TORn staffer greendragon says: Continuing my 'Inside the Middle-earth Actor's Studio' series of interviews, I recently had the great pleasure of a phone conversation with Peter Hambleton, who plays Gloin in The Hobbit movies. What a charming, erudite, intelligent and modest chap he is! He has nothing but praise for his fellow cast members, and for director Peter Jackson; I'd wonder if he was perhaps being too generous in his kind words, were it not for the fact that ALL the cast talk about each other, and their experiences on set, in such glowing terms. It's really no surprise that all the cast talk about having a great time making The Hobbit movies; they're all such nice people!
Hambleton and I talked for an hour, and covered topics such as what he's working on now, how he prepares for a role, what he thinks of Middle-earth fandom, and just why Peter Jackson is a brilliant director of actors. He also gives a little hint of something we might see in the third Hobbit movie, and spills the beans about another movie he'd love to do with PJ...
greendragon: Tell us what you're working on at the moment, Peter - I know you're busy up in Auckland.
Peter Hambleton: Well it's actually working with students - student actors, performing arts students at a place called Unitech, which is a university course. It's a three year degree in performing arts, and I'm working with a group of a couple of dozen young actors. I'm working with a co-director - a young woman called Laurel Devenie, who is the daughter of one of New Zealand's finest actors, Stuart Devenie. Laurel is an emerging force as a director, and we're co-directing a sort of in-house showing for the students' training, of a wonderful New Zealand play called Homeland, by Gary Henderson. I'm about three weeks through that - I've got a couple more weeks to go - and I'm loving it!
GD: Is this a new venture for you, or have you worked at Unitech or with students a lot before?
PH: I haven't worked at Unitech. I've worked with students a bit; it's a thing which has just developed for me in the last ten, fifteen years, with doing a little bit of work directing students in scenes, and maybe a production either at the National Drama School, or local summer Shakespeare in the outdoors. It's something I've done from time to time, when I've been able to fit it in, and I've always found it really rewarding; and after three years on The Hobbit it's - well, I'm missing The Hobbit terribly! - but it's really refreshing for me. Very inspiring as well - these young people are amazing, and because I've got a directing job coming up soon after that, on a production here in Wellington, it's kind of getting that part of my brain working again.
GD: Can you tell us what the show is in Wellington?
PH: This is something I'm very excited about. It's an American play called Equivocation, which is written by a man called Bill Cain. It's an amazing, modern play about Shakespeare. I'm a huge fan of Shakespeare - in fact, I'm a bit obsessed with him, I'm very passionate about anything to do with Shakespeare! This is a very clever, modern play which explores the possibility of Shakespeare getting tangled up in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot. Shall I give you the quick version of the story?
GD: Please do! It rings a bell with .
PH: Well, Bill Cain some years ago he was a real figure in Boston theatre, as an actor/director/writer, and he's now becoming a real force as a writer. In fact, he wrote one of the episodes of House of Cards recently! Equivocation is basically Shakespeare and his friends at the Globe Theatre, and his daughter Judith is there as well, and Shakespeare is told he has to write a play giving the government version of the Gunpowder Plot - and he struggles with that. It's a really fascinating piece; they've just done King Lear, and he's working away on Macbeth, so all these things get tangled up together. It's a fantastic play.
GD: How do you compare directing a show versus being in it yourself? They're obviously quite different experiences, but both enriching.
PH: Oh yes. I've done a lot of theatre - thirty years of theatre as an actor - and the directing thing, as I say, has just developed over the last ten to fifteen years. I love it; I love both. One feels a great sense of responsibility in pulling a project together, and holding it together, and that responsibility can be quite hard; overwhelming at times. But equally the satisfaction of when a show goes well, and you get a sense that all the people involved are performing at their best - or getting near it - that's really rewarding. I'm more and more fascinated by the process, also; and I love team building, putting together really strong groups of people and letting them fly. There's nothing better to me! I'm just really itching to get into it; it's been a while since I've been in a theatre rehearsal room, which is a very familiar environment for me, and I'm working with some really wonderful local actors, some people that I know and have worked with, and a couple of younger, emerging talents, so it's all very exciting in every way!
GD: It sounds fabulous! You talk about team building and bringing together strong groups of people - I think that is often overlooked as one of Peter Jackson's great skills. We think of him as this technical wizard, pushing the envelope of cinematography, using all the latest equipment, but he also brings together an amazing team of people, and enables those people to act at the highest level. I think we tend to forget what a great actor's director PJ is.
