James Nesbitt interview: The Hobbit, dwarves, Peter Jackson

As The Hobbit gets its home release, we talk to Bofur himself, James Nesbitt, about working with Peter Jackson, dwarves and more...

If ever there was a franchise to get excited about seeing in the comfort of your own home, it was The Lord Of The Rings, with the full versions of Peter Jackson’s trilogy enjoying their debut on disc many years ago. I’m sure I’m not alone in enjoying a whole day of watching all three extended editions, back to back, surrounded by friends, junk food and the odd alcoholic beverage, turning the onscreen antics of Frodo and company into a celebratory event. As a result I’m one of those people who can’t wait to repeat the experience with a brand new Hobbit-shaped trio of movies.

It seems that the decision to split The Hobbit into three films has divided fans, but I can’t help but revel in the chance to have several more Christmases marked by the adventures in Middle Earth. When films are as much fun as The Hobbit, or other contemporary epics like Nolan’s Batman movies, I’m happy for the movies to run for as long as they like, safe in the knowledge that once they’re finished, there won’t be any more to enjoy, so we might as well make the most of them in all their glory.

I was James Nesbitt’s last interview of the day, but he was on fine form and joking about drinking his 50th cup of coffee having been confined to a hotel room for a day long junket. Nesbitt’s such a familiar face on British TV, from Cold Feet to the more recent Monroe, that it was a real joy seeing him as part of the dwarven brotherhood in The Hobbit, especially alongside other such TV alumni as Martin Freeman, Ken Stott, Richard Armitage and Aidan Turner.

Our chat started with Nesbitt joking about being interviewed non-stop (“I’ve nothing left to say. I’ll talk about anything except The Hobbit and Peter Jackson!”) and continued from there…

Ad – content continues below

It must be difficult by the time you get to this point in the day?

Well I mean it’s important, because I am an actor who actually understands the importance of this stuff. I mean, it goes with my job – they’ve paid me money to be in this movie and whether or not it’s enjoyable or not, and I don’t mind it, but it is incumbent upon me to talk about the movie and so I quite enjoy it.

It’s important not to get too formulaic, but it’s hard at times, and I’m so much happier talking about it now than I was in the original press junket when the film was about to be released at Christmas, because you know there was so much hype, so much apprehension, so much paranoia and fear about what was going to happen. But now that the movie’s passed through this billion dollar mark and kids are coming up to me on a daily basis about how much they love it. Now in retrospect it’s lovely to talk about it.

And I wanted to say a belated congratulations on your performance, and now the film of course, as it’s now the 15th film to cross the billion dollar mark…

Wow! Fifteen’s a lot though, what else is there? There must be Avatar

And Titanic

Ad – content continues below

Has Peter got any other ones?

The Return Of The King as it was the last of the trilogy…

Funnily enough, of course, the movie leaves the cinemas but where it lives on is in the DVDs, and I love that and the sense that in 20 years time, if we’re still all around and the world still exists and if DVDs still exist, there it will be and you can still access it. 

I’ve always thought that there must be something quite lovely about the fact that the film will live on forever…

It’s great and the billion dollars, what does it mean to me? What it means is an awful lot of, particularly young children, all over the world going into cinemas and being entranced and excited and enchanted and bewitched and uplifted and terrified by this story – this story, that has existed for a long time, and that the right man lifted it from the page and put it on the screen – I’m thrilled to be part of that. And for what it’s worth – and it may not be worth anything – but history will show that there were only ever 13 dwarves in The Hobbit and I was one of them, so it’s a privilege!

And how was it finally seeing it on the big screen, after such an epic shoot?

Ad – content continues below

I haven’t seen it! [Laughs] No I’m joking! It’s hard to be… it’s difficult if you’re in it, I always find that. There are things that I’ve been in that I regret and things that I never got a chance to see, but watching through an unconcerned and uninvolved eye… but I enjoy it.

