogy but I hadn’t read ‘The Hobbit’ until after I met Peter. I remember that scary walk into meet him thinking ‘Oh God, I don’t have a clue as to what this is about’. I was calling friends to give me a quick run down but coming up against Jackson to discuss Tolkien was never a good idea, I had to be blatantly honest with him and said ‘Mate, I haven’t read this, go easy on me’ so he spent the next twenty five minutes telling me about the whole story, so at the time it didn’t matter. I consumed it straight after the meeting. By the time I finished the book I had been cast so it was nice to read it for this purpose and knowing what was going to happen was a buzz.
How tall are you when you’re not a dwarf? I’m not the tallest by any means, Jimmy Nesbitt is 6 foot, Graham McTavish is 6ft 2. I’m about 5ft 11. Peter’s not casting the actors for scale, there’s a lot of tricks they use, like other actors could be standing on a box, using different sized props, or walking while we’re in a dug out trench. Sometimes Gandalf is just closer to the foreground, while we’re in the background and its hard to tell where the level plateau is. Other times its more complicated, they use a technique called ‘slave motion control’ which uses multiple different cameras on the same set which pushes everything onto one image.
Is there a grueling make-up session every day to get into character when you arrive on set? It took a while at the beginning, prosthetics could take three or four hours, then you had hair, then costume after that. We managed to get it down to two hours after a while. It doesn’t take as long to get it all off, as you’re leaving the set you’re pulling off your prosthetic nose and your wig.
How much of the movie is filmed out in location in the wilderness of the New Zealand countryside and how much is shot inside a studio? It’s going to be interesting to see how it works on screen, we were four months working out on location in the countryside, being dropped off in a helicopter at the side of a cliff. You’re up there for twelve hours and when you eventually leave you’re driven down though the mountain to a base-camp. It was a very remote, very secluded area, where nobody has walked for a very long time because it’s so difficult to get to. In the back of my head I was thinking, ‘couldn’t they just CGI this’? So I can’t wait to see how the landscape scenes marry up with some of the CGI stuff, I couldn’t understand at times why some scenes were done in a studio while others required us to take a helicopter to the most remote locations, which is why I’m not a filmmaker I guess.
The trailer shows crumbling mountains, giant trolls, ogres and of course Gollum. How do you find working in such a prominent CGI environment? You definitely get used to it, you have to get used to it quite quickly its what these big movies are all about. You have to be comfortable looking at the tennis ball on a stick in front of your face. You find you can’t get distracted, you have to deliver your dialogue to a piece of gaffa tape stuck on something or someone’s name on a stick. It should pull you out of it but it doesn’t. In traditional movies sometimes you could just be talking into a camera two or three inches away from your face instead of another actor so you have to think about delivering to that person with that particular intention, the rest then sorts itself out. In a movie like this when you’re shooting for over 200 days you have to get used to it fairly quickly.
Are there surreal moments when working on such an epic movie with such large scale and ambition? It happened all the time, you look around and there’s yourself next to Gandalf the wizard hanging out by a giant tree in Mirkwood talking about the most ridiculous stuff while you’re waiting for a take to happen. There’s a part of you that thinks, ‘wow, this is mental, this is crazy’. You look over and see 300 people dancing around a sound stage and to your right there’s Peter Jackson sitting down, thinking, having a cup of tea and the whole movie is up there in his head. What makes it so cool is that you have to get over these moments and become a part of middle earth yourself, not be a fan but be a character in this world. If I couldn’t make that leap it would have been a very different buzz. The first place we shot was at Bag End, inside Bilbo’s house, its exactly how you would expect, it’s a real house, the same scale and size from the original trilogy, the first scene I did was knocking on that door for real and to have Bilbo open it was surreal, you can’t buy those moments.
Do you currently get recognized for roles like ‘Being Human’ and are you ready for the fan-boy acclaim that will come with a role as massive as Kili in The Hobbit films? I’ve been lucky enough to have been to comic-con twice when ‘Being Human’ was transferring to BBC America. It is pretty insane because it’s a convention that attracts several hundred thousand people over four days. I don’t know how you can prepare for something like it, I’ve only just touched on it with ‘Being Human’ which was popular but the only ones who would recognize me were the ones who were really into the show. ‘The Hobbit’ is consumed by a massive audience, I’ve never been in something so big so only time will tell.
Words: Vincent Donnelly
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY is at cinemas from December 13th