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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Adam Brown interview

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Interview by Rob Carnevale

ADAM Brown talks about his experiences of playing the timid dwarf Ori in Peter Jackson’s new Hobbit trilogy, beginning with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. He recalls his own journey from the phone call that changed his life to first arriving in New Zealand ready to start filming.

And he looks ahead to the film’s forthcoming premieres, getting to hang out with cast members again and what it means for his career going forward.

Q. You must be looking forward to The Hobbit finally coming out?
Adam Brown: I am. I can’t believe it’s coming up so quickly. It felt like the job would never end and now we’re going to finally see what’s been happening.

Q. Has this been an unexpected journey for you?
Adam Brown: Totally… it really has. It’s been like a whirlwind. It quite literally felt like one of those days when a phone call changes your life. But it’s been just brilliant ever since. It’s been the best two years ever, as well as quite daunting at times. But it’s been a year and a half of lots of first experiences for me.

Q. Going back to the phone call, didn’t you think the audition your agent was offering was for some form of pantomime?
Adam Brown: [Laughs] I was doing a pantomime at the time. And there’s nothing wrong with panto, I love it. I’d founded a comedy theatre company before this [Plested & Brown] so was known a little bit for that. But then I got a phone call from my agent saying that he had an audition for me for The Hobbit. I was like: “I absolutely can’t do it. I’m in the middle of a show. I’ve got a lot of commitments…” But he said: “This is not a touring version of The Hobbit! You’re not going around village halls or provincial theatres. This is Peter Jackson’s Hobbit.” So, I went along and didn’t really expect much because I was asked to audition for Bilbo. I’d read the book but couldn’t remember it that well. But I knew I wasn’t really a Bilbo type.

So, I was really going along [to the audition] for my first experience of auditioning for a film. And I auditioned in front of the casting director and asked when to expect a response. And they said: “Oh Adam, they upload the movies to New Zealand and Peter and Fran [Walsh, screenwriter] watch them instantly. So, they’ll get a response back quite soon. And they did. I think it was the next day or so when I got a call-back saying: “They’ve fallen in love with you. You’re not Bilbo, which I knew already, but they’re thinking of a dwarf!” I still had no idea what that meant… did it mean ‘villager No.1’ or ‘Villager No.2’ – you know, how detailed was this dwarf. I didn’t realise he was going to be in what has turned out to be three movies and is actually a lead character.

Anyway, I didn’t hear anything after that conversation for roughly another eight or nine weeks. But then suddenly I got a phone call and it was a case of being told to get ready to fly out next month to New Zealand on what was, then, a two movie deal. I would be living in Wellington. These were my fellow cast-mates. And I’d be sorted out with a house and a car out there. It blew my world upside down. It’s a weird thing to take in. It’s the most exciting thing but so daunting. It almost became too much at times and it was so emotional. I mean, I’ve had more re-calls for commercials. I had to ask: “Surely I need to meet Peter Jackson and Fran?” But they insisted and the next thing I knew I was flying first class with Martin Freeman on a Quantas plane to New Zealand and then having a BBQ with Peter and his team and being welcomed to Middle Earth.

Q. And how was stepping onto the set for the first time and donning the costume?
Adam Brown: The costume was fantastic and took quite a while to get right – to get the perfect look for Ori. Peter said that my audition had really helped to inform the part of Ori, which was fantastic. I’m not sure what I did. I remember feeling like a nervous wreck, so perhaps that was the quality they really liked as Ori is the timid one. I remember trying the make-up, the prosthetics and the hair… I think we went through four or five different noses for Ori. The first one was comical… it was like I had a big light-bulb on my nose. As soon as I walked out from behind the curtain, Peter and Fran went: “Ah Adam… no it’s too big! The nose is too big.” And we did that three or four times to the point where they literally shaved 5mm off for the last one. But the attention to detail is amazing.

What’s nice is looking in the mirror and seeing the character develop in front of you. And you were encouraged to collaborate too. I was very concerned that Ori was so young that he didn’t have any expression. But they really loved having an innocent look for him. They really focused on maintaining that. And then heading out onto set… given that this was my first film set, it was just amazing. Peter knew it was my first time and turned to the set and said: “This is Adam’s first time on a film set.” And everyone gave me a round of applause. Peter then said: “Don’t worry about a thing. We’ll start you off very slowly.”

