Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films changed cinema forever. They showed how high fantasy could work on the screen, paving the way for later epics like Game of Thrones, and made great strides in both practical and digital special effects. Journalist Ian Nathan’s new book, Anything You Can Imagine: Peter Jackson and the Making of Middle-Earth, recounts the epic fantasy’s journey from page to screen. While Jackson’s films arrived on DVD with tons of behind-the-scenes extras, Nathan’s account contains facts even the biggest Tolkien fans might not have heard before.
Below, check out EW’s favorite facts from Nathan’s book. Anything You Can Imagine hits bookstores this week.
1. Peter Jackson feared for Viggo Mortensen’s life
Viggo Mortensen’s most powerful scene in the trilogy nearly killed him. The only suitable location for filming the Black Gate of Mordor scene — in which Mortensen’s Aragorn fully embraces his duties as King of Gondor and gives his soldiers a rousing speech about how “a day may come when the courage of men fails…but it is not this day!” — was an area of the Rangipo Desert used by the New Zealand military for training, so it was covered in unexploded artillery shells. The country’s army set up a safe area for filming (and several soldiers even joined in as Orc extras), but Mortensen still rode recklessly outside of it.
“Jackson remembers waiting for the explosion,” Nathan writes. “Having found their perfect Aragorn, they were going to watch him get blown up by an unexploded New Zealand bomb.”
Luckily, fate had other plans, and after a minute Mortensen rode back to the safe area without a scratch. Anything You Can Imagine is filled with other accounts of Mortensen’s eccentric and passionate behavior: Taking his sword with him everywhere, sleeping out under the stars, and other ways he engaged with his character.
2. Gollum (Andy Serkis) was antisocial on and off screen
Unlike the Fellowship actors, who got matching tattoos to celebrate their filming experience, Serkis mostly flew solo during production. In order to get into Gollum’s solitary headspace, the actor took a three-day canoe trip down the Whanganui River with only J.R.R. Tolkien’s book for company. And the excursion didn’t end well.
“Soaked and short on food, [Serkis] had to be rescued by three outwardly bound Wellington councilors,” Nathan writes.
3. A stranded Sean Bean and Orlando Bloom had to sleep on a stranger’s couch
Jackson planned to stage a riverside battle near Queenstown, New Zealand, but a devastating storm flooded the site, preventing them from filming (Jackson later repurposed his plans for the barrel sequence in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug). “We received a notice along the lines of, ‘No shooting today, river underwater,’” John Rhys-Davies (Gimli) recounted to Nathan.
The cast and crew got separated and, stranded and alone, Bean and Bloom happened upon an isolated cottage inhabited by an old lady. She let the actors crash at her place for four days until helicopters could rescue them.
4. One of the most famous lines in the series almost didn’t happen
Constant dialogue revisions during production meant that the script was never quite finished on the page. Perhaps the most famous line in the entire series — Sean Bean’s Boromir telling the Council of Elrond “one does not simply walk into Mordor” — was a result of these last-minute additions. It was “a passage of dialogue scribbled on a piece of paper and literally balanced on his knee,” according to Nathan. The writer points out you can even catch Bean subtly glancing down at it during the scene. It’s hard to account for just how many memes were created by that line.
5. The Beatles originally wanted to do a film version of LOTR — and the actors honored it in the best way
Jackson wasn’t the first filmmaker to attempt Tolkien—back in the ’60s, the Beatles tried to kick-start their own version. In homage to this (and Jackson’s general love of the band), Sean Astin, Elijah Wood, Dominic Monaghan, and Billy Boyd once gave the director a birthday gift: a photo featuring the foursome dressed in hobbit costumes, but posed as John, Paul, George, and Ringo, with “The Hobbits” emblazoned on the bass drum.