I’m really excited about two actually, because I think that now we’re up and running that part two is a lot more about the dwarves and the hobbit and the wizard. I like it, I love Martin’s performance, I love Gandalf, I love the look of the dwarves, I was pleased with it.

Do you still have any filming left to do?

Yep, I go out a week early as I’m doing a travel log for ITV about New Zealand, so I go a week early, we shoot from the end of May to the end of July I believe, about ten weeks.

Is that the end of it then, or are you going to do more for part three?

From what I gather this is it! [Grins] With Peter Jackson there’s always brackets – Watch. This. Space. So we’ll see.

Ad – content continues below

I’ve loved Peter Jackson’s work for years and years, right back to his early horror days, and I like to think that he’s a director who employs actors who he trusts with a certain autonomy, especially given that there are 13 dwarves amongst a huge cast…

Yeah, I mean he’s incredible – you’ve answered the question. He’s extraordinarily inclusive, very collaborative and casts very carefully I think, he wants his actors to bring bits of themselves, I mean he asks you to jump off the cliff with him, but then lets you fall whatever way you want to, and he’s pretty impressive in that way.

The thing about Peter is that he is very, very hard to define because here is a very kind, down to earth, instinctively generous man, with the imagination of a kid, he’s one of the ones that managed to break that impossible challenge – you know Picasso always wanted to paint like a child, that was his biggest regret, and everyone understands what Picasso meant by that.

I think Peter was one of the ones that got to be successful, he got to be the fan with the flair and imagination of a kid, with the innocence of a child, with the touch of a genius, who was given the opportunity to make those movies.

That’s why I think the blogs are so important and why I think they illustrate the man in all his humanity and glorious innocence and joy. He understands how important the stories and the world is to people all over the world and so he’s giving them the opportunity to see the ‘making of’ and I just think that’s a very cool thing of him to do. 

At what point did you get involved with The Hobbit? Did you audition just for Bofur?

Ad – content continues below

Yeah, they asked me to go on tape for Bofur, must be not far off three years ago now, and it was always Bofur. Peter was in town, I went to meet him and he said, “We’d love you to do this”. I didn’t do any more reading, so it was a question of me deciding well, is that something that I want to do? Do I want to put my family through it? Do I want to move to the other side of the world for 18 months and uproot my kids from their comfortable lives?

The career experience was wonderful, what will it do for my career? I don’t know exactly, but to bear witness to Peter’s imagination was an extraordinary privilege, to work with those talented people was a dream, but the overriding things about it was that living in New Zealand for that length of time was incredible, the most enriching experience that you could ever hope for and it changed their lives as well.

Oh really?

Oh yeah, it’s a fucking sensational country. I mean it’s sensational with its wonderful people, a rich brilliant culture, incredible landscapes, skies and colours that you wouldn’t believe, just beauty and truth – it’s an amazing place.

And what was your relationship to the book of The Hobbit, previous to the filming?

I had none! I hadn’t read the book until I got the job and even worse, even worse I hadn’t seen any of The Lord Of The Rings movies until I got the job!

Ad – content continues below

Really! So you were able to approach it quite fresh then?

Completely fresh, which was quite helpful, but it was a bit daunting watching the films just before I’m about to starting working with him and thinking, “Holy shit! I didn’t realise they were like this!” with the epic scale, so it was a bit daunting, but also wonderful as it was nice to have it so fresh. 

So it removed those elements of preconception…

Absolutely, yes indeed it did.

Were you worried at all about the passionate fanbase when signing up, as they can be the fiercest critics?

Well I didn’t really consider it, as I didn’t really know about it – I’m aware of it now! Yeah it’s astonishing, the mail and stuff I get and how people freak out sometimes, almost on a daily basis there’d be one person that will freak out about just anything to do with The Hobbit and they’ll go crazy. It’s an interesting world.

Ad – content continues below

The nature of fandom fascinates me, especially being a part of it, when I take step back to look at it…

Absolutely. It’s an astonishing melting pot of… I love it, I think it’s very endearing but it’s also fucking freakish as well!

I also wanted to ask how you found the challenge of the green screen work?

