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Too Clever By Half

With a running time of 700 minutes (give or take) and a budget ofapproximately $9 zillion, The Return of the King, the finalinstallment in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Ringstrilogy, is the biggest movie of the year in every possible sense.And if there’s anything we’ve learned from the epicTolkien adaptation, it’s that little people are capable ofvery great things. So as the Rings cycle comes to a close,who’s more deserving of our respect than the littlest peopleof them all — the hobbits? Standing considerably taller in reallife, actors Sean Astin (center, who plays the loyal Samwise),Billy Boyd (right, the musically inclined Pippin), and DominicMonaghan (left, the battle-bound Merry) reunited for aKing-size conversation.

Spin:Hobbits may be noble and brave, but they’re not particularly sexy –especially compared to the movie’s elf and the human characters.

Monaghan: We are sexy. Hobbits are the sexiest.

Astin: I think she’s saying you’re not as sexy as Orlando [Bloom, who plays the elf Legolas].

Monaghan: I am as sexy as Orlando. I actually think I’m sexier.

Maybe, but hobbits aren’t sexy.

Monaghan: The hobbits have to be the most approachablecharacters of the Fellowship, the sweetest and nicest-looking. For theaudience to invest in them, hobbits have to be wide-eyed and sweet andchildlike, and childlike is not sexy. Unless you’re a pedophile. Butthey’re the fucking sexiest guys in the world, as far as I’m concerned.

What are some of the unexpected benefits of playing hobbits?

Astin: I was invited to do a speech at ajet-propulsion laboratory at Harvard. I was standing there thinking,”These are rocket scientists.” And you realize that, man, they’re justgeeks. They were so interested in the way the movies were made. I justanswered their questions and shared some insight and heard from themabout the Mars probe.

Any other surprising perks?

Monaghan: Women.

You mean groupies?

Monaghan: Well, it’s more people coming over to talk to you than actually women, right?

Boyd: It just means that a lot of women have seen Dom on a big screen with a giant, 15-foot head.

Are your fans ever disappointed that you’re not more hobbity in real life and are actually normal size?

Astin: It’s very disappointing for children when theymeet me. That is my lot in life: to do something that children love somuch that when they meet me, they’re totally let down.

Lord of the Rings fans are notoriously…enthusiastic about these characters.

Astin: You have to protect yourself. I’ve come up with a phrase: ?”inappropriately intense.”

Monaghan: You have to take it with a pinch of salt.You have to be aware that if you are in people’s living rooms, peoplewill fancy you. The ugliest guy in the world who’s on TV will get a lotof attention.

In any group of people, each member often develops aparticular identity — the brain, the jock, the drama queen. Did thathappen to you?

Monaghan: Once, when we went back for reshoots, the four hobbits were riding horses.

Boyd: Elijah was having a lot of trouble with hishorse, but he was trying to be a leader, and Sean was having anallergic reaction to the ?horsies. Dom was in a bad mood —

Monaghan: — I was grumpy because of certain technical things that were pissing me off about the scene.

Boyd: And I was just in stitches watching all of them.It was so funny. And a girl from the special-effects team was standingthere with a friend, and she looks at us and says, “Sneezy, Happy,Grumpy, and Doc” and walked away.

Monaghan: Elijah just could not control his horse.

Boyd: The worst horseman in the world.

Astin: I thought I was going to die that day. Theallergic reaction was really acute. Somebody said something about howat certain points in your life you can have greater or lesser toleranceto histamines, and I was having a low moment with my histamines.

Monaghan: Yeah, men go through cycles the same way women do.

Astin: Well, I don’t.

You first started production on the Lord of the Rings films more than four years ago. How sad are you to see the experience come to an end?

Boyd: For me, it doesn’t really feel like an ending — it feels like I’ll have more time to do other things, which is cool.

Astin: There’s an element of sadness about this whole circus being over, but reinventing yourself is always interesting.

So what’s next for you?

Astin: Confusion.

Monaghan: Death.

Boyd: Glory.

Gollum’s Column

For a guy who doesn’t actually appear in a single frame ofThe Lord of the Rings, Andy Serkis may be the most visible member ofits cast. The classically trained stage actor is the man responsiblefor the computer-animated Gollum’s agile antics and screechy elocution,and the one who’s often called upon to represent the Rings ensemble atsci-fi conventions. Fresh off a visit to the mammoth British gatheringCollectormania, Serkis, 39, spoke to us in his own, non-screechy voice.

Spin: Was that you we saw at last year’s Oscars, walking the red carpet with a “No War for Oil” sign? Andy Serkis:It was. Once the U.S. decided to go into Iraq, Hollywood became full offear. People were absolutely terrified to speak their minds. Theyargued that [the ceremony] shouldn’t be a platform for politicaldiscussion. But I always thought that’s what you do as an actor: Youinvestigate and bring back what you find and share it with an audience.

Is it safe to assume the fans at Collectormania are a little more relaxed?We actually get into pretty in-depth discussions. People want to talkto me about things they associate with Gollum — strong addictions,anorexia, and bulimia. I met a lady whose son was dying of leukemia,and she was saying that during the last few months of his life hereally related to Gollum.

That sounds intense. It can be very humbling, andsome of the stories are quite tragic. It’s strange, because you have todeal with these people in a very open environment, as more peoplecontinue lining up behind them.

Not all of your encounters are totally heartbreaking, are they?Oh, no. A lot of it’s speaking to someone they have on the phone, like,”My dad’s a big fan!” And then Dad comes on, and we have a little chatabout what’s going to happen in The Return of the King.

Are there people who still don’t understand that Gollum is essentially a special effect? People do come up and ask, “How long were you in makeup?” That’s what you might call a frequently asked question.