Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is Amazon Studios’ biggest gamble yet. After years of rumours, early discussions, a massive agreement to simply have the rights to make a LOTR show, followed by an unfathomable budget to create the show, fans now have only days to wait before finding out what exactly it’s all about on September 2nd.
But behind every big spectacle, there are actors who must inject humanity into their parts. One such thespian lucky enough to be a part of the project is native Montrealer Dylan Smith, who plays a Harfoot Largo Brandyfoot. Smith was trained as an actor in London and stems from a family with deep connections to the arts in Canada. His father, John N. Smith, is an Academy Award-Nominated director. His mother, Cynthia Scott, is an Academy winner, as well as a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. The Rings of Power actor is no stranger to big productions, having earned roles in 2017’s The Mummy, 2012’s Total Recall, and 2011’s Immortals. All the same, LOTR is a completely different ballgame.
Dylan Smith was back to his old stomping grounds on July 14th and, courtesy of Amazon, Tilt Magazine was fortunate to shake hands with him and sit down for an interview at the William Gray Hotel in Old Montreal.
Edgar: First of all, thank you very much for speaking to Tilt Magazine. Welcome back Montreal, by the way. You’re in town to talk about something significant in pop culture. In a little over a month, Amazon Prime is going to release The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Big expectations and a big budget by the looks of it. Could we start by talking about which character you play in the show? Who is he? Where does he come from and, vaguely, what does he do?
Dylan Smith: Sure, of course. The Rings of Power concentrates on the Second Age in Middle Earth history. It takes place before the classic Lord of the Rings story.
I play Largo Brandyfoot, a Harfoot. They are pre-historic Hobbits since we’re thousands of years beforehand. In The Rings of Power, the Harfoots are essentially refugees. They’ve been in a migratory pattern since being displaced from their home in the last great war. Harfoots are by far the most vulnerable people on Middle Earth. The two greatest concerns are survival and constantly keep moving. We basically stay alive because we’re always on the move and we’re great at disappearing at the snap of our fingers.
Edgar: I guess it helps that they’re small!
D. Smith: Yes, it does help!
Edgar: Proto-Hobbits. Very interesting.
This is clearly a show of great scale and magnitude. It’s also a very popular intellectual property. What are the early conversations like with the people who want you to be in a project like this? What happens when someone associated with the show goes “Hey, you want to be in Lord of the Rings?”
D. Smith: Ha, that’s pretty much it! There was so much secrecy surrounding the project to begin with. When I auditioned for it there was the supposition that it might be the “untitled Lord of the Rings project,” but I didn’t know the character I was auditioning for. I only found out when I went to New Zealand to read for it. I think when I was told I got the part I knew at that point that it was for Lord of the Rings.
That was partly because you knew that (project) was floating around the casting pool and then you hear you’re going to New Zealand and you put two and two together.
Edgar: Just so I get this: you auditioned without knowing what for, then get a call saying you’re hired. Oh and by the way it’s for Lord of the Rings.
D. Smith: (chuckles) Essentially.
Edgar: I’m not going to ask for all the secrets, but how the heck does that work?
D. Smith: In a way, it’s a blessing when you have these super big secret projects. I’ve auditioned for a number of them and have gotten a couple. What it means is that the scene you’re being asked to audition for has to be a kind of “universal scene.”
In this scene, I played a father. I was a valued member of a community. All things that are true in the show. The events of the actual scene were not necessarily in the final show, but the elements were distilled in such a way that it helped the casting and creators determine “Well, are you playing a Hobbit well enough? Are you playing the accent well enough?” Not that details of the accent were important because it hadn’t been decided at that point. What it comes down to is basically are you the character? Can you show the right qualities?
What helped me was that I was a new father at that time. My son was only one year old. Can I bring the aspects of being a father that they were looking for? You also have to demonstrate human qualities as well: the fear of mortality and the stoicism to be strong.
When I graduated from theatre school in England, they did a thing where they went around the class and gave a character description to each actor. It wasn’t to pigeonhole us, but kind of to say “you might be playing the “best friend” for the first 5 years of your career, so be the best “best friend” you can be.” When they got to me, they said my casting type was “other.” They say said they had never given anyone this casting description. That was it, “other.” Cut to me playing Neanderthals, Hobbits, etc. So it was pretty simple and I got cast in one of the biggest shows in the world!
Edgar: A testament to your talents as a thespian.