Well it’s interesting, because honestly we didn’t do much green screen. I was astonished, I thought we were going to do more. Now we did bits with McKellen, or would be separate from him, like we’d be doing time lapse and motion control where we’d rehearse the scene so that, say if you’re Gandalf we’d do the scene with Gandalf, then he would go to set next door where he would just have poles with our faces on, that would light up when we spoke and we would be working off a tall double, or just looking at an imaginary Gandalf.

Then they were able to merge that as they were shooting it, I mean it was astonishing, so that was kind of complicated. For the most part the green screen stuff we did was just peripheral stuff, so it would be like landscapes in the distance, but most of the sets we were working on were built sets, or on location. I was really surprised by that and it really was a wonderful luxury actually, I mean sometimes Peter would be talking on the ‘voice of God’ as he called it – a rather self-deprecating, or self-aggrandising term depending on how you look at it! And he would be saying, “Ok, you’re being attacked so look up,” but a lot of the time, the things were actually there. 

I think it makes a difference. Every time I watch a film from back in the 80s you can always see these amazing sets and models and it feels more real and tangible…

Ad – content continues below

No absolutely, I mean our sets were… that was what was incredible about arriving on the first day at and walking into the Stone Street Studios and there were five different sets and hundreds of people building and glass blowing and leather beating and livestock feeding, designing exquisitely detailed miniatures. It’s astonishing, you walk onto the set and you think, “Jesus!” – it made my job an awful lot easier, you’re inhabiting a world, a real world, Middle Earth is real out there, it’s kind of crazy.

Yeah, I remember watching the ‘making of’ documentaries on the Lord Of The Rings DVDs, and the level of detail they put into things, even elements you might not even see in the films, was mind blowing.

It’s incredible. That’s what really blew my mind, that attention to detail. Everyone has a role in Middle Earth and they’re the best at it, we work very hard but we work together and Peter leads it, by example, with energy that you have to meet, but the details… astonish me.

One of the things I loved about the casting was the great lineage of TV actors from over here, with the likes of you and Ken Stott…

Yeah well we had Scottish, Irish and English too, and I think that helped the brotherhood too, frankly, we’ve all worked a long time, some of us more than others. I left drama school in 1988, this’ll be my 25th year of filming, but nothing can really prepare you for a job like this. It was challenging, at times it was hard, at times it was annoying and frustrating and times you wanted to tear your hair out, or wig off, but it was in incredibly rewarding experience. It’s hard to follow, you know?

I also read in an interview with you, that you’d love to work with Peter Jackson again on a smaller project…

Ad – content continues below

Yeah I’d love that!

Would you prefer to work with the Braindead horror side of Peter Jackson, or the more dramatic Heavenly Creatures style?

Well I think Peter should switch genre more, frankly – I think he should do a love story. I think he’d do a good love story, I’m not sure he’s done one really, or he’s done bits of it. I’d love to do all sorts of things with him, I’d love to do a western with him, I’d love to do a musical western with him. 

Speaking of – did you know there was going to be singing in The Hobbit?

I knew Fran clearly was very musical, but I love that and I think we live in a time when the musical genre is back and when people like musical films and there’s a lot of music in the books.

I think it’s fascinating that you mention westerns, as there just aren’t enough of them made anymore and I love them…

Ad – content continues below

No, I know, I agree. Michael Winterbottom, who I used to do a lot of films with, did a very interesting take on The Mayor Of Casterbridge [The Claim] – he did a western based on that years ago, but no, there’s not enough. I love the genre and I think Peter and New Zealand lend themselves really well and in fact Ray Winstone made one in… I think it was Australia with John Hillcoat [The Proposition], but there’s a lot of room for westerns.

And last question – have you seen the Lego figure of yourself?

Yeah I love it! I love it and the fact that my revenge will be all over the world – three year olds having my head rammed up their noses in perpetuity! It’s my revenge!

James Nesbitt, thank you very much!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is out on Blu-ray and DVD now.

Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.

Ad – content continues below