Nazanin Boniadi’s “The Lord Of The Rings” Role Revealed?

Given how vast the ensemble cast of Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings already is, with thirty-nine actors officially – emphasis on officially – confirmed by Amazon to date, and seeing as the series only continues to pull in new talent, you’d think we’d be able to match some of these actors to characters at this point. But Amazon has made it pretty difficult for us: the shortage of substantial set leaks and behind-the-scenes footage or stills has forced us to rely largely on the most basic kind of guesswork: for instance, trying to find facial similarities between actors in Amazon’s cast and those in Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.

The Lord Of The Rings
The Lord Of The Rings | vanityfair.com

And to be fair, that kind of guesswork might be effective. After all, Morfydd Clark bears a striking resemblance to Cate Blanchett, who originated the live-action of Galadriel which Clark will take on in Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings (at least according to major Hollywood trades; Amazon hasn’t technically made that official yet, either). But character breakdowns and audition tapes have also been extremely helpful, probably more helpful to fans than the Hollywood trades in fact, and we’ve gotten a lot of those from places like Redanian Intelligence, The Observer, and Knight Edge Media. From these, we’ve gleaned the names (or code-names) of most of the series’ main players, and had a great time guessing which ones are established figures from the Tolkien legendarium and which are wholly original.

Today, Redanian Intelligence broke an interesting scoop pairing the character of “Kari” (I’m putting the name in quotes because it could very well be a code-name, and I know certain book-purists freak out about the names in the series not being Tolkienesque enough for them) with the actress Nazanin Boniadi, who was among the first wave of cast members to join The Lord Of The Rings in January, 2020. We still don’t know who Kari is, but I know I’ve been fascinated by her character description since I first read it – and finally being able to match a face to the name helps me visualize who she could be.

Let’s go over what we know. We first became acquainted with Kari a few months before The Lord Of The Rings started filming, back in November of 2019. At the time, The Observer had no information about the actress in the role, only that the character was “a self-sufficient single mother and village healer with a secret”. Redanian Intelligence soon afterwards disclosed two audition tapes which fleshed out Kari’s character quite a bit; revealing that she had a lover, a soldier named “Everad”, who was very clearly an outsider in her small village. In the tapes, Kari and Everad argue over politics – Everad is still distrustful of Kari’s people and calls her homeland “a disloyal place” because its people supposedly rose up in rebellion to his own at some point in the not-so-distant past, while Kari defends them with a passion and anger I instantly admired.

This reporting was backed up in January 2020 by an exclusive from Knight Edge Media, where an extensive character breakdown for Kari was revealed, elaborating on her “at times gentle, but also at times fiery” temperament, and the conflict which defines her, being “torn between her son, her own people and the man with whom she is secretly in love”. It was also mentioned that Amazon was looking for a “Diverse” actress for the role, and Boniadi – an Iranian-British actress who is currently forbidden from returning to the country of her birth due to her activism – fits that description, and would have been just within the “30-39” age range for Kari during the casting process.

The Lord Of The Rings
Nazanin Boniadi | screencrush.com

Kari’s description gave a lot of us the impression that she was probably one of the people of Middle-earth who were ruled over by the Númenóreans throughout much of the Second Age – the three-thousand, four-hundred and forty-one year period when Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings is set. The Númenóreans conquered basically every inch of coastline in Middle-earth that wasn’t already occupied by Elves, and proceeded to desecrate the land and deplete its natural resources as they worked their way inland, building cities, ripping down entire swathes of forest to build their sea-faring ships, and generally making themselves immensely unpopular with the people who were already living in these lands…including, perhaps, our Kari.

This kind of storyline is by no means unique to Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings, and there are ways in which it could go badly wrong if it’s handled without the sensitivity and nuance any story (particularly a romance) that deals with topics of imperialism and colonialism requires. J.R.R. Tolkien’s own writing pretty explicitly links Númenórean imperialism to their eventual downfall from pride, greed, and the lust for world domination. But this new series can go further than he ever did, by centering the perspectives of Middle-earth’s pre-Númenórean people and depicting them as complex, fully-realized characters.