D. Smith: Or it was a lucky fit! Every single time it’s a lucky, I think.
Edgar: Earlier you talked about how The Rings of Power takes place thousands of years prior to the Lord of the Rings stories most people know by now. What are the most important ingredients for a prequel? We know where this is heading. It can kind of only end one way. Why would the audience want to watch it?
D. Smith: Well, if this story isn’t as good as the endpoint people know it’s heading towards since through the press releases we know that The Rings of Power is everything leading up to a great battle referred to in The Lord of the Rings… I mean you better have a great story!
In the case of what makes up our show, there are very in-depth writings, and very detailed appendices. The story of Middle Earth’s Second Age is, arguably, the greatest story that has ever been told. It’s the world before the rise of Sauron. It’s a world that is flourishing. The story of how we get to the forging of the Great Rings is incredibly complex that has a lot of its story laid out (in Tolkien’s texts) but left a lot for interpretation, with Tolkien’s blessings. I think it’s a great mix of an extraordinary existing story with lots of room to fill with the help of an amazing road map. What I’ve come to learn is that fans are dying to know this particular story of this particular Age.
Edgar: Now I’m getting excited!…not that I wasn’t already. Actually, the trailer they just released (as of July 14th) corroborates some of your points. It’s before a big evil arrives. It looks a bit more colourful. A bit more joyous.
I’d like to go back briefly to the notion of the show’s scale. Surely the effects, the sets, and the locations will be mesmerizing. When you’re working on something that big, like The Mummy and the Total Recall remake, how difficult or easy is it to keep it centred on the story and character? The effects and sets and everything can get distracting.
D. Smith: I think it was as important as any job I’ve been on to always come back to the story. I think when you’re a cast of 23, it’s very easy for an actor to get focused on what their part is, what their character’s story is about. “When do I shine in the greatest tv show?!? This is going to make my career, right???” (comical, exaggerated voice). So you have to come back to the fact that it’s arguably one of the greatest stories ever told.
My thing is, nothing is great without a story. I remind myself that as an actor. The Game of Thrones actors didn’t become famous overnight. They became famous because the story was king or queen. The creators excelled at writing a brilliant tale. We as the cast benefit if it’s great.
The world I was in is a big ensemble. The Harfoots move as a clan and there are big set pieces. There are often many of us in a single scene. For me, it was very easy to step away from the scale of everything by getting into some mischievous fun with the cast and I’m the most mischievous of the lot! I adored my fellow cast members, whom I was very blessed to have in my sphere, let alone the cast as a whole. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by expectations or the scale, just look at an actor and say: “this scene is about us.”
It’s not different from anything we’ve ever done as actors. In fact, thinking back to my past big experiences, I was never any more comfortable than I was on this show. When you look up and you see so many people on set, the one thing they want you to be is easy. Make it look easy and fun. If you’re a ball of tension, then everyone else is too.
Edgar: That must be easier said than done. With so many people working on the show, you know, just take a chill pill, man.
D. Smith: In a sense, but it’s kind of all or nothing at that point, so I just have to let it all go.
Edgar: Let’s pretend it’s the morning of September 2nd when the show comes out and I’ve never read Tolkien and haven’t seen the previous Lord of the Rings movies. How would you pitch The Rings of Power to the layperson who thinks “Eh, it’s just another fantasy show”?
D. Smith: I’d say this is the fantasy world that is at the root of all fantasy. It’s an incredible story, complex and detailed, with remarkable beings like High Elves, and the most ghoulish monsters ever conceived of. We have the sweetest people you’ll ever see and the most stunning kingdoms. Every episode is like a feature film. Plus, the story is timeless. After all, it’s maybe the second most read story ever after the religious texts.
It’s as much for the young as it is for the old. If you’re going to get into fantasy and big stories that tackle issues like life and death, and humanity, then this is for you.
Edgar: For my final question, let’s do a hypothetical. Let’s pretend that for one afternoon or one full day, you stumble upon the one true Ring of Power, Sauron’s Ring. What would you do with it?
D. Smith: (chuckles). Boy, what would I do? I would definitely fly! If you can make me fly…
Hmm, I’d probably use it to give free health care and food for the world! There needs to be some benevolence at least.
I’d definitely buy myself the best seats in the house for opening games for the Montreal Canadiens and Liverpool F.C. Liverpool is my team of all teams. I’d love to be in the dressing room to listen to (Liverpool coach) Jürgen Klopp.
Buy popcorn for everybody for the premiere of Rings of Power!
Edgar: Wonderful (laughs out loud). Mr. Smith, it was an absolute pleasure. You’re a true gentleman. Best of luck with the show!