The day may come when we forsake our friends, and break all bonds of fellowship ... but it is not this day. This day, two pivotal players from The Lord of the RIngs trilogy had a reunion at New York Comic Con 2019. Actors Sean Astin (Samwise Gamgee) and Billy Boyd (Peregrin Took) took to the stage, and treated us to a belated Hobbit Day gift. SYFY WIRE was there to go on the journey with them, recounting the journey they took with director Peter Jackson for his epic Tolkien trilogy.
Clare Kramer served as our guide (and moderator) for the reunion, and wasted no time in bringing Boyd and Astin to the stage, much to the rapturous applause and enthusiasm of the audience. The LOTR cosplay was running fierce in this room, and NYCC had a lot of love for these two hobbit actors. 20 years later, what does the film mean to them?
"It's an incredible thing," Boyd said, going on to mention how he ran into a family that very morning who named his son Sam, very much in honor of Samwise. "It's great to be a part of something that's so special for so many people."
"It feels the same ... just older," Astin joked. "The ideas and stories that Tolkien created are so big." He said that the movies make you really "believe in precious little things" that can be lost in the grand scheme.
How familiar were either of them with Tolkien's work before shooting? Boyd, having grown up in Scotland (joking that he had his kilt on under his trousers), said that he and his friends did nothing but soccer ... until one day one of his friends recommended that they read The Hobbit. They all read it together, and as he said, "It was the only time that we did that. These street kids in Glasgow were reading this book." He attempted LOTR after that, but he was a little too young for it.
Astin had never heard of the books, and he definitely showed some shame over this. No stranger to appearing in memorable movies (The Goonies and Rudy both got big applause from the audience, and from Boyd as well), Astin talked about how well this trilogy has held up. He remarked that some of his former movies are "dated in the most beautiful way," but looking at LOTR, he maintains that it "holds up as a piece of drama" and could definitely have been made today. He described it as "permanent." For him, LOTR is in a category with Casablanca when it comes to timelessness.
Boyd added onto this, saying that although they did use green screen and plenty of digital effects, they were often actually walking and trudging through rivers and mountains, which only helped the physical experience.
They brought up the now-legendary tale of how the Fellowship actors all got matching tattoos toward the end of shooting (the elvish number 9), except for Astin ... he didn't know where to put it. Even Sean Bean (who was "already dead," according to Boyd) got one remotely, but Astin remained reticent. Boyd decided to put his tattoo on his foot, in remembrance of his continually having to put on Hobbit feet. What he didn't recall was that shooting wasn't completely over, and that his tattoo then had to be covered every time his feet were applied.
To get in character, Boyd remarked that he and Dominic Monaghan (Merry) played a lot of pool and drank a lot of beer. Astin threw in that there was also "a lot of kissing," which Boyd admitted to. "It was Hobbiton," Astin said. They went further to talk about the kickoff party to the shoot, which featured the hobbit actors as jesters. They naturally finished a sword routine with kissing, possibly a bit of "wish fulfillment" for Astin, as he said.
"It's hard to pick one moment," Boyd said, when asked to pick one that really stuck out. For Astin, the first one that really felt transcendent was taking a helicopter trip to the shoot for the scene where the Fellowship escapes the Mines of Moria and grieves over Gandalf. "Everybody kind of fit a little bit," Astin said, adding that when Jackson showed him footage of the scene he was blown away by how amazing it looked. Boyd tacked on that because it was such a remote location, they all went up in costume with a minimal crew, and that they "felt like the Fellowship." No trailers or dressing rooms — they just ate what they packed and sat on rocks. "We pushed each other," Astin said. "We all did that for each other."
Boyd went on to talk about the heartbreaking song that he sings in the third film in Denethor's chamber, saying that it originally wasn't in the script. We can thank a night of karaoke (with Boyd singing Tom Jones) for the song, because writer Philippa Boyens saw him singing. She wanted Boyd to sing in the movie, but composer Howard Shore had a full plate. Boyd was then tasked with coming up with the tune, one that he endeavored to "make a bit Celtic." He sang a few versions at Jackson's house, Jackson picked the one that Boyd liked the best, and the next day they filmed it. The song had to be re-recorded in ADR because of the filming conditions, so Boyd ended up recording it in the famous Abbey Road studio. The rest is brilliant cinema history.
One fan had a question that directly from Monaghan, trying to pit Boyd and Astin against each other — "What do you think you're better at that him?" Boyd immediately said "Kissing." They both went on to praise Monaghan, while Astin added that Boyd is better at keeping secrets than he is. Both Monaghan (and Elijah Wood) were missed by their hobbit companions. "Between Dom and Billy, Billy took mercy on me," Astin said, recalling an in-joke between Boyd and Monaghan that he just could not crack. "Basically, Dom and Billy are mean girls," Astin said.
Boyd then got called out by a fan for saying "soccer" earlier (as "a self-respecting Scotsman"), and Boyd said that he thought the audience may have been confused. Astin remarked that Monaghan always just calls it "footie."
"If you left the Hobbits alone long enough, they were gonna find the beer," Boyd said, recalling some of the best parts of the experience when asked by a fan. He had no doubt about his least favorite part: "The worst was the feet," he said instantly.
If they had the chance to go back, what character would they want to play? Boyd thought that Gollum would be interesting, but added that Andy Serkis can't really be beat. Astin simply said, "Smaug." Boyd was then asked by a fan about his time in Season 4 on Outlander, and said that he never knows what he's allowed to say, so he ends up just saying nothing. He did let it drop that they're filming Season 5 now, and then wondered if he was even allowed to say that. He said it though, we heard it, so look forward to more Billy Boyd in the world of Outlander. "We're going really, really fast," Boyd said, when a fan remarked on how long it's taken for the show to return.
Astin naturally got a Stranger Things question, referring to what his experience was like in Season 2 of that show. He talked about how people come up to him often and just say, "Shame about Bob." The audience agreed, showing great love for Bob. Astin himself had nothing but awe for the continuing show and its creators — that said, he's only seen a few episodes of Season 3, while his daughter has already binged the whole thing.
"Why didn't Bob just keep running?" Boyd interjected, referring to Astin's death in the series. 'You're running, you get to a corner, and you stop? Just keep running Bob! You'd have been in Season 3!" Astin was quick to point out that the words, "Bob stops" were very clearly printed in the script.
Astin, who also does a lot of political service, recalled how a fan recently asked him over twitter "what was worth saving?" Astin laughed, and said, "...really? You're going to ask Samwise Gamgee what is worth saving?" He then went on to quote his famous "there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo, and it's worth fighting for..." speech, and the audience loved it. (We did too.)
"You don't have to conquer the world, just take pride in whatever small thing you're working on," Astin said. "That's why I love the Hobbits...small things are worth defending."
The two actors continued the fun the following day at SYFY WIRE's Live Stage, where they revisited the topic of Stranger Things, but also shared an anecdote from the set. Specifically, filming a scene that involved traipsing through a marsh (they had differing memories on which scene it was) in freezing cold weather.
While Astin praised Boyd's professionalism despite the worst circumstances on set, he said there was a breaking point when the prosthetic Hobbit feet into blocks of ice. "The worst night," recalled Boyd. "I peed on my own feet to warm them up. Then I got Viggo to pee on them as well."
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