Director Peter Jackson will release the first of two prequels to ''The Lord of the Rings'' on Dec. 14, 2012. Here, he talks about Bilbo Baggins and the dwarves who draft him for their quest in ''The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey''

By Josh Rottenberg
Updated June 24, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT

EW The Lord of the Rings movies took a major toll on you physically. Are you pacing yourself for this marathon?
Peter Jackson Well, there’s no way you can pace yourself for shoots like these. A lot of regular movies shoot somewhere between 50 and 80 days, and we hit 266 on Lord of the Rings. I thought, ”Well, I’ll never have to survive that sort of marathon again.” But when we were going through the schedule for The Hobbit, I felt a terrible drop in my stomach when I saw that we’d be shooting for 254 days. We’re only 12 days short of The Lord of the Rings even though we’re only doing two movies. When I saw that, I had to sort of pick myself up off the floor and carry on. [Laughs] You just get to a state of tiredness and stay there. But that’s okay. The movie keeps you going. I have to say, that’s the one surprise with The Hobbit: I didn’t really foresee the amount of fun we’d have. We’re working with much of the same crew as Lord of the Rings and obviously some of the actors like Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, and Andy Serkis are back, so it’s like a reunion. Plus, we’ve got all the new boys. [Ed. note: Since this interview, Jackson has announced that he’s cast Evangeline Lilly as an elf named Tauriel and Barry Humphries, a.k.a. Dame Edna, as the Goblin King.]
EW How do you like your dwarves?
Jackson They’re fantastic. They are a pretty crazy ensemble.
EW I’m sure that Martin Freeman, who’s playing Bilbo, has studied Ian Holm’s performance as an older Bilbo in Lord of the Rings closely. How important is it that they match up precisely?
Jackson We wanted to make it consistent without being an impersonation.
EW You can tell from the photos that Martin fits the ears well.
Jackson He fits the ears, and he’s got some very nice feet. I think he’s got the biggest hobbit feet we’ve had so far. They’re a little bit hard to walk in, but he’s managed to figure out the perfect hobbit gait.
EW Looking at these photos of Bilbo’s home, Bag End — did you still have the original sets from Lord of the Rings or are these newly built?
Jackson We did keep the original Bag End, but in the intervening 10 years we’ve turned it into a guesthouse so people can actually live and sleep in Bag End. It’s up on a farm that we’ve got, so it wasn’t really possible to drag it back in the studios.
EW What has it been like for Ian McKellen to play Gandalf again?
Jackson He’s in fantastic form. In a way, his role in The Hobbit has more technical difficulties than Lord of the Rings did, because he has scenes with 14 smaller characters — obviously the dwarves and the hobbit are shorter. One of the first things we shot with Ian on The Hobbit was this seven-page scene in Bag End where they’re debating what to do on this quest. Ian had to sit by himself on a greenscreen stage, and I know he found that incredibly frustrating and difficult. I remember saying to him [laughs], ”Look, this isn’t Waiting for Godot or King Lear. This is The Hobbit. This is the real thing.”

A Few Words from Peter Jackson
On filming in 3-D for the first time:
”My philosophy with shooting in 3-D is to shoot absolutely as I would with 2-D,” says the director. ”James Cameron has been very helpful giving us advice. Because he shot Avatar down here in the same studios we’re using, we were able to use a lot of that same crew — who also happened to be Lord of the Rings veterans. It’s been pretty smooth sailing.”

On Sir Ian McKellen reprising his role as Gandalf:
”When we did Lord of the Rings,” says Jackson, ”I would look at Ian and see Ian McKellen dressed up as a character called Gandalf. But in the space of 10 years, that look he created — the beard, the wig, the voice, the costume — has become iconic. So what’s weird for me on The Hobbit is that I’ll be sitting on the set talking to Ian and — if I look away at the crew and look back — I don’t see Ian McKellen, I see Gandalf beside me.”