I know some people will be disappointed if Boniadi is playing Kari simply because a lot of people hoped she’d be playing a Númenórean ruling queen in The Lord Of The Rings (to the point where some had drawn connections between Boniadi and another Iranian cast-member, Sophia Nomvete, and extrapolated that Númenor would have Middle Eastern or Persian design influences), so a village healer might seem like a downgrade. It’s not, I assure you. Kari already sounds fascinating from the information we can compile about the character, and I’m sure Boniadi will give a great performance.

(In passing, Redanian Intelligence also revealed that two new actors – New Zealand’s Bridie Sisson and Britain’s Robert Nairne – have also joined The Lord Of The Rings, likely in small roles. I’d like to give both of them a warm welcome to the Tolkien family!)

The Lord Of The Rings
Numenoreans | lotr.fandom.com

But what say you? Do you think Boniadi is playing Kari, and are you interested in this character? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“The Lord Of The Rings” New Leak Promises Short-Haired Elves

The slow and unpredictable trickle of information from the set of Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings has not provided solid ground on which to build a fandom or even a following for the upcoming series. I think a fair number of us in the Tolkien community are definitely excited, but I think many folks are simply…curious, and still more don’t even know that a new adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings is on the way because Amazon has done virtually nothing to promote interest in their biggest fantasy series, much less clearly establish to general audiences that this show isn’t – technically – an adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings, but of the book’s lore-heavy appendices.

The Lord Of The Rings
The Lord Of The Rings | polygon.com

And that’s why leaks are so important. Leaks can increase or deflate public interest in a project far more effortlessly than a studio press release…and in “power vacuum” situations like this one, where the studio in question isn’t even interacting with their target audience yet or attempting to turn the narrative in their favor, leaks and rumors are especially vital. They can also be dangerous, as evidenced by the ongoing backlash to a rumor that Amazon would feature nudity and sexual activity in their adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings.

But today, TheOneRing.net (colloquially known as TORn) presented us with a bundle of set leaks, together forming the most substantial and invigorating information about Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings since filming began, well over a year ago. Obviously, everything in these leaks is unconfirmed, and should be treated as rumor rather than fact, at least for now. But that being said, some of it lines up with other things we’ve heard or guessed, and I don’t doubt that TORn still has access to a reliable network of veteran spies across New Zealand. They claim to have verified most of the leaks with sources working on Amazon’s series, which is also an encouraging sign.

I, of course, will be running through each item on TORn’s bullet-point list of leaks based on my own personal interest: a ranking, of sorts. There’s a lot here, some of which could even form the basis of individual posts, if anybody would be interested.

The biggest news to come out of the leaks is that Amazon has apparently obtained rights to what TORn describes as “elements” and “passages” from The Silmarillion. This would confirm that Amazon’s deal with the Tolkien Estate, first forged in late 2017, is constantly evolving – perhaps because, as TORn claims, the Tolkien Estate is more closely involved with Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings than with any previous Tolkien adaptation, and is apparently “very happy” about the direction the series is taking. I know for a fact that Tolkien fandom will be of two minds about this: some people will get excited by the prospect of an adaptation of The Silmarillion; others will be outraged by a perceived assault on Christopher Tolkien’s legacy. The truth, as TORn notes, is probably that the elements and passages in question are those contained in The Silmarillion‘s own appendices, which merely expand upon information in The Lord Of The Rings‘ appendices (and are further expanded upon in Unfinished Tales, but that’s a whole other set of rights).

A little further down TORn’s list, but higher up on mine, is news of a release date for the series: mid-2022, which matches up with recent reports obtained by Fellowship Of Fans from the New Zealand Film Commission detailing timeframes for Amazon’s marketing campaign. It’s not an exact date yet, but it would seem to suggest a late Spring or early Summer release, which sounds pretty good to me. Will I be digging through every text related to the Second Age of Middle-earth trying to find significant dates in that general timeframe on which Amazon might release the first season? You bet I will.

On a related note, TORn claims that “Main unit wrapped shooting in April 2021” – which again lines up with other reporting – and that while many of the cast have finished their work on season one and left New Zealand for the time being, there are still other “big stars” in the show that we haven’t heard about yet. No indication of whom, exactly, but this could tie into the very last point on TORn’s list: the identity of Sauron.

