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After Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the franchise is expanding into TV with the Prime Video series, The Rings of Power, led by showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay. Based on appendices written by J.R.R. Tolkien, the series is set thousands of years ahead of the events that happened in the films and books as it tells the story about a time in Middle-earth during relative peace before the re-emergence of an evil force.
Like the films, the series features an expansive cast -- 21 series regulars in season 1 to be exact -- as it explores Tolkien’s sprawling fantasy world. The ensemble features a collection of Australian, English and Welsh performers, with some of the biggest stars being Benjamin Walker (Jessica Jones), Charles Edwards (The Crown), Ismael Cruz Córdova (The Undoing), Morfydd Clark (His Dark Materials) and Robert Aramayo (Game of Thrones).
“There’s 21 season regulars, but I think we all color the world in our own specific way, and you’ll fall in love with everyone in your own way,” Maxim Baldry, who plays Isildur, says, explaining that this series “is about friendship and bravery. And I think everyone has the capacity for evil and darkness. But there’s always shades of light, and I think this show really explores that.”
During San Diego Comic-Con 2022, where the series made an impressive debut, the cast opened up to ET about their respective roles in the sprawling saga, giving fans a peek inside of what’s to come from the first eight episodes of The Rings of Power, which premieres Friday, Sept. 2.
Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi)
Original to the series, Bronwyn is a Tirharad villager who is in love with an elf named Arondir (Córdova). She is also mother to Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin). “I play a human from the southlands. I’m a healer, I’m a mother of a somewhat rebellious teenage son, but I’m also in a forbidden romance with an elf,” Boniadi says, describing the relationship between Bronwyn and Arondir as “the love story of the season.”
The actress, who was last seen in 2019’s Bombshell, teases that Bronwyn “has an inner lioness. So, you’re gonna see things from her -- like, don’t judge a book by its cover is all I have to say.”
Theo (Tyroe Muhafidin)
Described as a “rebellious” teen, Theo is a Tirharad villager and the son of Bronwyn. “I’m playing a human that’s a new character. So, I get to make up my storyline for my character and only think about 13 years of his life rather than thousands,” Muhafidin says, comparing Theo to more established elven characters, who have lived thousands of years.
Arondir (Ismael Cruz Córdova)
Another character created for the series is Arondir (Córdova). Like Arwen (Liv Tyler from the films), an elf who fell in love with a man named Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Arondir is in a relationship with Bronwyn.
“He is a warrior. He is one that is led by love and is willing to sacrifice himself for it,” Córdova says, explaining that no matter what “gets thrown his way -- even if he gets thrown down, if he’s on the floor -- he gets back up and has a very clear guiding light.”
More specifically, “when we pick up [with Arondir], we find him in the Southlands. And as we know, he’s part of a forbidden love. So, he is watching over the people of the Southlands, the humans who back in the day side with the wrong force of evil. So, he’s been tasked to watch over them, essentially,” the actor says. “And that’s where the tricky part happens, in terms of his love for a human.”
Galadriel (Morfydd Clark)
Originally portrayed by Cate Blanchett in all six of Jackson’s films, Galadriel is considered one of the greatest elves in Middle-earth during the Third Age, the time in which the main franchise takes place. Clark takes over the role in the series as a much younger version. “I didn’t talk to Cate Blanchett, but I think about her all the time,” the actress says. “Honestly, like those films and her, I was just so obsessed with. So, it still feels very surreal.”
On the show, Galadriel is an explorer of Middle-earth who eventually comes into her own and rules over a group of elves alongside Celeborn (who is currently not a confirmed character in the series). And she’s not so sure things are as calm as they’ve been made out to be. “So, Middle-earth is experiencing a period of peace,” Clark says. “She doesn’t believe it and so, she kind of is screaming into the void -- and almost in her own horror to a degree -- because she feels there’s something so dangerous [but] no one is taking her seriously.”
Halbrand (Charlie Vickers)
Created for the series, Halbrand is a bit of a mysterious character. At some point, the human is stranded asea during a storm before encountering Galadriel. “So, we meet him floating on a raft in the middle of the Sundering Seas,” Vickers says, teasing that “his backstory unfolds as the show progresses.”
“We learn more and more things about him,” he says. “And so, I think he’s leaving behind something in his past and he’s moving forward towards something else. Inadvertently, he [met] some other characters who push and pull him in different directions.”
While new to the franchise, Vickers says, “There’s some really interesting things in the character [that’s] been created so brilliantly by the showrunners. And so, the themes of Tolkien run through him. He’s built on the foundations of Tolkien’s work.”
High King Gil-galad (Benjamin Walker)
Walker plays a younger version of the character first established in the books and films, with Mark Ferguson briefly playing him in flashbacks and other deleted scenes in The Fellowship of the Ring.
