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SYFY WIRE The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power

Sauron revealed! 'The Rings of Power' actor explains the twist and the Dark Lord's motives

Even the actor playing Sauron was deceived for a while. 

By James Grebey
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Season 1 Finale Trailer

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Season 1 finale finally revealed the identity of Middle-earth’s ultimate big bad. Now, everybody watching knows who Sauron really is. But, the actor who plays Sauron didn’t know at first, shooting two episodes before getting confirmation that he was the Dark Lord. 

**SPOILER WARNING! There are big spoilers for The Rings of Power season finale ahead.**

Halbrand — the King of the Southlands who saved Galadriel from drowning, defeated Adar, and helped Celebrimbor with the breakthrough he needed — was really Sauron this whole time, as he revealed in Episode 8, “Alloyed.” Charlie Vickers, who plays Halbrand/Sauron, tells SYFY WIRE that he got a big reveal himself after he’d already started shooting. Vickers originally was in the running to pay Elrond before being informed he’d been cast as Halbrand, who he was told was a human “who ends up being the king of men.” However, Vickers wondered if there was something more to the character.

“My last two audition pieces, one was a Richard III speech, and the other was a speech from Paradise Lost where I was literally playing Satan. So, I was a bit sus,” Vickers recalls. “This guy must be a bit evil!”

RELATED: 'The Rings of Power' promises that 'all will be revealed' in trailer for Season 1 finale

It wasn’t until after they filmed the first two episodes and then went on a COVID-induced hiatus, that the showrunners sat Vickers down to tell him who he had really been playing. “That was a moment I’ll never forget, because it’s a real privilege and honor to be a part of a world like this, let alone to play a character that’s so iconic,” he says.

This morning, after the season finale aired, Vickers spoke with SYFY WIRE about the difference between playing Halbrand and playing Sauron, what the Dark Lord’s true goals are, and if we’ll ever learn why he was on that raft in the first place. 

Charlie Vickers (Halbrand)

It's interesting that you didn’t know for sure you were Sauron, because I was wondering if you were playing Halbrand in earnest, or were you always really playing Sauron with ulterior motives? Once you yourself knew, of course.

I think I was always earnestly playing Halbrand. There were moments with the directors, with Wayne [Che Yip] and Charlotte [Brändström] — I can’t say J.A. [Bayona, who directed Episodes 1 and 2] because I didn’t know I was Sauron when I was filming with J.A. — when they would be like, “This moment is really important because it sets up a Sauron Easter egg.” When I was making decisions, I was making them solely as Halbrand, hoping that my work as Sauron was embedded in the performance and would inform the performance, because it’s hard to play two characters at once. I think the crucial thing is that one of Sauron’s foremost titles is The Deceiver, and in order to deceive someone like Galadriel, he would have to be fully invested in this character of Halbrand in order to deceive. It helped me as an actor to be fully invested in it as well. 

Was forging powerful jewelry always Sauron’s plan, or was he more of an opportunistic type?

It’s a really interesting question and something I’ve mulled over. I had to make a decision, and I made a decision for my process, but I don’t think there’s a firm answer. What I believe is that he has this idea, creating a power over flesh — not of the flesh, but over flesh — this line that is repeated so much. And he’s had this idea for a long time, but he has fallen from his power and he’s brought low and he’s stranded on a raft. Tolkien talks of him lingering and then very slowly he’s reformed. I think that idea is always present but it’s not until he meets Celebrimbor  — and I talked about this a lot with the showrunners — that he meets the right person that can enact and help him create this idea, and put this idea into practice. Then it’s like “Eureka! Here we go. The answer is jewelry.”

Were you privy to a backstory of why he was on that raft?

Yes. I was, and what I can say is that we learn about that backstory in the future. 

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Season 1

Was he being earnest when he said he would have stayed on Númenor? Could Sauron have just been a humble blacksmith, or was that always a con?

There is a possibility of that. The really interesting thing about the way the season is set up, and Sauron as a character, is that Tolkien talks about him being in this repentant phase. But, he always says he was repentant out of fear. Fear of the gods and fear of humiliation. So, there is a question of whether his repentance is genuine. I don’t think it’s my place to answer that. I have an answer in my mind, but I think it’s better if you watch the season and you think, “Oh wow, it could play both ways.” If he is genuinely repentant, then he’s just looking for his peace and Galadriel is dragging him back. She makes him realize that he will not find peace anywhere. He won’t find peace as a regular dude, he’ll only find it fighting big battles with the gods. Or you can view it as him manipulating her. A few things need to fall into place but a lot of his moves are manipulation. 

Was he serious in his offer to make Galadriel his queen? How much of their bond was real, and how much was just Sauron being the master manipulator?

They definitely have a bond. He feels a bond to her. But it’s on another level to a bond that we as humans can be familiar with. They operate at a really high frequency that nobody else does. It’s not a romantic husband and wife, king and queen thing, necessarily. In his mind, she can be his queen because she can help him affect his designs at a faster pace. That’s why he loved working with Morgoth, because Morgoth could make s*** happen really fast. Even with Galadriel by his side, he would have ended up in charge, making sure that he’s in charge. But, I think it’s an earnest pitch to her at that moment. 

Sauron is the ultimate flat-out “evil” character in pop culture, and yet here you are playing him as a sympathetic hero at first, making a benevolent-sounding pitch that he wants to really heal Middle-earth. Does Sauron see himself as a bad guy? Is there a world where he isn’t a black-and-white villain? Or ultimately is he going to be that archetypal pure evil?

Externally, and certainly where the character evolves to: he is evil. Tolkien talks of him, saying he should be thought of as very terrible. He is the epitome of evil. I don’t think Sauron thinks that. Tolkien talks about him having fair motives, and that even in the beginning, he had good intentions. I think he still has good intentions. He wants to heal. He wants to reorganize and rehabilitate Middle-earth.

Finally, is it more fun for you, as an actor, to be the bad guy out in the open now? No secrets, mask off.

Yeah. It’s been an absolute joy to play this character. It’s been a challenge to keep my cards close to my chest for this long. I am really thrilled and excited for next season to get Sauron doing s***. Doing stuff that we know him for in the lore. It’s incredibly exciting and it’s going to be really cool for the audience to watch along knowing that he’s Sauron. You’re watching characters be like, “Oh no! Don’t do that! You’re getting tricked!” You’re in on the grift, and I can’t wait to be able to get into that. 

Season 1 of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is now streaming on Prime Video. A second season is in production but does not yet have a premiere date. 

Looking for more fantasy? Check out the Harry Potter films streaming now on Peacock.