The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power Cast On Navigating Expectations And Crashing Sets [Interview]

Anyone who's ever read J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved children's book "The Hobbit" knows just how big a role the author's diminutive, large-footed species has played in Middle-earth events. Frodo, Sam, Bilbo, and all the rest more than earned their places in the (fictional) history books with incredible feats and relentless determination in the face of grave danger, inspiring countless readers — and eventually viewers, as well, many of whom fell in love with them thanks to Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" film trilogies.

Amazon's upcoming "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" series takes place thousands of years before the events of those stories, and portrays the distant ancestors of those pint-sized heroes through the beings known as Harfoots. This new story occupies an interesting niche, releasing nearly 20 years after the original trilogy came to an epic close with "The Return of the King." For most audiences, it's all but impossible to engage with this new show without constantly thinking of what came before. But for those of a certain age, including some of the cast members embodying the Harfoots, the pressures and expectations laid down by those movies might be easier to dismiss.

In a recent Zoom interview with cast members Sara Zwangobani (who portrays the Harfoot Marigold Brandyfoot), Markella Kavenagh (Marigold's daughter, Elanor "Nori" Brandyfoot), and Megan Richards (Nori's best friend, Poppy Proudfellow), I had the chance to talk to the trio about the idea of living up to the legacy of "The Lord of the Rings" and the unique inspirations involved in bringing Harfoots to life (spoiler: it involved taking cues from children and meerkats). Oh, and most amusingly of all, the Harfoot actors casually crashed an adjoining set during filming of an entirely different portion of "The Rings of Power" — in full costume, at that.

'I don't feel there's something to live up to'

One thing I was struck by while watching the first episode was how you all had so much responsibility, sort of as the equivalent of what Frodo and Sam and the hobbits do in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. I was wondering, Sara, because we were probably closer to the same age when it came out, did you feel that level of responsibility, that legacy of having to live up to "The Lord of the Rings," or you sort of put your blinders on and you don't even think about that while you're reading the scripts and while you're filming?

Zwangobani: It would be possibly different for different members of the cast, but I personally don't feel that expectation. I was a great reader of the books when I was a girl. I loved them immensely. They introduced me to the world of fantasy, which is still a passion of mine to this day. So, first of all, working on the show was a very full-circle moment and being able to step into one of my books. So for me personally, it feels more an extension of something I've loved my whole life.

And then in terms of living up to something, I personally think that all you can do on any job, perhaps this job more than most, is to bring everything that you can to the work that you do. And I think that everybody on this show absolutely does that, from the cast, the showrunners, and the directors, but also the set designers, the costume designers, the musicians, the greens people, the people that drove us from A to B — everybody brought passion and hard work and long hours and diligence to the project. So, if you've got all that in place, then for me, it's like you present that to the world knowing that you've done absolutely everything you can. And I'm immensely proud of all the people that worked on this show. So for me, I don't feel there's something to live up to, because I think we've done the best job that we can.

'It's just trusting that the work has been done'

Markella and Megan, do you feel that, being a little younger, are you a little more removed from "The Lord of the Rings" movies a little bit? Or do you feel the same way?

Kavenagh: No, I think I feel the same way because, kind of similar to Sara, I read the books growing up and then saw the films and they were really loved within the family. But yes, similarly again, I try to remove any external expectation and noise and just focus on telling a truthful story, really.

Richards: Yeah, I agree with the second half of that. For me, my personal experience of Tolkien has just been this show. Which has been so exciting to be fully immersed, literally immersed [laughs], into this world, the first time of me knowing and understanding about it. But yeah, as an actor, I tend to sort of disassociate from external factors and I love focusing on literally what's in front of me. And especially as the material that was written and provided was so eloquently written and so fully fleshed-out and developed that there was literally not much room, actually, for much else. There was just so much work that was constantly going on in order to serve the characters in the story.

Zwangobani: I will say the slight caveat to maybe feeling of something to live up to is that, I definitely wanted to — and I feel probably there's other people that feel the same — that wanted to do justice to Tolkien's works, but in some ways that was [showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay]. They had maybe more pressure in that sense, but they are such lovers of the lore themselves and of Tolkien themselves and they're like walking encyclopedias to all things Tolkien [laughs]. So again, it's just trusting that the work has been done.

'We just ran into Númenor in full Harfoot gear...'

How do you even go about preparing for the role of a Harfoot? It's not like you can just go out and ask someone [laughs]. So from your perspectives, how did that work?

Richards: [laughs] For me, getting to Poppy was through movement. That was sort of my focus point. And we had an incredible movement coach, Lara, and she gave us a couple of references at the very beginning. And one of them that really stuck with me was to walk like a five-year-old child. That was the basis of half of the movement, as well as meerkats. Meerkats were a big one too, and sort of the sharpness and that literal [popping up] movement, too [laughs]. That was the basis, and then building up from there and putting in obstacle courses and going, "Okay, now you are running away" or "Now you're running to" or "Now you're hiding," and all this stuff. And that was also character-building, too, because you're figuring out what Poppy would do in those circumstances. And for me, that was how I was able to really build her from the ground up. So that was sort of how I got into it. Is it similar to you guys?

Kavenagh: Yes, very much so. I think, also, it takes a village really to create character. And so it wasn't necessarily just, "Oh, here's this role and I'm going to do everything." Obviously there were showrunners, there were writers, there were costume crew, makeup crew, dialect coaching, movement coaching, all these people who were just wizards in their craft would come in and just build everything for us [laughs]. And then we'd just step in. And so I think it was amazing.

Zwangobani: Yeah, it was very immersive. We could just step into the world and really feel like we were Harfoots. We were Harfoots.

Kavenagh: I remember Megan and I, one day we were filming in a studio next to the Númenor set and we just decided [laughs] ... well, the showrunners and the actors were really generous and they'd sometimes allow us to go and visit. We'd visit each other's realms and the set. And so we just ran into Númenor in full Harfoot gear, which was an interesting –

Richards: [laughs] Which was a massive shock for everyone else. We just appeared.

Kavenagh: It didn't go down very well. It was like, "Get them out!"

"The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" premieres on Prime Video on September 2, 2022.