During the Second Age, Gil-galad was the last High King of the Ñoldor in Middle-earth and the highest authority among the elves. “I’m a king of the elves and that means he was one of the elves that chose to stay in Middle-earth and protect Middle-earth. That’s his job,” the actor says of his character. “And as we know in Tolkien’s [universe], evil is always right around the corner, so he certainly has his hands full.”
Elrond (Rob Aramayo)
Featured throughout Jackson’s LOTR film trilogy, Elrond was originally played onscreen by Hugo Weaving. In Jackson’s films, he was depicted as distrusting of humans, initially not wanting to get involved in the subsequent violence that followed as the fellowship led by Frodo (Elijah Wood) sought to destroy the “One Ring.”
“The show takes place thousands and thousands of years before Lord of the Rings, so I focused a lot of my research on the First Age history and what came before Elrond,” Aramayo says. “So, I focused a lot of my work there and I was really passionate about Tolkien's Legendarium, and you know, Elrond’s history, which is very interesting.”
Prior to the Third Age, the half-human, half-elf was forced to choose how he wanted to identify. Opting to be counted among the elves, he became a ranking member of Gil-galad’s army and served in many battles throughout the Second Age. “He’s sort of the right-hand man to the king, really,” the actor explains. “He’s a young elf, so he’s still learning. He’s not a lord yet and he’s very interested in different peoples of Middle-earth, which we get to see a little bit of.”
Prince Durin IV and Princess Disa (Owain Arthur and Sophia Nomvete)
A character established by Tolkien is Prince Durin IV (Owain Arthur), who is a King of Khazad-dûm and once bore one of the rings of power foraged by Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards). “He’s a prince, so he’s in line to the throne at Khazad-dûm,” Arthur says. “And we meet them at a very fruitful [time in their] life, I suppose. Khazad-dûm is reaching its peak, we’re on the up and life is good in Khazad-dûm.”
Princess Disa (Sophia Nomvete), who resides in the city of Khazad-dûm, is original to the series. “She is the first female dwarf that we will ever see on screen,” Nomvete says, adding that “she is the first dwarf of color. She is the first of many things, actually. It’s just a world of firsts for her.”
“To be able to host this moment and make this fantasy and this huge franchise accessible for all the generations and for so many people for whom may not have been able to see themselves across the screen, it is an iconic moment for me,” the actress continues. “And hopefully, for the world, to draw in the new fans and know that it is possible.”
Given that Arthur and Nomvete are playing dwarves, they undergo the biggest transformation for the screen. “It was three hours in the makeup chair every morning and 45 minutes at the end of the day,” Arthur reveals. “So, by the time I got ready, it was as if I’d already done a day’s work when the camera started rolling.”
“But in terms of wearing the prosthetics and having it on my face, it was a process,” he continues, explaining that over the different stages, he might look like an old man with a big nose, or when he just had the wig on, it reminded him of his mom. “It’s not until I put the last tiny bits right on here that then I go, ‘Ah there he is. There’s Durin.’ It’s really strange.”
Celebrimbor (Charles Edwards)
Celebrimbor is a man known as the master smith who forged the “Three Rings of Power.” “My character’s kind of limbo. He ultimately creates forges the Rings of Power, but we’re not there yet,” Edwards says.
Prior to that, he started dealing with the dwarves of the realm of Khazad-dûm before learning the art of crafting the rings, which will end up playing a pivotal role in the series. In fact, when the show starts, “we find him [in] a troubled place,” Edwards says. “When we discover him, he has a great weight of ancestral success that he’s always trying to live up to as well as that of his own achievements he never feels he’s quite done as much as he can creatively.”
“So, he’s looking for something new to fulfill him,” the actor continues. “He's trying to build a kind of heaven on earth in Middle-earth for the elves… and they're in a sad place, the elves, at this point. And Celebrimbor is trying to build a city where they can all try and reclaim some of that lost valor-ness about them.”
Largo and Marigold Brandyfoot (Dylan Smith and Sara Zwangobani)
While the breed of Hobbits is canon, Elanor ‘Nori’ Brandyfoot (Markella Kavenagh), Largo and Marigold Brandyfoot (Dylan Smith and Sara Zwangobani), Poppy Proudfellow (Megan Richards) and Sadoc Burrows (Lenny Henry) are all new to the franchise.
“Largo, he’s the father of Nori. He’s a heartfoot, a prehistoric hobbit,” Smith says. “He’s the most beautiful character I’ve ever played because he is that mischievous innocent heart in a dad. He sees it in his children. And yet, I don't think anybody will guess how tough the Harfoot are.”
More specifically, Smith explains that “they’re refugees from the last great war. They’ve deemed their only means of survival is to keep moving along secretive paths and have the ability to disappear at the snap of a finger. And what is all of that for? It's not just eating another meal, it's so that they can keep laughing. keep playing, keep that innocence alive. But it's under unbelievable duress and they are the only ones in the world that have no agency over the story. They are the only ones in the world that are pure victims to whatever political negotiations go on.”
However, evil rises we’re the ones that will suffer the consequence of your actions over and over and over and over and over and over again. So, I think the idea of keeping that open heart in the face of hammering and hammering and hammering is really everything you hope for as an actor.”
Elanor ‘Nori’ Brandyfoot and Poppy Proudfellow (Markella Kavenagh and Megan Richards)
The daughter of Largo and Marigold, Nori is a Harfoot who, along with Poppy, sees where the meteor crashes and subsequently discovers a man (Daniel Weyman) in the flaming crater.
“My character Nori Brandyfoot, she’s a really resolute, inquisitive, curious Hartfoot,” Kavenagh says. “She loves pushing boundaries. She’s a troublemaker. But she just wants to improve the Hartfoot’s quality of life and does so by taking risks. She leads with the idea that a fear of risks can be greater than the risk itself.”
“Poppy is there with Nori. And her love for Nori, you know, Nori’s a bit cheeky, she’s a bit naughty and she goes off and sort of pushes the boundaries,” Richards adds. “And Poppy’s kind of the one who likes to draw her back in. But there’s still an intrigue there and there’s such a love for her friendship that she goes with her and that’s where you find them in the beginning.”
As for the Harfoots, Richards describes them as a nomadic community. “They move with the seasons. They don’t yet have their own home, they’re still finding it. So, they don’t have the shire,” the actress says. “Hartfoots have these carts that are their homes. As they move through the seasons, they carry their carts with them. So, they literally carry their homes on their backs.”
“They are survivors and they are fighters as well,” she continues. “They have to constantly look over their shoulders to make sure that they’re not in danger. They’ve gone through a lot of dark times but also with that there is still such love and hope and hearts and singing and dancing.”
The Stranger (Daniel Weyman)
Weyman plays a man who crashes into Middle-earth and is eventually found by Nori and Poppy. The mystery around who he is will be a big question throughout season 1.
Eärien and Elendil (Ema Horvath and Lloyd Owen)
Eärien is the daughter of Elendil (Lloyd Owen), the first High King of the Dúnedain, and the younger brother of Isildur (Maxim Baldry). “I play the sister of a certain naughty someone, Islidur,” Horvath says. “She’s the baby of the family. She’s an aspiring architect on the cusp of womanhood. She’s a little insecure but smarter than she realizes.”
When the series picks up with her, “she’s just been accepted to the architectural guild, ‘cause Númenor works in guilds. It’s a craftsman-like society,” the actress says, noting that “her brother is also kind of being a little naughty. He’s supposed to be a sailor, but he’s not doing what he’s told. So, she’s kind of playing mom.”
While her father and brother are canonical, Eärien was written into the series. For Horvath, she “hopes the fans go, ‘Oh, OK. That makes sense, that addition.’”
Isildur (Maxim Baldry)
Isildur a ruler of Gondor most notable for cutting the “One Ring” from Sauron's hand but then refusing to destroy it, which ultimately lays the groundwork for The Lord of the Rings thousands of years later. “We obviously know where he ends. [There’s] definitely a weight of expectation on my shoulders to kind of fulfill everyone’s idea ‘cause they have a sense of ownership over this character. They know what’s happening,” Baldry says.
But when the series starts, the actor says that audiences will find Isildur, who is the son of Elendil and older brother to Eärien, at a bit of a crossroads. “He has a strenuous relationship with his father. He wants to, on one hand, fulfill his father’s dreams and become a sea captain like him, but also, there’s this deep yearning for something else,” Baldry explains.
“He’s a bit reckless,” the actor continues. “He may not make the right choices all the time but I think he does it with a lot of love and I think you can see a lot of yourself in him. If I can make this guy relatable, then maybe it would allow you to go on this journey of kind of tragic mistakes, I guess, and feel connected to him and understand him. I just want you to know he’s not a bad guy.”
Kemen (Leon Wadham)
Kemen is a Númenórean nobleman and the son of Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle), the last King of Númenor. While his father is canonical, Kemen is a newly created character for the series. “For me, it removed pressure,” Wadham says of bringing the role to life on screen.
That said, “I mean, I'm making a lot of decisions with reference to Trystan, who plays my father. He’s a very political figure in Númenor. I'm playing his son and I feel like the sons are powerful people,” he continues. “I mean, the kids are powerful people. There are two places you can go, generally. You can try and match and outdo their accomplishments and Kemen is in a coasting zone. He’s young, he’s in an incredibly privileged position in the Golden Age… and that’s worked out pretty well.”
Queen Regent Míriel and Pharazôn (Cynthia Addai-Robinson and Trystan Gravelle)
Míriel is the daughter of King Tar-Palantir, and the last rightful heir of Númenor. A notable change from the text is that she starts off as Queen Regent rather than an heir-in-waiting. But her position is threatened by the presence of her cousin, Pharazôn, who was eventually regarded as the last King of Númenor in the appendices. He is also the father of Kemen.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premieres Friday, Sept. 2 on Prime Video.