What do you think about when you think about The Lord of the Rings?
A few guesses: Gandalf staring down a fiery Balrog and proclaiming, ''You shall not pass!'' Legolas firing arrows as he surfs on his shield down the trunk of an Oliphaunt. Sam carrying Frodo to the top of Mount Doom, though he himself barely has the energy to stand. (Sam, if you really think about it, is the coolest character in the movies.) Aragorn being crowned king, then turning to Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin, who have lowered their heads reverently, and telling them, ''My friends, you bow to no one.'' (Aragorn, if you really think about it, is the coolest character in the movies.)
Those are all great scenes, moments of self-sacrifice and unexpected heroism, which are the twin strands of the trilogy's DNA. But when the people who actually made The Lord of the Rings think about The Lord of the Rings and we asked a dozen of them, as they hugged and caught up for the first time in years at photo shoots in Los Angeles, London, and Sydney they don't think about any of those scenes. They remember New Zealand, and the most exhausting, exhilarating years of their lives.
To be specific:
They remember shooting the very first scene in 1999, which found the four hobbits tumbling down a hill. ''We were excited, and there was that kind of buzz in the air, like 'F---, it actually all starts now,''' says Elijah Wood (Frodo). To which Dominic Monaghan (Merry) adds: ''We were all in costume and running around the set, and Pete [Jackson] came up and was like, 'Okay, all right, here we go!' And he had a clapperboard that said, like, Slate one, take one.''
They remember surfing; getting tattoos; watching Jackson, on Guy Fawkes Day, run around with fireworks like a giddy kid; going to barbecues at Billy Boyd's (Pippin) house; hanging around in the demented social club that was the makeup trailer; and having the occasional romance in the seaside city of Wellington (''I do remember some local ladies, yes,'' says Boyd).
They remember Wood's obsession with music. ''Elijah loved to DJ at a certain club,'' says Sean Astin (Sam). ''He'd get so fired up about it, and we'd get excited for him and go there and it's the same people you just spent 14 hours with and yet here you are, by choice, having your Guinness with them.''
They remember the strange and wondrous ways of Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), who had an obsession of his own: going fishing in the middle of the night. ''He'd come stalking out of the woods,'' says Astin, conjuring a vision of Mortensen with a full beard, tangled hair, and filthy, rumpled clothes. ''And you'd think, 'My God, there's a yeti! No, it's Viggo and he's carrying bounty!'''
Jackson remembers shooting on the side of a volcano in a nature preserve where they had to lay down carpet to protect a rare moss: ''A carpeted volcano,'' says the director. ''I mean, that was bizarre.'' Orlando Bloom (Legolas) remembers getting a mohawk just because Liv Tyler (Arwen) told him to: ''She goes, 'Orly, you should have a mohawk. You'd look really cute.' It was Liv Tyler telling me to get a mohawk! I was like, 'I'll have a mohawk, please!'''
And absolutely everyone remembers being bone-tired. Says Boyd, ''When people were doing 16-hour days, seven days a week for months on end, they'd be exhausted, but they'd always be saying 'This is Lord of the Rings!' And that was the battle cry of Richard Taylor and his team at Weta [Workshop] when people were falling asleep at their desks: 'This is Lord of the Rings!'''