PH: This is very true. That's been fascinating to watch - to get a glimpse of that - because I hadn't had any experience of any of his other films, but I knew people in them, like Jed Brophy. Jed was able to describe to me what a great director Peter is, but to see it first hand was really thrilling. Of course Pete's got it going on in every department! [laughs] You know, he's able to put people at ease in the middle of the vast machinery of all the technology, and all the resources put in place, and the huge number of people on the creative team; there's a real calmness which comes from him, and a real sense of fun and challenge when you're working with him.
One thing that I picked up really early on was that he tells you exactly what you need to know, about what he needs from the shot; he's very articulate, he'll put it in terms you can understand, and he's inspiring. Often the technical demands, or the physical and emotional demands, of a shot will be really challenging for people; and he will - well, I was going to say push, but it's more lead. He really, at times, asks a lot of people, but they're prepared to go there. It's a lot to do with trust, and you can see it on-screen. I mean, I'm saying this a lot, when I get to talk about this: I think Martin Freeman's performance will stand up over time as one of the great screen performances. It's been a privilege to watch it close up; the way, emotionally, he's taking us through the story and holding the high stakes of the story - it's just enchanting. So to confirm what you're saying - Peter Jackson is a great, great director of actors, for sure.
GD: That's my impression from what I see on the screen, and it's my impression from talking to others in the cast. Everyone has said, "It was hard, but we would do it ten times over for Peter, because we trust what he's asking us to do."
PH: I mean, there's a lot of time of lots of fun and kooky jokes - which helps you get through the very long days! It's a very positive working environment on set - grindingly hard, but something keeps you going, and having an inspirational leader is a really big part of it.
GD: Some critics of The Hobbit films might say there is too much CGI, too many special effects. That's a matter of taste, of course; but when you look at, for example, The Desolation of Smaug, there are moments where Jackson really allows an actor time and space to do something. Look at the scene in Mirkwood, when Bilbo gets his ring back from the giant bug which comes out of the ground; Bilbo's reaction when he takes the ring off, and realises how it has affected him, is a wonderful moment - and it is striking how much time Jackson allows for that reaction.
PH: Exactly. That's a great example, and I can think of a couple of other favourite moments of mine. Martin is extraordinary. I'm sure you've heard this - he will never do a line reading or a moment the same way twice. That basically reveals to me that he's a great artist. Everything he comes up with is really fascinating and magical - but he's always looking to extend himself and give Peter so many options. I like comparing it to a great musician: you see them perform, and they're in total command of what they're doing - but a great jazz musician can also improvise across a theme, and create magic that way. There are some beautiful examples, like the one you mention, in Martin's performance; also there's a great shot in the first film, where the dwarves have snuck out in the morning, and he's left alone in his house, and he has his back to us. Somehow, through his back, we sense that he's going through a moment. Also that beautiful bit at the start of the barrel sequence in The Desolation of Smaug - where he's got us all in the barrels, and we go down the chute, and then the floor tips up again. He's left alone - and he suddenly realises, "Oh crap, what am I going to do?" [laughs] Again it's the body language - the great actors, like Ian McKellen, are actors right through their entire body, their toes and fingers and scalp! Martin is phenomenal.
GD: He's very Chaplin-esque - or like Buster Keaton.
PH: Oh yes, good note - I would agree with that! We're Buster Keaton fans in this house! No, Martin's right up there for sure. Also, the huge weight of that role, and the time and effort involved. I've seen him under pressure and having his moments, but he exudes the joy of working, as well - he's a lot of fun to be around! Oh look - it gets boring after a while, because I can't stop raving about those people! [laughs] The caliber of the people that Peter and Fran and Philippa put together, without exception, is just stunning.
GD: I don't think they put a foot wrong in casting. I don't necessarily always agree with the choice of how a character is portrayed on the movies; for example, I'm not sure at the moment about the way that they've portrayed Thranduil. I'm reserving judgement until we've seen how he plays out in the final film! But given that it is their choice for their Thranduil, Lee Pace is perfect in his execution of that.
PH: Yeah he's stunning. I assume that you've been a fan right through The Lord of the Rings films - and a Tolkien fan prior to that? So you've got a very comprehensive sense of that world in your head, but that's the beauty of it as well - that there are people who are so passionate about the world of Middle-earth in all its forms. But you can appreciate, in terms of the craft of movie making, it's a particular "animal' or thing that's being created, and it's not always going to chime with what's in your head.
