“Floaty Acting”, Golf Balls, the Language of Love and Other Revelations
An Extremely Random Interview with a Mischievous Hobbit
J.R.R. Tolkien aficionados and Frodo fans alike relished the release of the first two movies in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. To further sate the public’s addiction to LOTR minutiae, Billy Boyd (who plays Pippin in the films) graciously volunteered to subject himself to 15 random questions and a quick half. After a lengthy game of phone tag, we finally connected. A 34-year-old native Glaswegian, Boyd’s acting career began as the Artful Dodger in a school production of Oliver and then abruptly stopped. It was only after working as a bookbinder for 6 years that Boyd decided the time was right to return to acting and promptly enrolled in The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Although virtually unknown in North America before reaching the screen as Pippin, Boyd had appeared in television shows in the UK, stage productions across Scotland, and several independent and major films. In addition to the final LOTR installment, due out shortly, he will be seen in the Peter Weir epic Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, starring Russell Crowe. Acting credits aside, Boyd stresses the most important thing to know about him is his strong distaste for cinnamon. “I hate cinnamon. In fact, it has made me physically ill on occasion.” And that was only the beginning of our little chit-chat…
You recently completed a promotional tour for the independent film Sniper 470. Any hints as to what we can expect of this film?
It was on television in Britain and has been shown at film festivals across the United States and Canada. It’s basically a one-man piece. A second actor only comes in at the end of the film. It’s the story of a soldier who is sent to live alone in a huge laser gun in space, where he awaits orders or signs of the enemy. It is essentially a military film with themes of loneliness and solitude. It’s not a very high-budget film, so there was a lot of experimentation with the cameras. Since the film is set in space, the weightlessness was a bit of a challenge. I had to do “floaty-acting”. [laughs]
Can you expand on this “floaty-acting” concept?
“Floaty-acting” was me, pretending to be weightless, in front of a blue screen. The producers had to be choosy with special effects because of the tight budget.
You’ve acted in films, television, and theater and you’re also a musician. [Billy plays guitar and bass.] Which would you say is your favorite aspect of entertainment?
I can’t really answer that question. I like them all for different reasons. Theater is great because you really have time to get into your character, while movies are our generation’s way of telling stories. Music is different from both of them.
You’re quite active with a Glasgow charity for children who want to act. Could you tell us a bit about it?
The Equity Union of the Royal Scottish Academy developed a program to encourage kids to have a future in the arts. There is generally a lot of stigma attached to the arts and the program is a way of promoting the arts while minimizing stereotypes.
Your first kiss and your first acting job, in what ways are they similar or different?
I got paid for acting and I got nothing from the kiss but a cold sore. [laughs]
What were your expectations before filming Lord of the Rings?
I didn’t have many expectations actually. I just thought it was a great opportunity. To be able to work with Peter Jackson in itself was a great job. For an actor, it’s rare to have a contract right away for three movies. Usually, sequels come after the first film has been released, but not with LOTR. The films are based on the greatest novels of all time, in my opinion. WETA, the company that did the special effects for the film put so much detail and passion into everything. There were no fake props for the film. All the armor and swords were real. The goblets were real. The costumes were all handmade. I just kept thinking how incredible it all was. I remember walking onto the Moria set and thinking how much bigger and better it was than I could ever have imagined.
What was the hardest or most difficult part of filming LOTR?
Definitely the time and energy. A low budget movie normally takes about six weeks to film, whereas a high-budget film will take about twelve weeks. It took a year and a half to film the three movies. We worked fourteen or fifteen hours a day, six or seven days a weeks. We would sleep on set and in our dressing rooms. Every time we would start feeling down, Richard Taylor, the head of WETA, would remind us that it was the Lord of the Rings we were making and that put everything back into perspective. We were all physically and mentally exhausted, and there were certainly times when it got to us. Dom Monaghan [Merry] and I were getting ready to film a scene and Dom was totally drained. The crew used spikes with golf balls on them as markers in the ground where the cameras would be. He noticed the golf balls and started picking them up, saying how fabulous it was finding golf balls all over the place. I thought it was hilarious, but the crew wasn’t too happy. They had to go back and set the markers up all over again.
What is the biggest misconception of you as an actor?
Probably that I’m a really nice guy, but I’m really the devil. [laughs]
Hmm… your friendly demeanor and good sense of humor may well be devilish characteristics. On an entirely different note, and with your musical inclinations in mind, what are your top 5 albums of all time?
That’s a hard one. I’d have to say: The Beatles – The White Album, Jeff Buckley – Grace, Stone Roses – Stone Roses, Divine Comedy – Fin de Siecle, and Adam and the Ants – Stand and Deliver.
What is your greatest achievement thus far?
Probably learning how to surf. I learned when we were filming in New Zealand, about 3 years ago now. It’s definitely the most difficult thing I’ve learned to do.
Do you feel that Lord of the Rings has been snubbed by the Academy Awards?
I wouldn’t necessarily say snubbed, but I do believe it will be a travesty if Peter Jackson has not won an Oscar by the end of the three movies. He created a world beyond imagination and that definitely deserves recognition.
In 2002, you were voted one of Scotland’s most eligible bachelors. Do you feel you are fluent in the language of love or are you still learning the lingo?
I’m always learning. I love to be a student.
How would you describe Pippin and his role in Lord of the Rings to someone who hasn’t seen the film?
Pippin is the youngest and most naive and innocent of the hobbits. He comes from a large family called the Tooks. Pippin is a very honorable character, especially to his friends. He can’t leave them, even if he knows it will be dangerous. He grows up over the course of the films and plays a crucial role in what eventually happens to the ring. Pippin ends up being a hero.
Can you give me a preview of Return of the King (the third and final film in the trilogy)?
People have no idea what they are in for. This is by far the best movie script I have ever read. Fifteen minutes into the film, the viewer is on an emotional roller coaster. No one is prepared for what the final film will be like.
Any parting words?
Yes. Have a good time and don’t hurt anybody.