The Lord Of The Rings
The Eye of Sauron | businessinsider.com

According to the leaks, Sauron “will not be revealed in Season One”, nor will his alter ego of Annatar appear: possibly dispelling rumors that season one will focus on the Forging of the Rings and Annatar’s betrayal of the Elves. But the wording there makes me think that instead, Sauron will appear in other forms throughout the first season, with several different actors portraying the shapeshifting deceiver as he navigates through Middle-earth in the Second Age. That means general audiences and Tolkien fans alike will be surprised when Sauron is eventually revealed, and a new actor could potentially take on the role going into season two – kind of like a dark twist on Doctor Who. This actor could very well be someone with the star-power to keep fans hooked on the show, and it would make for a great cliffhanger. It also means that Joseph Mawle, who joined the cast as season one’s unnamed main villain, isn’t playing Sauron – I still hope he’s portraying the man who will become the Witch-King of Angmar.

According to TORn, Celebrimbor is the character whom Tom Budge was set to play before leaving the role because of creative differences. The character has since been recast, although he may not have a very large part to play in season one given that this incident seems to have had no effect on filming dates. I also suspect that Celebrimbor doesn’t appear in the first few episodes, directed by J.A. Bayona, which serve as “a standalone entry point to the series”.

That latter bit of information lends credence to some previous reporting from TORn that Bayona’s episodes form a feature-length film. I’m gonna call it now, this feature-length film probably deals with the very end of the First Age and the early days of the Second; from the great migration of Elves, Men, and Dwarves across Middle-earth, to the construction and enrichment of their great kingdoms in Lindon, Númenor, and Khazad-dûm, respectively.

Fascinatingly, the new leaks claim that Elves, Men, and Dwarves all “have their own sequestered production units” on The Lord Of The Rings. I cannot wait to learn what that’s about, since, as TORn editor Clifford Broadway speculates, it could suggest some kind of anthology or split-narrative approach to season one that would also emphasize the deep divides between the Free Peoples – and underscore the immensity of the threat that will bring them together in the final days of the Second Age during the War of the Last Alliance. Foreshadowing; we love to see it!

Apparently, the ancient ancestors of Hobbits – referred to in the leaks as Halflings – will also make an appearance in the show, though the extent of their role is unknown. I’m conflicted about this, and I really need to know more about what Amazon plans to do with their Halfling characters before I can pass judgment. But the fact that the Halflings will be played by Black and brown actors, including Sir Lenny Henry, is promising: again, a lot will come down to the execution of this idea, which has roots in Tolkien’s own writing (prepare for the inevitable discourse about how Tolkien’s reference to Harfoot Hobbits being “browner of skin” was actually a reference to very tan white people). During the Second Age, very little is known about the Halflings or their movements across Middle-earth: I rather suspect that by the end of the series, we’ll find them settled in the Gladden Fields, where thousands of years later a Halfling known as Sméagol would come upon the One Ring in the muddy waters where Isildur died.

Moving on to the most controversial item on the list, we have the surprising and somewhat bemusing revelation that Elves will apparently have short or shorter hairstyles in Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings. I’ve seen a lot of backlash to this idea already, but I’ve got to be honest – I’m into it. There’s definitely arguments to be had about just how many of Tolkien’s Elves had long flowing locks, because some most certainly did, but the instantly iconic image of universally long-haired Elves is mostly a Peter Jackson creation. This change suggests that Amazon isn’t constrained by Jackson’s continuity, and I appreciate that. On a similar note, the show apparently swaps out the Jackson term “Cave Troll” for “Ice Troll”. Minor change, but it’s little details like this that reinforce my faith in the leak overall.

Over in the pile of “things that were never controversial to begin with but got blown wildly out of proportion”, we have the subject of nudity…or “sexless nudity”, as TORn proudly declared in their headline today. You may remember that TORn led the charge against the very concept of nudity or sexuality in The Lord Of The Rings after learning that an intimacy coach had been hired for the series; but today, it turns out all their fears were unfounded, because the nudity in Amazon’s series isn’t even remotely sexualized. In depicting the transformation of Elves into monstrous Orcs by Sauron’s corruptive evil, The Lord Of The Rings will apparently involve nudity “suggestive of concentration camp-type visuals of victims”.