GD: And it shouldn't - the aim isn't to put a book up on the screen for people to look at. They're creating a film - it's a different medium, a different telling of the tale.
PH: I'm glad you see it that way. Thinking about actors... I mentioned Ian [McKellen] before; I was lucky enough to see him on stage - well, I saw him do his solo show on Shakespeare, which was just divine. I then saw him in Waiting for Godot, which toured here. That's a really great example of an actor who's got it all going on - and even at his age, it's physically like he's electrically charged, through his body, right through his feet and into the floor. Everything that he does - and it was in a big theatre - it's that craft of keeping you enchanted, because every part of him is alive. His sense of the audience, of course, was wickedly alive as well.
GD: You said earlier in this conversation that you miss The Hobbit; what happens next with The Hobbit for you? Has there been any discussion of pick ups for the third film?
PH: No. My understanding at the moment is that the job is pretty much done for us, in terms of being in front of cameras. I've been told that could change, but I haven't heard anything. My ill-informed speculation is basically that, with the battle scenes, they might require some more stuff, but it will be combat and most likely to involve stunt people and green screen, CGI, stuff like that. So my expectation is that we'll gather together for more media stuff, at some point and somewhere! And all that amazing promotional machine will continue, and give it the biggest profile of anything ever, as we hit December this year! [laughs]
I'm happy to say that we're going to HobbitCon in Germany - a good number of the other dwarves are going to be there, so I'm really looking forward to seeing the guys! It's been a while, apart from my New Zealand brothers - Callen, Hadlow, Kircher and Brophy - we've seen each other occasionally. But we formed a really strong bond, and it'll be great to gather together again. It'll be a lot of fun for everybody.
GD: For the cast, this was an experience that nobody else can ever really comprehend.
PH: Yes, that's right.
GD: But the fans do take great ownership of these movies; they feel a certain possessive pride in them. What intrigues me is that, in a way, the fans' relationship to these films doesn't change. It's been more than a decade since the first Lord of the Rings movie, but the fans are still passionate, they still watch the films, they still gather at conventions... Whereas the casts' relationship to the films does move on, as they take on different jobs, etc. What do you think it's going to be like for you when it's really all over, when you've completed the final media circus; how much will The Hobbit remain part of your life? Will it recede into the past?
PH: It's a good question. I have a feeling that it will always be a huge part of our lives. I mean, there's the fan convention scenario, which some of us are learning about gradually, as it unfolds. From time to time there will be a request to appear somewhere, for the fans - and that's an important thing, and for some of us (hopefully) will also be some sort of an income stream, that we'll have to manage intelligently.
But also I think your original point about the fans' ownership of it - I think they're entitled to it. It's very important. It's something again that I only had a very vague sense of coming into it; but very early on, when we went to TheOneRing.net party just a few days prior to the premiere of the first film, here in Wellington, I started to see the huge passion of the fans. Since then, at some conventions such as HobbitCon, and Armageddon here in New Zealand, it's really opened my eyes to how extensive the fandom is, how far people will go with their passion. And the fact that the success of the franchise is very intelligently built on that - as I understand it (and I've seen examples of it), Peter Jackson and his whole team tuned in very quickly to the fan base that was there, in terms of Tolkien; and then obviously they thrilled people with The Lord of the Rings movies, and established a really strong relationship with the fans, from very early on. (I hope you see it this way!) And they've continued to honour that. So the success of the franchise - as it continues - is very much built on really enthusiastic fans, and a really positive communication between them and the movie makers.
GD: It's true. Back when they were filming The Lord of the Rings and TheOneRing.net was first set up, for a brief moment the relationship between the website and the studios was antagonistic...
PH: Well it always has the potential to go like that, doesn't it? But I think wisdom as prevailed.
GD: Well, I believe it was Peter Jackson himself who had the smarts to go, "Hang on, we could be using this!" At that time, the internet wasn't as we know it now; now PJ has his own facebook, there's the official Hobbit facebook - but at the time, TORn was really the only internet interface between the studios and the fans. The fans loved it, and the studios made smart use of that connection, so it was a win-win situation.
