It’s hard to believe that “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” was released 20 years ago, but actor Sean Astin — who played Samwise Gamgee in the trilogy — can remember the production experience like it was yesterday.
Astin recently spoke with TheWrap to mark the 20th anniversary of “The Fellowship of the Ring,” and while reflecting on the process of filming all three “Lord of the Rings” films at the same time, he recalled how the now-iconic ending of “The Fellowship of the Ring” was a late addition to the shoot.
“I honestly couldn’t remember – and it may have been because it changed – where one film stopped and another film started,” Astin told TheWrap. “When Frodo and Sam go off on their own at the end of the first film, that scene wasn’t written until well into the production. Like well, well, well into the production. And Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens wanted Elijah [Wood] and I to come and have a meeting with them, and we were like, ‘Well this is new.’”
When Astin and Wood arrived to meet the filmmakers, however, they were presented with the page-and-a-half scene that’s now become one of the most quotable moments from the entire franchise, as Astin’s Samwise Gamgee says, “I made a promise, Mr. Frodo. A promise. ‘Don’t you leave him Samwise Gamgee,’ and I don’t mean to.”
Changes were common during the epic production of “The Lord of the Rings,” and Astin remembered that they were so frequent that at a certain point he stopped trying to read all the new script pages and just focused on each day as it came. “Every day we would get new pages with small changes, big changes, prop changes, location changes, whatever,” Astin said. “And you tried to read them, but at a certain point there’s just too much.”
“The Lord of the Rings” is proof positive that changes don’t equal trouble, as the trilogy would go on to win a bevy of Oscars and, 20 years after the release of “Fellowship,” still stands as one of the most remarkable achivements in cinematic history.
But as Astin was in the weeds during the initial shoot, when did he first know they were making something special? “It was Christmastime 2000 when [producer] Marc Ordesky had showed us a little collection of scenes, like a little sizzle reel, and I got a copy of it and brought it home and showed it to my brother-in-law and we would watch it over and over again on my big screen in Los Angeles, and I was like, ‘This is real. This is legit.’”
The very first footage that the actors saw, however, was a couple of months prior, and it was from one of the most heartbreaking moments in the first film. “The first real footage I remember seeing was after the Balrog has defeated or is in the process of defeating Gandalf, and we’re out on the top of the mountain crying,” Astin recalled. “We had flown up there in helicopters and they had filmed it in slow motion. I remember it was Peter Jackson’s birthday and we were at his home in Queenstown at the bottom of the south island, and Marc Ordesky again was like, ‘Do you want to see something?’ and he showed us that sequence. So that was even before Christmas, and when you saw that you were like, ‘Oh my God, this is so good.’”
Check out our full interview with Astin above. “The Fellowship of the Ring” is available with the full “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Hobbit” trilogy in The Middle Earth Ultimate Collection on 4K Ultra HD and Digital.