And whether or not TORn’s claims that Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey had been fired from the set of The Lord Of The Rings had any validity, the new leaks state that three unnamed Tolkien scholars “were on set for a time”. The language here is slightly deceptive – they may have been on set, but more importantly, what did they think of the set? Who are they, and was one of them Shippey? Are they no longer working on the show? Can I apply for this job?

Lastly, we have one truly bizarre piece of news. Amazon apparently has “a fake production team shooting decoy footage on fake sets” simultaneously to the real production. I…have no words for how strange and distasteful that is to me, but I pray to Eru Ilúvatar that some of this decoy footage has a purpose, and isn’t just meant to keep people away from the real set. I mean, it would be one thing if anybody had even gotten a good look at the fake set, much less the real one, but so far we’ve seen virtually nothing besides fences and walls of shipping containers. If they’re trying to deceive us, at least…uh, tell us what we’re supposed to be deceived by?

The Lord Of The Rings
The One Ring | gadgets.ndtv.com

If Amazon is willing to go to such ridiculous levels to throw people off the scent, it’s hard to trust that this leak isn’t also a carefully planned distraction. But I hope it’s not, because I’m more excited now than I think I’ve ever been for this adaptation. Does this change your views on The Lord Of The Rings? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“The Lord Of The Rings” Welcomes Charlotte Brandstrom!

It’s a good year to be a fantasy nerd. Shadow And Bone just dropped on Netflix, a second season of The Witcher is deep into post-production, The House Of The Dragon is dropping set photos left and right, and Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings series is…well, it’s coming, it’s just taking its sweet time. Despite being literally the most expensive TV show ever filmed, and capitalizing on a built-in fanbase of millions around the world, The Lord Of The Rings hasn’t quite captured the attention of mainstream media just yet, or gotten people chattering outside of the Tolkienverse fandom.

The Lord Of The Rings
Charlotte Brandstrom | m.imdb.com

That’s going to change soon, though. The first season is set to wrap post-production in early August, and before then we’ll likely see an official still from the set, maybe even a brief teaser. At this point, a title reveal would be nice. But until then, we have the exciting news that Charlotte Brändström has indeed joined the series’ production team as a director on two episodes of the first season, becoming the first woman to helm a piece of official Tolkienverse media (an important distinction from Fran Walsh directing key scenes in Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, something for which she does not get enough credit).

I want to give a shoutout to Fellowship Of Fans, a YouTube channel specializing in frequent and reliable updates on Amazon’s The Lord Of The Rings series, including exclusive reporting based on admirable sleuth work. Fellowship Of Fans broke the news that Brändström was probably involved in the Amazon series some time ago, and their reporting has once again been proven accurate. With the prevailing trend in Tolkien fandom these days being to wildly exaggerate and hyperbolize any potential scoop (I’m not naming names, but…you know), Fellowship Of Fans’ high quality of reporting is extremely important.

But today, it’s been made official by Amazon themselves. Brändström is working on two episodes of The Lord Of The Rings, and multiple cast members – including Nazanin Boniadi and Ismael Cruz Córdova – have already congratulated her on social media. She joins J.A. Bayona and Wayne Che Yip as confirmed directors on the series, although we still don’t know for sure which episodes she’s directing.

The Lord Of The Rings
The Witcher | pinterest.co.uk

Brändström, a Swedish-French director with an International Emmy Award nomination to her name, has had a long career in the TV industry, spanning multiple studios – but she’s probably best known for directing two episodes of The Witcher, something that bodes well for her work on The Lord Of The Rings. She has also directed episodes of The Man In The High Castle and Counterpart for Amazon, Outlander, Grey’s Anatomy, Arrow, and, most recently, Jupiter’s Legacy for Netflix (which I am very slowly making my way through, by the way. It’s not a very good show, but since I haven’t gotten up to either of Brändström’s episodes yet, I don’t really have anything to say about it that has any impact on the conversation at hand. But at this point, I’m continuing solely because I want to get a broader idea of her work.

