If you saw the new trailer for “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” last week, you were likely struck by the epic scale of the hotly anticipated television series, a sweeping saga that predates J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.”
But it was actually the show’s more intimate attributes that attracted actor Dylan Smith to the project.
Smith, a Canadian actor currently based in Australia, wasn’t even sure what he was auditioning for when he tried out for the role eventually revealed as Largo Brandyfoot, so heavy was the secrecy surrounding the series. But “it was clear that the key aspects were being a father, which I’d newly become; being a husband, which I am, and (being) willing to show your love for life, for family … So it was a very kind of universally human audition.”
That’s not to suggest that Smith, known for TV series like “Into the Badlands” and “I Am the Night,” wasn’t impressed by the ambition of “The Rings of Power,” which debuts Sept. 2 on Prime Video.
“And you just knew you were taking on something that meant so much to so many people in the world.”
“The Rings of Power” made what Variety described as “its biggest splash yet” last week at San Diego Comic-Con, where the new trailer was unveiled and a panel of more than two dozen cast and creatives, including Smith, was presided over by superfan Stephen Colbert.
It’s said to be the most expensive TV series ever made, with a reported budget of $465 million (U.S.).
It’s set thousands of years before the events of the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” books and blockbuster movies, “and will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness,” according to Amazon.
All that action means a massive ensemble cast. Smith, who was born in Montreal, is the only Canadian onscreen, not an unusual situation considering he often works outside of Canada.
Smith’s father is Oscar-nominated director John N. Smith, his mother is Oscar-winning documentarian Cynthia Scott and his brother, Bruce Smith, is a screenwriter, although conversations around the family dinner table were more likely to revolve around politics than show business.
“Somebody asked me, was the Academy Award on display? It was like, are you crazy? We couldn’t even find the box that it was hidden in. Now we’ve gotten her to keep it out, but she’s stuck a Santa Claus hand puppet over top of it,” Smith said of his mother.
So it was never a given he’d join the family business — he planned to be a hockey player until injuries short-circuited that career path — but seeing Robert Lepage’s “Needles and Opium” in Burlington, Vt., “blew me open to it.”
Smith began in theatre, studying it at the University of Toronto and the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England, as well as joining the inaugural season of Soulpepper.
“I still think I’d like to do more theatre, but I definitely feel more comfortable on a film set than anywhere else in my life, maybe other than around my three-year-old son,” he said.
He wishes there were more Canadian actors in “The Rings of Power.” “I don’t believe I’m an exceptional Canadian. I just think I was a Canadian positioned in the right setting to have access to the show. But I’m very proudly a Canadian from a Canadian acting pool.”
Smith said he’s also proud of the cast as a whole, including the actors who play his wife and children.
Largo and his family are harfoots, prehistoric hobbits: “people who’ve been displaced from the last great war … refugees whose only goal in life is to survive. And we do that by constantly being on the move in set migratory patterns and making sure nobody knows we even exist,” said Smith.
Largo is husband to Marigold (Sara Zwangobani) and father to two daughters, including Nori (Markella Kavenagh), “a key character in the show who is coming of age … And my character is going through the thing every parent goes through of, on one hand, wanting to say, ‘Go take the world by the horns, be everything you want to be,’ and at the same time trying to protect her from the very real danger that lies out there, especially for our people. So it’s a very human parental story and relationship, and very beautifully told.”
Smith got to bring his real-life family with him to New Zealand, where “The Rings of Power” shot on location for over a year and a half. He called the scale of the production “amazing,” particularly the details that went into costumes and props.
The harfoots, for instance, have carts that they travel and hide in, each made of cane that was grown and woven by a man living in New Zealand’s South Island. “And he devised a (different) weave pattern for every single family in the harfoot community … when you see that detail, let alone the state of the equipment, the cranes, the drones, all of that going on — but for me, the detail was what made it epic.”
Smith comes to “The Rings of Power” as a fan as well as a participant.
“The original three movies were very influential on me,” so getting to take part in the series has been thrilling, he said.
“There’s no bigger fan of Tolkien than the two creators of our show,” he added, referring to Patrick McKay and John D. Payne. “So I think there’s great love making it and we’re anticipating bringing it out. And I think the disagreements and debates (among fans) will only be wonderful fodder and wonderful testimony to Tolkien’s work.
“I absolutely stand behind how Amazon and our showrunners have decided to do this show, and where they’ve taken this story in the Second Age.”
“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” debuts Sept. 2 on Prime Video.
Debra Yeo is a deputy editor and a contributor to the Star’s Entertainment section. She is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @realityeo
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