There Was A Secret Second Actor Playing Gimli In The Lord Of The Rings

The 2001 film "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" tells a tale of a small, intelligent, talking blue hedgehog — a hedgehog possessed with the ability to run at tremendous speeds — who must protect his bag of mystical golden rings from the forces of evil. The hedgehog's rings allow him to skip merrily between dimensions, and are coveted by the mad scientist Dr. Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), who possesses a set of ten mystical rings of his own. 

Oh, but this has been a merry jest. 

One of the more visually striking things about Peter Jackson's sextet of popular films set in Tolkien's fantastical Middle-earth was his ability to shrink down human-sized actors into the realm's many diminutive humanoid species. Using forced perspective, digital overlays, stand-ins, stunt doubles, and then-revolutionary motion-matching CGI technology, Jackson was able to envision numerous hobbits and dwarfs — about 3 ½ feet and 4 feet respectively — standing alongside human characters that appeared much larger. In "Fellowship," some of the forced perspective shots stood out, albeit in a charming, dazzling sort of way. In "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," the digital effects were pretty seamless, and a group of 13 dwarfs looked as real as could be. 

The character of Gimli the dwarf was credited to the 6'1" John Rhys-Davies, and all closeups of Gimli's face, and all of Gimli's vocals, were provided by the actor. In many of the films' long shots, however, Gimli was played by Rhys-Davies' stand-in, an actor named Brett Beattie. 

In a 2021 interview with Polygon, Beattie reveals just how much he appeared on camera in the "Lord of the Rings" movies, admitting that it was, in fact, quite a lot.

Brett Beattie

It's now a well-known piece of trivia that several members of the cast of "Lord of the Rings" were so moved by their two-year-long experience working on the movies that they decided to get matching tattoos to commemorate it. The nine actors playing the titular Fellowship each had the word "nine," translated into Elvish, etched into their skin forever. John Rhys-Davies, however, refused to get the tattoo. Not because he didn't feel attached to the production, but because he feels, according to a jokey comment in Screen Rant, that "whenever there's anything dangerous or that involves blood, I sent my stunt double to do it." And yet, nine actors still got the tattoo. Brett Beattie was the ninth. One can find a picture of him and co-star Orlando Bloom holding hands as Beattie gets etched. 

Beattie, standing just under 4'10", was initially hired to be Rhys-Davies' stunt rider for the "Lord of the Rings" movies. Both he and Rhys-Davies had to wear similar facial prosthetics, and one can see in the pictures above that Gimli was given expanded cheeks and a nose along with his resplendent hair and beard. The Gimli makeup was practically a full-face mask that needed to be applied to Rhys-Davies and to Beattie for hours at a time. In the making-of documentary "The Fellowship of the Cast" included on the film's DVD, it was revealed that the Gimli makeup was difficult to see through and that it was rough on Rhys-Davies' skin. He eventually developed eczema around his eyes. 

Because of this, Beattie began to stand in for Gimli more and more as the films progressed. He eventually became a "scale double," used to determine the height of Gimli as he would appear next to his human counterparts.

Setting the record straight

All of Beattie's stand-in, riding, and stunt work as Gimli even began to surpass — in terms of screen time — the presence of Rhys-Davies. Some 21 years after the release of the very first "Rings" movie, Beattie wanted to set the record straight. In the Polygon interview, he wanted to assure even the most devout fans that Gimli wasn't always the result of clever "shrinking" technology, but was due to his own tenacity and hard work. Beattie said: 

"I am aware that a lot of the people, even hardcore 'Lord of the Rings' fans, assume that a lot of the shots are some tricky sort of camera angle or some CGI shrinking John Rhys-Davies down. I don't want to burst anyone's bubbles, but I can only think of a couple of shots where CGI was used to shrink Rhys-Davies down."

Beattie could relate to Rhys-Davies' struggles with the Gimli makeup, and tells several stories of how difficult it was to perform stunts while wearing it. In one story, Beattie recalls being cut over the brow during an ax stunt, and was unable to reach his wound because of the silicone appliance on his head. Eventually, the appliance filled up with blood and burst open. although he assured the reader that "It looked a lot worse than it actually was." He also, thanks to the severity of some of the stunts, required reconstructive surgery on both of his knees. "The surgeon was asking me how I got those injuries, and I was like, 'Well, I was battling Uruk-hai at Helm's Deep.'"

Gimli for 189 days

Indeed, Beattie's Gimli face was more elaborate than that of the other stand-ins. He says that the stand-ins for the hobbit characters wore essentially pull-of, over-the-head masks. If they ever felt claustrophobic, they could pull the masks up and take a breath. Beattie was required to wear the entire Gimli getup, and was on call at all hours. A shift playing Gimli could last as much as 12 hours. Beattie also admits to suffering from insomnia on the set, and would often have to take naps in the Gimli makeup and costume. When awakened, Beattie didn't know where he was, but he knew he had to be Gimli. He said: 

"I'd get woken up — 'Brett, you're on!' — and the next thing I knew, I'd be running through Fangorn Forest or the Mines of Moria getting chased by goblins. I wasn't awake, I wasn't asleep; I just ended up in this really crazy state of consciousness."

Beattie recalls watching one of the "Lord of the Rings" fight scenes, and was able to identify which shots were of him and which were of Rhys-Davies. Counting up the shots, he found that all but four seconds of a particular montage were of him. He surmises that, all told, he was likely playing Gimli for a total of 2,300 hours. That's 189 straight days as a warrior dwarf. It sounds exhausting.

Beattie did a lot of Gimli's heavy lifting. It's no wonder he got the tattoo. Beattie was tenth of the Nine. Let us give credit where credit is due.