For Dean O’Gorman, the young New Zealand actor who plays the dwarf Fili in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” one day on set encapsulated his awe at being involved in the massive production.
O’Gorman and fellow dwarf actors James Nesbitt, John Callen and Aidan Turner were dropped off on a mountain in New Zealand’s South Island. The four actors, in full costume, made their way up a hill while second-unit director Andy Serkis filmed them from a circling helicopter. It was then, O’Gorman said, that the actors began humming the theme from “The Lord of the Rings” films.
“We were just kind of unconsciously doing it, and then we realized we were doing it, and then we were laughing,” said O’Gorman. “And it’s little moments like that when you sort of realize, ‘We’re in a Peter Jackson movie. Oh my God.’”
O’Gorman, 36, is one of the younger actors in the company of dwarves who make their way through the Misty Mountains to reclaim their homeland from the terrible dragon Smaug in the J.R.R. Tolkien tale. Joining them on their journey are wizard Gandalf the Gray and hobbit Bilbo Baggins — the role O’Gorman originally auditioned for.
“I pretty much forgot about it, because I didn’t really have any high hopes,” O’Gorman said.
Nearly a year after the audition, he was “stunned” to receive a phone call from writer-producer Philippa Boyens, who told him he was being considered for the role of Fili, nephew of dwarf king-in-exile Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and older brother to Kili (Aidan Turner).
“That relationship triangle does offer a lot of content,” O’Gorman said. “Especially the journey that Thorin goes on — Fili and Kili relate. They’re very much involved in Thorin’s journey, and that dynamic gets involved throughout the movie.”
Because of their youth, speed and keen eyesight, Fili and Kili get sent out on their own on reconnaissance missions. Fili is the careful older brother, he said, and Kili is more reckless.
“He’s younger and takes more risks,” O’Gorman said. “Consequently Fili has to keep an eye on Kili.”
Together, the brothers are the youngest dwarves in the company, and as many “Hobbit” enthusiasts have noted, the sexiest.
“I think that’s pretty relative,” O’Gorman said, laughing. “I mean, we’re a company of dwarves. The bar’s not set very high. … I think the idea was as you get older, your beard gets longer, and your nose gets bigger, but when you’re younger, you’ve got a smaller nose and less facial hair.”
While other dwarf actors wore enveloping whiskers and bulging prosthetic foreheads and noses, O’Gorman and Turner had fewer prosthetic pieces to deal with — nose extensions, fake hands and hairpieces with ears.
“You want to think that as an actor, your character and the character decisions that you make is the main thing, but with this job … a lot of things were physical requirements that had to be first dealt with,” O’Gorman said. “Like how to hold your pipe without dropping it because you’ve got fake hands, or how to use your voice, because your fake ears are changing the sound of your own voice. So all these things you have to work with even before you get to, ‘How do I say this line?’”
O’Gorman’s previous roles were primarily for television, including popular New Zealand series “The Almighty Johnsons” and “Young Hercules.”
“I had done some fantasy stuff, but nowhere near to the scale of this,” he said. “So much of it was surreal. … The strange thing is the more we would all work on it, we would forget after a while, and things would seem normal. And then maybe your parents or a friend would come to see it, and you’d see them looking around with a sort of gobsmacked look, and it would remind you of how wacky and how epic the world is.”
O’Gorman credits Serkis, who directed smaller scenes in the film, with helping him make the adjustment. “The first person I worked with was Andy,” O’Gorman said. “Second unit was still the biggest crew that I’d worked on, but it was relatively smaller than main unit, so it was a way of easing into the process. I really loved working with Andy. It’s interesting to be working with a director who is also a very talented actor. He’s got a really good way of speaking to actors, and I’m guessing that’s because he himself is one. … Andy was really great at making me feel less bewildered.”
Some of the more challenging days on set involved the green-screen shoots, he said.
“It definitely gives you an appreciation for the fantasy in these big movies, effects and stuff,” he said. “Me and Aidan were acting to literally a tennis ball on a stick, or fighting things that weren’t even there. Sometimes it wasn’t like we were fighting a stuntman who would later turn into an Orc. You know when you’re a kid, you would play war and fight invisible people? On set it was sometimes like that. People would be like, ‘Just take a swing at the Orcs above your head, and we’ll add them in later.’”
As for O’Gorman’s next step after “The Hobbit”?
“There’s no job you can compare this to,” he said. “Maybe next time I’ll work on an indie movie, and I’ll have to bring my own costume.”