Q. He sounds like a great director of actors?
Adam Brown: Oh yeah, definitely.

Q. Do you get star-struck? What was it like hanging out with the likes of Ian McKellen – who I gather you’ve shared cucumber sandwiches with – and Martin Freeman?
Adam Brown: [Laughs] That’s surreal. You’ve previously just watched these people on TV or seen them in theatre and now I’m going around their house for dinner and stuff and we’ve become huge friends. It’s madness out there but what’s even more strange is coming back to London and having Sunday roast with Ian! Relationships have formed out of being over there. It’s been brilliant. They’ve all taken me under their wing in a sense.

Ori’s story is one of being a fish out of water. He’s a dwarf that doesn’t look like he should be ready to fight these big battles with trolls ad goblins… he’s the weedy one and he only has a tiny slingshot for a weapon. So, his journey, in a way, mirrored my experiences. I had Martin going: “Adam, don’t worry. You’ re never going to experience a movie like this again.” He gave me all sorts of good tips along the way. I think Ian had read my biography about doing panto, so he kept saying to me: “Come on wishy washy, this way!”

Q. Did you get to share any scenes with Cate Blanchett?
Adam Brown: No, I didn’t. Unfortunately, the dwarves don’t get to be in the same room as Cate, which is really sad. But it’s funny… there were practically no females on the set. It was such a heavily male cast that as soon as she started working we were like bees around a honey-pot. We were all like: “Hello Cate!” The difference she brought to the set was amazing… she brought a sense of calm and professionalism [laughs].

The Hobbit, Adam Brown. Photo by Brian Doherty

Q. How much of the finished film have you seen?
Adam Brown: I’ve seen a little bit of the ADR in London and this was only weeks ago and they still have so much to do. I pity the poor chaps at WETA Digital… they’re going to be on their computers right up until the deadline. But what I’ve seen so far is mind-blowing. It’s absolutely brilliant. Even the technicians were saying they’d never seen anything like this before. And you never get technicians being excited, so there is something exciting about that.

Q. How is it seeing yourself on a poster for the first time?
Adam Brown: I’ve only seen it online so far but when I see it on the Tube that will really freak me out. It doesn’t feel real. I’ve had a friend call me and say: “I’m in Times Square and I’m looking at your face on a billboard.” It’s mental. I’ve always kind of said to myself that Ori isn’t really a big part of all this. He supports Bilbo and Thorin’s story. So, if I’m lucky I’ll get a few scenes. But it really does look as if the dwarves will be the emphasis of all three movies. And that’s great because that’s what the books are about.

Q. Did you go back and re-read the book?
Adam Brown: I did instantly. I re-read it and I had a book group session with some friends and some wine and we started talking about things and getting their thoughts on it as well. It’s just where do you end? Although, to be honest, most of my research came when I was out there [in New Zealand] talking to Peter, Philippa [Boyens] and Fran. But through doing all of that research, you kind of realise what an iconic story it is.

Q. Where did you see the first trilogy of films?
Adam Brown: I would have seen them here [in London]. It used to be something that my Dad and I used to do every Christmas. I used to take him to see them and we used to watch them as a regular Christmas thing. I was always trying to get my mum involved too but if it’s not Love Actually or Pride & Prejudice she doesn’t really want to know [laughs]. I’m not sure she’s aware how big it is.

Q. Are you getting ready for the Royal premiere?
Adam Brown: Yeah… it all starts in a couple of weeks’ time. We’ll be doing the world premiere in New Zealand, followed by New York and then the Royal Premiere in London. I haven’t been briefed about it yet but I’m sure there will be a list of do’s and dont’s. But I’ve got a great lot of people behind me. It was such a great team in New Zealand and I’m really just excited to see the boys again. I miss them all. I spent so much time with them, on the set and in our trailers. We were like a bunch of naughty schoolboys!