The significance of a woman working to bring this new iteration of Middle-earth to life can’t be understated. The backbone of the Tolkien fandom has always been women, and it’s been kept alive this long by women, by people of color (particularly women of color), and by LGBTQ+ people – but that makes it all the more important that we acknowledge that this is only a small step in the right direction. A certain group of people will wring their hands about how a white cisgender woman directing two episodes of a Lord Of The Rings series is proof that “wokeness” is ruining Tolkien, but the truth is there’s not enough diversity behind the scenes yet, and I will continue to push Amazon to do better, especially when it comes to hiring Black people and people of color for leadership positions where their input can’t be ignored or sidelined.

Beyond that, there’s not much else to say. The announcement of Brändström’s involvement was accompanied by a photo of her standing in a mountainous environment in New Zealand, but it’d be pretty cool to see something substantial at this point – like a title logo, maybe? Please, Amazon? Anything so that I don’t have to keep calling it The Lord Of The Rings and then backtracking every five seconds to explain that it’s not actually The Lord Of The Rings!

The Lord Of The Rings
The Lord Of The Rings | denofgeek.com

So what do you think? Where have you experienced Brändström’s work before, and what qualities do you foresee her bringing to the series? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

What Brought The Tolkien Community Joy In 2020

2020 was nothing if not a hellish year that tested us in ways we hadn’t even thought possible back in 2019. But now, with the year finally ending and a new one about to begin, I thought it would be nice to look back and find some things that brought us in the Tolkien community just a little bit of joy and normality amidst all the chaos and confusion. Whether it was casting announcements for the upcoming Amazon series, or familiar faces reuniting for a good cause, Tolkien fans found a respite from the year’s awfulness in small, simple, pleasures that gave us each a smile and a laugh, and/or kept us at least partially sane throughout 2020.

Tolkien
insider.com

I’ve tried to be comprehensive, but it’s been a long year, and I have forgotten much that I thought I knew. So if I’ve missed something important, be sure to tell me and I’ll happily correct my error! As I am just one Tolkien fan in a very big and very diverse fandom, these are merely my personal experiences. With that out of the way, let’s revisit some of the year’s few joyous Tolkienesque highlights.

As soon as lockdown orders went into place around the world, many of us immediately took the opportunity to crack open our old copies of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, with the intention of returning to Middle-earth for some much-needed comfort. But actor and director Andy Serkis went further than the rest of us would or even could, reading the entirety of The Hobbit aloud in a hyped-up livestream event with the full permission of HarperCollins (for whom he then recorded a new audiobook of The Hobbit). The 12-hour long livestream was hugely successful – raising more than £283,000 for charity – and hugely satisfying for Tolkien fans, as Serkis was able to trot out his iconic Gollum voice during the character’s single, memorable sequence in the book. I myself have read The Hobbit, The Lord Of The Rings, The Silmarillion, and assorted bits of Unfinished Tales aloud to family members even prior to this quarantine, and can confirm that, while taxing on the vocal cords, it’s a truly delightful experience to partake in (I personally like to do different voices and accents for all the characters, not just the ones I’m especially good at, but, well, I’m not claiming to be a better reader-alouder than Andy Serkis…or am I?)

Tolkien
Andy Serkis as Gollum | lotr.fandom.com

The rest of us social distancing stay-at-homes, unable to monetize our reading experience in quite the same way, took to social media to share the joys of Middle-earth for free with people we don’t know and who probably don’t want to have their timelines continually clogged by abnormally long Twitter threads documenting our reactions to literally every single thing in each of the books and movies. Some of us did monetize our experiences, and were forced to distort Howard Shore’s beautiful score to avoid copyright infringement. There were too many of these to count, but a few I particularly enjoyed included a first-time viewer’s twelve-part reaction to The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, artist and animator Noelle Stevenson live-tweeting the movies while enjoying a lembas bread snack, and a live-tweet of Ralph Bakshi’s cult classic The Lord Of The Rings adaptation that is perfect viewing once you hit that stage of quarantine where days are blurring together and nothing makes sense anymore, least of all reality, so you might as well just roll with the fact that, yes, Aragorn is rocking that mini-skirt.

