Peter Jackson: Entertainer of the decade
How ''Lord of the Rings'' made the newbie director the king of an award-winning trilogy
In the fall of 2001, as he rushed to complete his first Lord of the Rings movie, Peter Jackson was walking barefoot across the street in Wellington, New Zealand, when an intense 10-year-old on a bike accosted him. The kid wanted to know whether he was famous — and if so, why. Fair questions. Jackson was a little-known director who’d persuaded New Line to entrust him with $300 million to do what was plainly impossible: shoot three movies at once, please hardcore fans of a revered trilogy, bring a creature named Gollum to life, and make fantasy a contender at both the box office and the Oscars. He did it all. Jackson, 48, can be quite self-effacing: On that day in 2001, the perplexed 10-year-old asked if he was Michael Jackson’s brother, and the director laughed and said, ”Ah, now you’re getting close!” Shyness aside, he was happy to take time out from promoting his new movie, The Lovely Bones, and answer a few questions about the decade that the ring made him king.
EW: What was the best decision you made in the last 10 years?
Peter Jackson To work with Guillermo del Toro and Neill Blomkamp.1 Visionaries both.
EW: How about your worst decision?
PJ To renovate our house whilst shooting three movies back-to-back. The renovations took longer than making the films. Our house was swathed in scaffolding for over two years. It was so bad that a local newspaper suggested that the neighbors might like to pitch in, in good Kiwi DIY style, to help us finish basic repairs and get rid of the eyesore. Flash forward to 2009 and renovations are still a work in progress. We realize now that they will never finish. The builders are very much ”family” now.
EW: Is there one particular day that stands out with regard to The Lord of the Rings — a moment when you realized you really might pull it off?
PJ Yes, in May 2001, in Cannes. We screened 20 minutes of Fellowship to a group of journalists and distributors. It was a huge relief that the screening went well, because the studio had not responded very positively to the footage and they told us to expect the worst. This is why we approached the event with a mounting sense of dread. We were frankly amazed the footage was so well received. The Cannes audience was so excited — they kept saying they wanted to see the rest of the movie. But we couldn’t tell them at that stage there was no rest of the movie — nothing else was cut. No other VFX shots were complete. We had six months to pull the film together.
EW: You must have wondered where you’d be if The Lord of the Rings had failed. What comes to mind when you picture that alternate reality?
PJ That alternate reality would’ve seen New Line going rapidly out of business — at that stage the fate of the company was hanging in the balance. It was a fear and a pressure that never went away: the idea that if the films failed, we would be personally responsible for hundreds of New Liners losing their jobs. It was a horrible thought — that people with mortgages and families would find themselves out of work because we had failed to deliver. Of course if that happened, we would’ve been out of work too. But the thought of it happening to others en masse made the prospect of failure so much worse.2
EW: Is there one scene from any of your movies over the past 10 years that you’re particularly proud of?
PJ The Gollum/Sméagol schizoid scene from The Two Towers in which one alter ego relentlessly manipulates and persecutes the other. Family — you can’t live with ’em and you can’t live without ’em! Fran3 wrote and directed that scene during pickups while I was shooting other things. It’s one of my favorite scenes, along with the complete Moria sequence from Fellowship.4 I also love Théoden’s rallying speech to his troops just prior to their grand cavalry charge in The Return of the King — Bernard Hill was terrific. And Sam picking up Frodo: ”I can’t carry it,5 but I can carry you.”I can say truthfully that I love all those moments.
EW: Are there any keepsakes that you’re particularly fond of?
PJ That would have to be Gary, Trevor, Muzza, Neville, Brent, and Lysander — who came home with us after the 2004 Academy Awards.6
1 Del Toro is directing The Hobbit, which Jackson will co-write and exec-produce. Blomkamp directed District 9, which Jackson produced.
2 In February 2008, New Line was finally folded into its parent studio, Warner Bros.
3 Fran Walsh is Jackson’s partner in life and moviemaking.
4 In The Fellowship of the Ring, our heroes fight a variety of nasties in the Mines of Moria; Gandalf takes on a fiery Balrog and plummets into a deep chasm.
5 ”It” is the evil ring.
6 Yes, he and Fran named their Oscars.