Since hobbits routinely live for more than a century, 11 years is practically nothing, right? That’s how long it’s been since actors Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, and Elijah Wood flew out to New Zealand in August 1999 to start shooting The Lord of the Rings. Now here they are, in an L.A. studio on a hot May morning, posing for EW’s Reunions issue and catching up on lost time. Monaghan, sporting crutches after breaking his foot while surfing, proceeds to show off his new Kat Von D tattoo (It reads, “Luminous beings are we, not just crude matter,” as spoken by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back), while Astin’s three adorable daughters sprint around the studio. It doesn’t take long before the trio’s conversations turn back toward those two years in New Zealand.
Even though the actors were working brutally long hours for six days per week, they had a lot of downtime to explore the island or simply let loose. “People would drink heavily on Saturday nights,” recalls Astin. “I have some pretty powerful memories of going out with everybody. It’s the same people you just spent 14 hours with and yet here you are, by choice, having your Guinness with them.” Adds Monaghan: “We were always together because we really had no one else. We didn’t know anyone in New Zealand. So Saturday morning came around, and we’d go for brunch and then just hang out all day, whether that was surfing or buying records or seeing some girls around Wellington.” Music and films became a vital connection for the actors during production. “There’s a whole section in my iTunes library that is there because of Elijah,” says Astin, while Wood recalls renting VHS movies from a local video store and then forgetting to ever return them. “We were always watching TV in our movie trailers,” says Wood. “So one day we took the TV outside, put it on a stand, grabbed a couch, and we all sat there and watched the documentary Crumb in our bare feet.”
Once you’ve gotten the image of hobbits watching an R-rated documentary out of your head, check out the exclusive EW.com video interview below, in which Astin, Monaghan, and Wood remember partying at a gay club with Sir Ian McKellen, and reveal the real reason why fellow hobbit actor Billy Boyd couldn’t make it to the L.A. photoshoot. And pick up EW’s Reunions issue (on newsstands now) to see the other LOTR shoots from London and Sydney, Australia, as well as interviews with the casts of Back to the Future, The West Wing, Alias, Will & Grace, Scream, Pretty in Pink, and many more.