PH: And that makes a lot of sense to me, that Peter was on to it very quickly; because for all his standing as a great artist, and a charming person, he's also very savvy. Cunning as a fox, I would say! [laughs] They're very smart operators - I really admire them. And to kind of put the seal on that - again, that party that we went to that TheOneRing.net threw in Wellington - there were a few of us there, and it took us about twenty minutes to get in the front door! That was my first experience of signing autographs and things! But people were charming. And then, later on in the evening, as a surprise, Peter and Elijah Wood showed up - and the whole place went off! It was like the roof just lifted off - it was like rock stars! And of course they stood up on stage with microphones, and talked to the fans like they were family, and cracked jokes - and it was very warm and relaxed. Just great. It was a real revelation to me.
GD: We love it when you guys come to our parties! We had another party in Los Angeles this year, for the Oscars - a much smaller one than we normally do, really just a get together in a pub. I didn't go - as I'm over on the East coast - but I was sitting at home watching the Oscars on telly, and I got a phone call from Craig Parker [Haldir], to say, "Hey, Adam [Brown], Dean [O'Gorman] and I are in LA, and we wondered if it would be ok if we went along to the party tonight?" And I said, "Of COURSE you can! The fans would love it!" So they rocked up to the pub, and of course everyone was just thrilled.
PH: But isn't that cool? That there's room for that kind of spontaneity - and that tells you how much the cast and other members of the team really value and appreciate the fans.
GD: Without giving away anything you're not allowed to tell us, is there a moment in particular in the third film which you're really looking forward to everybody seeing?
PH: There are so many! There's a moment - without spoiling it - which is towards the end of the story... selfishly, for me, Gloin gets a moment with Bilbo, which is really heartwarming. I won't go any further than that; but it's been so much a part of our lives, you really want to feel that your little story with your little dwarf gets rounded off nicely!
GD: Of course the fans are emotionally invested in Gloin in a way that they may not have been in the other dwarves until the films came out, because he's Gimli's father. Did you feel that you had to look at how John Rhys-Davies had created Gimli, to think, "Who might be the father from whom this dwarf came?"
PH: Yes, absolutely. I think I went through a process where it was essential to do that, of course - and out of respect and admiration, because of course he's a wonderful actor, and that character is so memorable from The Lord of the Rings films. When you start to immerse yourself in the culture of the films and the film making process, you feel this huge reverence for what has been established, in movie terms, for Middle-earth, and you want to honour that; you're a little bit nervous, you don't want to blow it, you know! [laughs] So I certainly studied John's performance as Gimli. I knew that I had to be in tune with that, and for there to be a family likeness, which was so brilliantly done in terms of the design of Gloin, with the hair, the face, the beard, the make-up, the costume, everything like that - and the axe! I'm very proud to carry that axe! But also, I needed to give myself room to put my own stamp on it, and not feel that I should slavishly try and match Gimli. Gloin is his own individual, and I'm hoping that you can see the influence of father on son there, and the family tradition - which is to do a lot with pride, history, and a feisty, "never back down" attitude, which is in the blood. Also, I didn't want to let that priority get in the way of anything which was to do with what a specific scene or moment or shot required in The Hobbit films. you know, it's a balancing act, I think, which you've got to do in that situation.
GD: How did you find what Gloin's voice was going to be? I'm assuming that the reason Oin and Gloin were given Scottish accents was because Gimli had a Scottish accent in The Lord of the Rings films, so there was a continuity of accents. but what did you do, as an actor, to find where you wanted that voice to sit for you?
PH: A lot of credit for that must go to the amazing women that we have had as dialect coaches - Leith McPherson, Roisin Carty, they were the team through the start of it, and then Roisin had to move on to something else, and the wonderful Sarah Shippobotham came in. They're amazing, those women! The accents of course always had to reflect what a given actor could bring to it, but a spectrum of British Isles accents - the Irish, the English. But though the accents are influenced by that, it's Middle-earth - so we had to create a fusion. The Scottish accent, for example - we had to be careful that it didn't sound too Glasgow or too Edinburgh. Some of the thinking behind it was to do with class, in the sense that Oin and Gloin are related to the line of Durin, and are sort of "middle management" - you know, in terms of bloodlines they are upper class, but not in terms of attitude or snobbiness. So it was a blend of a number things. We worked very closely, and not just in the preparation, the boot camp period you can see in the production diaries, but right through production - there was always one of those people on set, listening on headphones, fine tuning and supporting us all the way. So the amount of care taken over that was extraordinary, and we always felt very well supported in that way. Does that answer the question?
GD: It does! I'm particularly interested in how different actors prepare.
PH: Well I think you can see that all the resources necessary were provided, for us to be really well-prepared.
GD: Sure! And of course actors have very different approaches. Some rely very much on their imagination, others are more methodical and go into detailed research. Generally speaking for you, and not just in terms of The Hobbit, what's your style of preparation?
PH: I try to do research. In terms of my stage work, I've been lucky enough to play a huge range of things, from a nuclear physicist to a 70-year-old ex All Black [New Zealand rugby player], to a baby, only a few months old! One of the wonderful things about being an actor is you get such opportunities - and often it will help you do your job better to read, research, study around the subject, around the history of a person, what influenced them, to be able to draw on all that stuff when you're working on it. So I try to do that. I try to study the text, be well-prepared. Everybody's got their own different way of coming at it; but also it's to do with being open in the moment, in rehearsal or on set - to be able to tweak, change gears and change direction. That, to me, is what makes a really fine actor - which I hope one day to be! Because, no matter how well prepared you are, you can't really know, until you get on set, what shot the director's going to need, how it needs to be constructed, what the timing and constraints are. So you need to have an ability to be light on your feet, and hold on to the integrity of what you're doing with the character, but also to go to surprising places with it, in the moment; as well as, on top of all that, listening and going with whatever spontaneity arises from people like Martin, and all the other amazing actors!
GD: What's your background - how did you come in to your theatre career?
PH: I trod a well-worn path here in Wellington - which is not where I was born, but where I've spent most of my life - doing stuff at school... I think it's fair to say that I got an interest in theatre and performing through my parents, who were theatre fans. So amateur theatre, and then a very short spell at university doing some theatre there; and then in Wellington there has been for a long time the New Zealand Drama School, which is now called Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School, and I managed to get in there, and trained there for two years. So I came at it, as many people do, from discovering a love of performing from very young, and then becoming more and more fascinated by it, and the art and the craft of it, and being lucky enough to work with some amazing people along the way, and be inspired by them.
GD: So did you leave university in order to go to drama school?
PH: [laughs] I think it's probably fair to say that I dropped out! I was only there for one year - I spent so much time doing plays that I flunked some of my courses! So I was a bit of a disaster as a university student! And also, the possibility of aiming for that drama school training came alive for me, and I set out to do as much as I could to give myself a shot at it; and eventually I conned them into taking me!
GD: It's so interesting to me that everybody comes at it from a different route. Some have vocational training, some do more academic study, and there are those who learn on the job.
PH: I think it's always been that way, and I hope it will continue to be - because that's another example of how you need - if you're creating theatre, film, television - you need people with a wide range of perspectives, and people who are open to seeing somebody else's point of view. That's very much part of the craft, I would say. I find I'm eternally fascinated by how people behave in different situations, and how they cope with pressure... and I hope I will always be that way!
GD: If there was one thing which would be your ideal project, which you'd like to do in the future, what would that be? Is there something that you have in mind? Maybe a Shakespearean role which you haven't done yet but are hoping to play?
PH: I have been thinking about that a little bit lately, because I'm revisiting my love for Shakespeare working on this play Equivocation. There's nothing specifically that I'm really yearning to do in the immediate future. Well, I'll give you two answers! In terms of stage, I need to get back to being an actor for stage, back to my roots, recharge my batteries; at this point, nothing definite confirmed, but there's a possibility for doing that later in the year in theatre here in Wellington. I also want to be doing more directing and teaching.
In terms of screen, I'm one of those people who is really hanging out for Peter to finally get round to doing The Dam Busters! I don't know where that project is at currently, but I just think if anybody's equipped to make a great film of that story, he is! But he's so prodigious - there are so many possibilities which people will be wanting him to do. So I've got a little fantasy where maybe I can persuade him to use me again, and I can be one of those guys back at headquarters who are pushing those sticks around on the tables, to show where squadrons are in the war! If I could get a little, non-speaking, featured extra role, that would make me happy!
GD:Well that sounds very exciting! Peter, thank you so much for your time today; it's been great to chat with you.
PH: Well I hope we can meet properly sometime! Maybe at a convention, or at another TheOneRing.net party! Keep up the great work!
(This post was edited by dernwyn on Apr 18 2014, 2:44pm)