Not wanting to let Andy Serkis have all the fun, almost the entire main cast of Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings reunited for a livestreamed event hosted by actor and comedian Josh Gad, and attended by Jackson himself as well as the trilogy’s lead screenwriter, Philippa Boyens. It was, as they say in The Shire, a party of special magnificence: gathering on their individual computer screens, the Fellowship and more teamed up for trivia, re-enactments of famous scenes, and fond reminiscences. It was all too brief, but by that point we were growing used to brief and fleeting joys, and it felt refreshingly fun. Hearing Sean Astin recite his empowering speech from the end of The Two Towers also provided us with an excuse for a good old-fashioned ugly cry, which was sweet of him.

Tolkien
Lord Of The Rings On Prime cast | newshub.co.nz

But even as the old cast was re-assembling, a new cast was coming together in New Zealand – the one corner of the world that was, for the most part, unaffected by COVID-19. Two huge casting announcements for the upcoming Amazon Prime adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work bookended this strange year; the first in January, prior to the pandemic, and the second earlier this very month. We welcomed a number of diverse and exciting actors to Middle-earth, such as Nazanin Boniadi, Sophia Nomvete, Morfydd Clark, Peter Mullan, and Lenny Henry, and we debated endlessly about who they could be playing, here on this very blog and on fan-forums everywhere (speaking of which, the homepage of TheOneRing.com is active again as of this month, after several years). Almost a year into production on the first season, and we still don’t actually know! We’re not even sure if this is the full cast yet, or if more are still to come.

But with production on the season’s two-part pilot apparently complete and director J.A. Bayona having just departed New Zealand, it does appear that production is now underway on the rest of the season after a number of delays due to COVID that forced the entire series to halt filming throughout the spring and summer. Amazon Prime has been keeping this whole project unusually secretive, so much so that we still don’t even have an official title (which, let me tell you, is getting on my nerves). We know it takes place in the Second Age, we know a little bit about the behind-the-scenes crew, and…that’s it, mostly. In the absence of concrete information, rumors have spread like wildfire and driven some pretty controversial fandom discourse (though it gave me a chance to share my knowledge of The Mariner’s Wife with the world, so I’m not entirely unhappy about that). Thankfully, a new YouTube channel named Fellowship Of Fans has been keeping us up to date with consistently reliable news from the set, and I highly recommend you subscribe now so you don’t miss a thing.

One can hope, however, that we’ll learn more official details sooner rather than later – especially with the Tolkien Estate having announced earlier this year that a new collection of previously unpublished writings by J.R.R. Tolkien is coming in 2021, which will provide new insight into a wide variety of subjects, including the Second Age of Middle-earth, something they wryly note will be “Of particular note, given the impending Amazon series”. How much of what’s in this book, titled The Nature Of Middle-earth, will actually be new is up for debate, but I’m extremely excited for it nonetheless.

Tolkien
Tolkientober artwork by me

But the greatest Tolkien-related joy of 2020 (and the one in which I participated the most eagerly) has to have been the Tolkientober event: a month-long art challenge organized by Noelle Stevenson’s wife, artist and animator Molly Knox Ostertag – who, incidentally, was also recently awarded a Forbes 30 Under 30 honor. Tolkientober brought us together through the inclusive power of art, and allowed us a sneak peek of some of the next generation’s great Tolkien artists. I don’t claim to be one of those, but I did have a lot of fun sharing my works with the Tolkien community on Twitter, and it helped me rediscover my passion for drawing and sketching: something I had put aside pre-pandemic to focus on writing. Tolkientober, a casual, judgement-free, noncompetitive event aimed at spreading good vibes around the internet, taught me how to balance my talents better and renewed my confidence in my art, and for that I will always be thankful.

But enough about me. What I want to know is what your favorite moments were: so if my list is any way incomplete, share your own thoughts in the comments below and tell me about your experience as a Tolkien fan in 2020 – see you all in the new year!