Q. Who was the naughtiest, dare I ask? James Nesbitt strikes me as someone who has a wicked sense of humour?
Adam Brown: James has a wicked sense of humour. Aidan Turner is pretty naughty. Aidan is great because we used to turn around and he’d always be running back to his trailer. But we all had our moments. We all have some great stories…

Q. Such as….
Adam Brown: [Pauses] I can’t think… there’s so many. [Pauses again] Being with Stephen Hunter in the barrels was funny. But there were so many fart gags that happened off-camera. We were like naughty school-boys.

Q. Did the amount of waiting that you have to do on a film set come as a surprise to you?
Adam Brown: It did surprise me, especially going from make-up and prosthetics and sometimes finding out that you’re not needed. You could be sat in the chair and waiting and waiting and then Peter might call over: “Adam, you can go to lunch now.” You might still be waiting at 4pm, and hear that you’re still wanted on set, even though you’d arrived at 4am. But it was like being in Neighbours. You just walked around to your next door neighbour and hang out playing some Xbox with them, or go and have a coffee, or go and see what the stunt team were doing, or watch clips on YouTube together. We played lots of games. Sleeping in the mask was quite difficult, though, because it digs into your head. You’d be lying there trying to forget that you’ve actually got a tonne of plastic on your face!

Q. How did you cope with the CGI and green screen?
Adam Brown: Great! I’ve done a lot of theatre so I’m used to imagining things, or making something big out of something very little. So, this was the same thing really. I remember doing some lines with the Great Goblin, who is being portrayed by Barry Humphries, and having no idea what it would look like. We did the whole scene to a green ball on a stick. So, I’m as excited as anyone to see what the outcome of that will look like!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Q. What does appearing in The Hobbit mean for your career going forward? Will you try and do more movies and balance that with theatre? Will you continue doing stuff with Plested & Brown?
Adam Brown: I think with Plested & Brown we’ve made a conscious decision to take a break. We’ll write some stuff because we’re both really keen on writing but I think we both want to write some films now. I certainly do, based around my experiences of the film world so far. And Clare [Plested] has also had some amazing experiences to draw from. So, it’s a good time to have a break for us. And I’ve definitely got a taste for film now. My thing is comedy, so I would love to do more comedy. But I’m just in the process of seeing where this all goes. I’m about to be swept up by the madness of all the premiere malarkey. So, I’ll enjoy that and re-evaluate things in January. Of course, we go back to New Zealand in May, June and July for more shooting, so I can’t commit to too much.

Q. Did you ever get home-sick being out in New Zealand for so long?
Adam Brown: I did. It’s one of the most beautiful places out there. I loved the scenery and I loved how easy it was to go out for a meal because London can be tricky like that. But I also missed popping to the theatre or seeing a stand-up gig or going to a museum. And I missed my family and friends the most… but thank god for Skype! Skype was amazing for being able to keep connected, although it was funny chatting to them in my make-up. My family would be sitting down with their evening meal and I’d have half a plastic face while talking to them!

Q. What does your dad think of your involvement? Will you be taking him to the premiere?
Adam Brown: I’m hoping to take my mum and dad along. They came out to New Zealand and had a fantastic time and were treated really well. I’m looking forward to seeing his reaction. But I think, first, I need to go and watch the movie by myself, and then with my mum and dad so that I can watch and enjoy their reaction.

Q. What’s your favourite memory of the whole experience?
Adam Brown: It’s so hard to pinpoint a favourite. Every day, there was so much laughter with all the boys. It sounds so corny, but we all became such great friends. It always used to make me cringe when I read things like ‘we’re one big family’. I always thought that was a perfect little sound-byte to tell journalists. But it’s so true – they really work hard to make it a big family environment. My next door neighbours were Martin Freeman and Orlando Bloom. It’s hard to beat that really. I really am so excited to go and see them all again and to know that the journey’s not quite over yet.

Q. And what was the biggest lesson you’ve learned as an actor?
Adam Brown: Well, working with prosthetics has been a big lesson – the whole challenge of doing that because you’re not only acting, but acting with plastic on your face and manoeuvring that. So, that was a different learning curve. But I just loved it.

The middle photograph of Adam was kindly supplied by Brian Doherty.

Read our verdict on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey