They were the comic relief of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Hobbits Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck and Peregrin "Pippin" Took drew snickers from audiences at the theaters, but the actors who portray them, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd, have since probably drawn more on press tours and in the DVD extras. As you read, you might hear in your mind's ear Monaghan's deadpan English accent and Boyd's twinkling Scottish lilt. We find them in the land of the Ents, taking tea with Treebeard. Take it away, boys...
Billy Boyd: Treebeard gets incredibly sore for your bum. We were up that tree for about twelve hours a day. The strange thing was, they built this tree. It was 20 feet tall. It made the acting easier because his face was there; it was animatronic. There was an actor there reading the lines. Really beautifully, which helped. And as Treebeard swept us up to look at us, we were actually being lifted 20 feet, so it all felt quite real.
But we had to be hooked in for safety reasons. With the hands and the branches, the natural sitting position was forward about 45 degrees, so you're always kind of hanging out of it. It got to the point that it was so difficult to get unhooked and to get down the ladder and then get back up again that we only went down for lunch. So in tea breaks, they would just hand us up a cup of tea and everyone would leave the studio, and it'd just be me, Dom and Treebeard. Sittin' there, havin' a cup of tea.
Dominic Monaghan: A nice bonding experience.
Well, you've been hanging around together for the last three years. What becomes of that sort of relationship?
Dominic Monaghan: Love. Deep-seated love. Though not on a sexual basis. No, yeah, we hang out all the time. We understand each other very well, we know what makes each other tick. And in terms of our career, we'd both like to work together for the rest of our lives. Solely, until the day we die.
It's just that some people really do think you're brothers.
Dominic Monaghan: Well, we are brothers. We're all brothers. Elijah and Sean and Orlando and Viggo and Ian, Billy and myself, we've all gone through this incredible experience. We try as hard as we can to explain to you guys about the time that we've had in New Zealand, but at the end of the day, the only people that really understand what we've been through are the guys in the movie and the crew and the rest of the cast. It's the longest film shoot of all time. You know, you hear actors say how well they've bonded with people over the course of six or nine weeks -- imagine being together for close to two years. It becomes an extension of your family. We're very, very lucky people.
Do you ever get nightmares about the whole Hobbit thing sticking to you?
Billy Boyd: Being typecast? No. It's just up to yourself to make sure that the choices you make will steer clear of that so people'll see you doing other things. This year, I've done a short film as an astronaut and then, in the last film I did with Peter Weir, I play a character probably as far away from Pippin as you could possibly get. A guy who knows where he is in his world and is very happy with that. He's on this ship and he's one of the best sailors and he could do everyone's job. So you know, you just have to make sure yourself that the typecasting thing doesn't happen.
That's the film with Russell Crowe?
Billy Boyd: Yeah.
Which will be called?
Billy Boyd: I'm not sure yet. Either Master and Commander or The Far Side of the World. It's based on Patrick O'Brien's books.
Can I ask why you have 'trees' written on your hand?
Dominic Monaghan: That is a very good question. Billy and I realized that these press tours are kind of a stage for us to talk about whatever issues we think are important. And with this movie, being Merry and Pippin up a tree, and a tree eventually doing his bit to save mankind, we think that it would be a good thing to get into the world's psyche through the media that we need to save the trees.
You know, Tolkien was talking about this in the 1940s and it doesn't seem to have been a problem that's been addressed. I've been hanging out with people who work for Greenpeace in Los Angeles. They were telling me that the size of eleven football pitches of rain forest are destroyed every single day. And don't come back. This is something that will eventually end up killing us. And ending the world because the forests are the lungs of the world. They're what help us breathe and we seem hell-bent on this war for oil which, at the end of the day, is a war for money and power. And I think it's ridiculous when the real things that we should be concerning ourselves with are continuing to live on this planet. And it won't happen -- it just simply won't happen if the forests are destroyed.
At the moment, there's something going through New Line which -- fingers crossed -- will happen and involve planting trees on every single continent in the world. Through the Lord of the Rings movie. We'd like to get people concerned with preserving their environment. I think it's the most important issue today. Otherwise there won't be a world to save.
Can you describe this project a bit?
Not really, no, because it's not a sure thing yet. It would be a huge tree-planting worldwide. To have forests come about in every continent so that people could visit them. You could go to Lothlorien in New Zealand or visit the Shire in England and it could be sponsored by a film company. That's the basic idea.
Since the first movie, tourism to New Zealand has gone up 20 percent...
Billy Boyd: 20 percent seems right. Someone told us that children reading novels has also gone up 20 percent. Also, Dom is 20 percent more handsome than he was when he started the movie.
Dominic Monaghan: You can see that, right? I think that's very apparent.
Billy Boyd: Yeah. I would say it's more 30, 35 percent.
Dominic Monaghan: No, I think it's great New Zealand can thrive like that. It's a great country to explore. It's got everything. Within the space of a couple of miles, you can go from a mountain to an incredible forest and then drive a little bit more and you're in a desert. You can go to some of the oldest forests in the world and see prehistoric ferns and all that. I don't think I'd have ever gone if I hadn't been involved with Lord of the Rings. I thought it was just like Australia, that kind of desolate landscape. But it's not; the actual flora and fauna are more like England and Europe. It's great. I'm going to buy a house there and end up bringing my kids up there.
Dominic Monaghan: I don't have kids yet, though.
Billy Boyd: Well, you should do.
Dominic Monaghan: I will do.
Billy Boyd: You're going to have to start working on that.
Dominic Monaghan: I will.
Billy Boyd: Good.
To what degree has playing these parts changed your lives?
Billy Boyd: Not wildly, actually. Life is pretty much same as it ever was. For me, I still live in Scotland, still see the same people, go to the same places. If anything, it means that my work is now seen on a more international stage, which is good. It means that you get the chance to work with people that you've dreamed of working with. So that's lovely.
But I guess you get recognized more often at the supermarket and so on.
Billy Boyd: Yeah, you get that, which is kind of weird. You forget sometimes that people have seen you, especially if you're abroad. I find it quite weird to be recognized, say, in Paris. You're used to it in your hometown or in Britain, even.
Dominic Monaghan: I was out walking last night and some kid, some French kid passed Elijah and me and went, "l'anglais!" And I was kind of, what? And he went up to Elijah and said, "l'anglais!" And Elijah was, Huh? And then he said, "l'anglais!" to me and hit me.
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Billy Boyd: Are you serious?
Dominic Monaghan: Yeah.
Billy Boyd: Honestly?
Dominic Monaghan: Yeah.
Billy Boyd: What does "l'anglais" mean?
Dominic Monaghan: English. It's that French-English thing. They hate us.
Billy Boyd: They like the Scots, though.
Dominic Monaghan: Yeah.
Billy Boyd: Battle of the Neville's Cross and all that.
Dominic Monaghan: He would have given you a cuddle.
Billy Boyd: Yeah.
Elijah has the ring kept in a box as a sort of souvenir. Did you keep anything from the shoot?
Dominic Monaghan: I have a few feet. I've got a ring as well. And some ears. A few things, the original script and a few books that have been signed by everyone.
Billy Boyd: I have nothing.
Billy Boyd: No. I'm probably the laziest man in the world. So I wouldn't go around getting everyone's signature for the book. I lost the script. I'm just... I never think ahead with these things, you know? I end up back at home and I think, You know, I did that for a year and a half, what have I got? A tattoo.
Dominic Monaghan: Nothing!
Billy Boyd: A tattoo!
Dominic Monaghan: I signed his ass.
You could get Dom to give you some feet.
Billy Boyd: Yeah.
Dominic Monaghan: No, I'm not giving him anything.
Billy Boyd: Come on.
Dominic Monaghan: No.
Billy Boyd: Come on.
Dominic Monaghan: They wouldn't fit you anyway, they're my feet.
Billy Boyd: Well, steel my feet next time.
Dominic Monaghan: Ok.
Billy Boyd: Thanks.
Do you think that fantasy is replacing science fiction to any degree? We've got another Star Wars and another Star Trek coming up and they don't seem nearly as interesting as this whole fantasy world. Are you guys sci-fi fans anymore? Do you look forward to Star Trek, for example?
Billy Boyd: I do, actually. I love Star Trek.
Dominic Monaghan: Geek.
Billy Boyd: No, I love it.
Dominic Monaghan: There do seem to be little trends that take place in Hollywood. A whole load of war movies will get made about Vietnam or a whole load of, you know, snowboarding movies or surfing movies. It goes through trends. But I don't necessarily see that Lord of the Rings is a fantasy movie. It wasn't written that way. It seems to be a kind of historical movie. The way that Tolkien approached it and the way that Pete seems to approach it is that these are stories that happened before all these guys were around and it's about how our world was formed. So it seems to come more from a historical background than fantasy.
But you do wonder what science fiction could add to a fantasy as rich as this one.
Dominic Monaghan: Well, Soderbergh has just come out with Solaris, which I saw in LA and it's very good. A great, beautiful movie. But I don't know. It's trends. There'll be a backlash against all the fantasy movies at some point and people will ask where all the gritty, fly-on-the-wall, Ken Loach, Mike Leigh movies went. It comes and goes.
In another year, you'll be doing this again with, more or less, the same film. Do you get used to this and to the film or is it still fresh?
Billy Boyd: For me, it's great taking friends to the films. I have some friends who are huge fans of the books. To be in it is great, but then to be able to take your friends and family to the premiere and see them having a good time -- it's a real treat.