Last Wednesday saw a special screening and Q&A of TOLKIEN in Los Angeles. A red carpet proceeded the special screening but was not quite the way you would have imagined. Positioned outside the Regency Westwood Village Theater was a green carpet that served to imitate the greenest of grass. Lining the carpet were green trees that could have been plucked straight from a forest. It truly felt like we had been transported back to the Shire. Ahead of the screening, I had the chance to speak with some of the cast and crew as well as the moderator and famed author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, George R.R. Martin. We discussed J.R.R. Tolkien and how all derived inspiration from his life and work.

My first interview was with Lasse Frank, the Director of Photography for the film. When asked about the color palette used and what inspired his approach towards capturing cinematic images for the film he responded, “We were pretty clear about the approach of the everyday life should be lowkey and have a simple approach. And then the war, we really looked into old first war, World War photos. So, that was actually what inspired us and Tolkien’s old drawings that he did.” During our discussion, he shared that films like Kagemusha would end up helping inspire him in the colors he wanted to showcase in the World War I scenes. Blood red skies were a particular draw for him. As we wrapped up our interview, I did want to know how difficult the battle scenes and the war front had been to shoot for him. He explained, “Because we have little money to do a big film and the conditions in Manchester on a field in rain and mud and long days and coordinating with bombs…it was fun, but it was also the hardest stuff to shoot.” After seeing those scenes later on that night, I completely understood how difficult it must have been being in his shoes.

Next up was screenwriter David Gleeson, whose love of cinema was apparent as soon as we started chatting on the red carpet. During our discussion, I couldn’t help but feel the love and reverence he had for TOLKIEN as we discussed how the author came to be interested in working on the film. He explained, “Having read the books as a student, I immediately had to reach for a biography and see who the hell wrote these because I knew nothing about Tolkien. Was he young or old? And so, I read his biography and I found it touching and affecting”. As we continued to chat, I learned that he had pitched to an executive at Chernin Entertainment that a biopic needed to be made about the author. And that jumpstarted the process that would lead him into writing the screenplay for the film.  Since I knew that he had been inspired by Tolkien’s books, I asked him which one, in particular, was his favorite. He replied, “Right now, The Hobbit is my favorite.” That’s fair, but I will die on the hill that is The Silmarillion.

After we wrapped our discussion, I got the opportunity to speak with Nicholas Hoult, who portrays the titular character of the film. When asked about what material from J.R.R. Tolkien he had used to inform his performance, he explained, “I went back through all of his work. I had read it before, but I approached it with a new angle whereby I read his letters and biographies and learned about him alongside it. So, it just gave me a different perspective on his work, which was wonderful. I appreciate that whole new element.” As we continued the discussion, I learned that he had also made sure to listen to recordings, copy painting TOLKIEN had done, and even visited the places the author had grown up and been to in order to further develop the performance on a subconscious level. In discussing the author, Hoult also explained, “I would ask him about his childhood and where his ideas stemmed from.” 

With barely a minute or so to spare before the start of the screening, I was able to squeeze in a question or two with George R.R. Martin, author of various works, but most famously the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Knowing how much he has held J.R.R. Tolkien in such high esteem, it was amazing to see him on the carpet in almost a full circle moment. When asked about Tolkien’s influence on his own body of work, Martin explained, “Tolkien was one of the big influences on me.  When I started writing Game of Thrones, I re-read it. I took lessons from it. So, yeah. Game of Thrones wouldn’t exist without Tolkien.” He did make sure to clarify that the author was not the only influence on his popular series that took the world by storm. However, the author’s influence cannot be denied in Martin’s approach to crafting the world we’ve been able to experience over the years. Martin further explained, “I wanted to blend Tolkien’s love of myth and secondary universes with some of the grittiness of historical fiction and real history. But Tolkien is certainly, if not the entire ancestry, one of them.” Anyone who has ever read A Song of Ice and Fire and Lord of the Rings would never be able to unsee how Tolkien’s influence has lent itself to Martin’s creative process after this.

With TOLKIEN now out nationwide, I can’t urge you guys enough, especially fans of the famous author’s works, to go see the film. those who are fans of the famous author’s books enough to go see the film. It is filled with magic, love, and wonder while also capturing the brutality and impact that World War I had on the author. If you want to know more about the film or read some of my thoughts, check out my review HERE. With all that said, be prepared to learn a little bit more about the man who created the legendary Lord of the Rings and more in TOLKIEN!

Sarah Musnicky
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