Waikato Times
December 17, 2001

Short People, Big Picture
Geoff Taylor

Matamata woman Grace Hastie was reminded recently of the magical power of The Lord of Rings.

A couple of months ago, the 78-year-old who played a hobbit extra in the $735 million LOTR movie trilogy got a call from a man with an American accent.

A concert pianist from Massachussetts, US, he'd come to Matamata to see where the movie was filmed; he was referred to Hastie because everyone knew she'd been a hobbit.

"He took me into town for a cappuccino and talked very loudly so that everyone looked at us," she says with horror.

"Then he said `I must have a photo, I must have a photo' and stood up in the cafe and started taking photos of me." The pianist has since written to Hastie to thank her for talking to him.

Hastie is one of about 200 Waikato people, including former Hamilton restaurateur Brian Anderson and dental assistant Paula Linn, who acted as extras over the 1999/2000 summer when part of Ian Alexander's farm at Hinuera, south of Matamata, was transformed into Hobbiton for the movie. The three became part of the Middle Earth legend and walked away with an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives.

The New Zealand premiere of the first instalment, Fellowship of the Ring, will be held on Wednesday. The public gapes at previews, LOTR enthusiasts jam internet newsgroups with hype, and the extras wait to see how their own efforts shape up.

MANY hobbits were attracted by an advertisement in the Waikato Times on October 30, 1999. It said: "Calling all wannabe hobbits . . . production company Three Foot Six Ltd is holding casting calls tomorrow at Hamilton's Riverlea Theatre for extras for Peter Jackson's film version of The Lord of the Rings.

"The company is looking for men and women aged from 40 to 90, of `rounder proportions', between 143cm and 168cm tall. They are also seeking children from 6 to 16 years old and between 118cm and 128cm tall."

Brian Anderson, 60, hates queues and if he hadn't found himself at the front outside Riverlea Theatre, he might have walked away. He's glad he didn't. The audition was a breeze.

"You had to do absolutely nothing. They just had a look at you. I was fine, I had an ugly face."

On the first morning, when he turned up to the set, he was thrown straight into the action in a scene where a stand-in for Frodo Baggins skims stones in a lake. Anderson played Frodo's grandfather.

"It was very intimidating. You had all the crew there (about 30 people). The camera on a big boom above us was computer controlled and moving all the time and they kept on saying `don't look at the camera'. There was take after take as imperfections were ironed out.

"It was mind blowing, the whole thing."

Anderson recalls another scene where he and other hobbits had to rush up a hill, running from an imaginary dragon-like creature. They would all suddenly look to the sky to an imaginary explosion and then all fall in a heap looking scared. They did it about 15 times.

Most of the time, Anderson's hobbit character had to puff away on a pipe. He hadn't smoked since his 20s.

"By the end of the day I was feeling really green and sick."

Paula Linn, 41, who was employed in the Waikato Times cafeteria back then, didn't even audition for the movie. One of her three daughters, Brittany, 11, had landed a part through a modelling agency. Linn was on the set with Brittany and the crew decided they wanted her too.

Linn's favourite scene was at night when a tavern was burned down and she and other hobbits were chased across a bridge by large, nasty characters with whips. Once the fire started, they had four takes to get it right before the fire became too intense.

In a scene at Bilbo Baggins' birthday party Linn had to put her hands to her mouth and pretend to yell out his name. Although the voice would be dubbed in later, she had to really yell to make it look real.

"We had about 20 takes on that. I had the most amazing sore throat at the end of it."

Linn is hopeful some close-ups of Brittany may make it to the screen. She was told Brittany had "a hobbit look" and the camera zoomed in on her several times.

Grace Hastie, long-time stalwart of Matamata drama, was coy on the day of auditions at Matamata College, just over the road from where she lives. Eventually, she wandered across just before they closed. She also had the "look".

She remembers a trip to Wellington to take part in a feast for Bilbo Baggins' party. All the stars were there and Hastie cringes at what she describes as a clanger she dropped with Sir Ian Holm, who played Bilbo.

"We were standing next to each other and I asked him if he lived in Wellington. He said `Oh no, darling, I live in London.' Then I realised who he was."

Linn also did a bit of star spotting. She smiles as she recalls sharing a make-up caravan with Elijah Wood who played Frodo Baggins; she is a little disappointed he never talked to her.

"He had his headphones on and was bopping along to something. I could see him looking at me out of the corner of his eyes and he was pretending to be very super-cool."

Filming in Matamata ran over a couple of months. Anderson, Linn and Hastie estimate they were on the set for about 10 days – at all hours.

It took about 90 minutes for them to be costumed in an outfit that included prosthetic ears and big hairy feet which felt like flippers.

The costumes were incredibly hot and crew members gave the hobbits fruit juice so they didn't get dehydrated.

One or two extras went public at the time with allegations of exploitation but Anderson, Hastie and Linn have no such concerns; they say the crew was friendly and the food superb.

Anderson was paid $100 a day, the others can't remember exactly.

All three saw Peter Jackson in action and were quietly impressed.

"He's a very relaxed man," says Anderson. "He's not like some of the Hollywood directors that shout and scream."

Renowned New Zealand actor and director Ian Mune, who helped to coach and advise extras, made a huge impression with his clear, patient instructions.

"He really impressed me with his teaching of children. He had them eating out of his hand," says Hastie.

"He was really lovely with Brittany," recalls Linn.

There were often large breaks between extras' scenes. It was a tiring business and some would lie down in the grass and sleep. Anderson, who builds sets for Hamilton theatre companies, passed the time looking at the scenery which fascinated him. Much of it was made from polystyrene or plywood. Attention to detail, even on things that would never appear in the movie, was extraordinary.

"I wish I could have worked on the thing. It gave me a lot of insights into set building."

D-DAY approaches for LOTR, with nationwide screenings from Thursday following the Wellington premiere. Aficionados are beside themselves, endlessly discussing the big day on internet newsgroup sites such as the 800-page www.theonering.net.

"I can go and see LOTR an hour earlier but it would cost me an extra 15 and it would be on a screen without as good as sound quality. What would you do?" agonises Neil from somewhere in Britain.

"I think you would be cheating yourself," says Stupid Jar Head.

"Wait for it," agrees Inferno.

"Is it bad I'm worried a terrorist attack will prevent me from seeing this movie?", asks Hazehound. And so on.

Linn and Hastie will queue with all the other moviegoers, seeing if they made the cut.

For Hastie, the film work has led to opportunities to try out for television advertisements. The filming was "unforgettable fun; all the companionship and the friends you made. It's still the talking point for us."

Anderson's going to wait a bit before he sees it. He enjoyed the experience so much he'd hate to spoil it by coming away disillusioned.

"Who knows, I might feel I made a tit of myself," he smiles.

Linn can't help but feel sad the whole thing is over.

"When you drove back to the real world each day, it was like leaving a magical world behind you. It was like a fairy tale. I've never experienced anything like it."

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