Playing one of the 13 dwarves in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy is no Middle-earth picnic. You have to wake up at 4 a.m. to start the three-hour-plus process of applying your thick makeup, rubbery fake nose, and yak-hair wig and beard. You’re encased in a thick fat suit that causes you to sweat profusely, requiring the regular administration of fluids and electrolytes to keep you from getting dehydrated. Then you’re weighed down by heavy coats, armor, and weapons that make it difficult to move, let alone battle orcs and goblins. “They said if I did this movie, I could get a small house,” Stephen Hunter, who plays the portly Bombur, says drily. “But I didn’t know I would have to be wearing it.”
Still, all this discomfort gives you plenty of Method-acting inspiration when you’re simulating an arduous quest through author J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantastical realm. On this September afternoon in 2011, on the Wellington, New Zealand, set, Jackson wants his dwarves to look particularly miserable. In a scene from what will eventually be the trilogy’s second installment, The Desolation of Smaug (not yet rated), the dwarves have just been captured by the deadly elves of the Woodland Realm. “Dwarves looking grumpy and dejected!” Jackson calls out before the cameras roll. “Elves looking intense!” Surveying the bedraggled captives, one elf looks especially fierce, a bow-and-arrow-wielding warrior who will be familiar to anyone who’s seen Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy: the fan favorite Legolas, played by Orlando Bloom.
If the idea of Legolas turning up in The Hobbit seems strange to you given that the character never appears in Tolkien’s book — first of all, congratulations, you’re a bona fide nerd. Also, you’re not alone. Some fans have raised their eyebrows at a few of the decisions Jackson has made in adapting Tolkien’s 1937 classic into an epic big-screen trilogy — beginning with the very fact that one rather simple novel aimed largely at children is being turned into three epic films at all. Though last December’s first installment, An Unexpected Journey, proved a massive financial success, raking in more than $1 billion worldwide for Warner Bros. (which, like ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, is a division of Time Warner), die-hard Tolkien devotees grumbled about its deviations from the canon. In January, Jackson’s supersize adaptation inspired a Saturday Night Live spoof in the form of a fake trailer for the next 18 Hobbit films, all of them filmed in “S#!t-Vision” — a reference to the director’s controversial decision to shoot at a higher-than-normal frame rate of 48 frames per second. (Like the previous film, Smaug will be released in traditional 2-D and 3-D and, in select theaters, high-frame-rate 3-D.) On the fansite TheOneRing.net, debate over the first Hobbit film has raged for so long that one recent post pleaded for a détente: “Those who love the movie are ‘delusional’ and those that hate it are ‘radical purists.’ For heaven’s sake, I feel like I am observing 8-year-olds fighting on the playground!”
The Desolation of Smaug is unlikely to cool the passions on either side — and Jackson wouldn’t have it any other way. In this chapter, the reluctant hobbit hero Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), and the company of dwarves continue their journey toward the Lonely Mountain to reclaim a pile of treasure — and the dwarves’ ancestral homeland — from the dragon Smaug (a CG creation voiced by Freeman’s Sherlock costar Benedict Cumberbatch). Along the way, they meet some beloved characters from the book, including the man-bear Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), the Lake-town hero Bard (Luke Evans), and eventually Smaug himself. But they’ll also encounter a few new faces — most notably a female elf warrior named Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly (Lost), a character wholly invented for the film by Jackson and his co-writers, Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh. Boyens knows there’s trepidation about Tauriel. “The reaction will be the reaction,” she says. “It is scary. But I truly believe she’ll become a favorite.”