No one was interested in portraying Gollum as a completely evil being. Philippa Boyens, one of the screenwriters, said Tolkien believed that people weren’t totally evil, and that the potential for evil existed in everyone.
However, the ring’s power corrupted Gollum, called Smeagol in his previous life. Gollum is now demented and deformed—but still lusting for the ring.
In “The Two Towers,” Gollum emerges from the shadows into the light, still on the trail of Sam and Frodo, who are trying to bear the ring away to Mordor, where it—and its awful power—will be destroyed forevermore.
Frodo and Sam capture Gollum, who cuts a deal: He will guide them to Mordor if they will release him. Gollum, however, still wants the ring, and this arrangement puts him in close proximity.
Frodo, Sam and Gollum stick together for part two of the trilogy, and their scenes are among the best in the film.
Though Gollum appears as a digital character, he was played on set by actor Andy Serkis. Serkis, at a press junket at New York City’s Drake Hotel, said that director Peter Jackson “wanted an actor to be in charge of and be guardian of the psychological and emotional and physical nature” of Gollum.
“It was important for me that you saw the wear and tear in the movement of Gollum, that he wasn’t like Spider-Man or some sort of superhero,” said Serkis. “He was driven psychologically because of the wear and tear that this character goes through, because of the nature of what the ring’s done to him.”
Serkis casually noted, when asked if he underwent any special physical training to play Gollum, that he was a rock climber, and he supposed that helped. In fact, Tolkien wrote of Gollum’s movement, “Maybe its soft clinging hands and toes were finding crevices and holds that no hobbit could ever have seen or used.”
Serkis said they shot two different versions of Gollum’s scenes: one with Serkis actually playing Gollum alongside Frodo and Sam, and another with Serkis reading lines off-camera. This method gave the filmmakers options for creating the digital Gollum modeled after Serkis’ performance.
“He made Gollum come to life,” said Elijah Wood, who plays Frodo Baggins.
And Sean Astin, who plays Samwise Gamgee, said, “You could never forget for a moment that Gollum was present when he (Serkis) was there.” Serkis was “the standard-bearer for the character,” Astin continued. “And I think that Gollum is better for that, and Elijah and I were better for what he brought to it.”
What he brought to it was an incredible characterization. As Serkis said, “Gollum is so central to the story, and his dramatic function is very clear.”
Gollum injects a new feature into the relationship between Frodo and Sam because Frodo, like Gollum, knows what it’s like to bear the ring. Sam does not.
The ring, in a sense, is an addiction because it is so potent and alluring. In fact, Serkis said he played Gollum as an addict—a creative decision that plays marvelously well in the film.
“It’s so important for Frodo to have a connection with him (Gollum),” said Serkis. “And it’s very much Frodo looking at this addict, is how we played it, the ring junkie. He’s possessed by this thing that drives him insane. And Frodo is also being affected in that way. The bond between them was really, really strong, which of course added the tension between him and Sam and Sam mistrusting Gollum, but Sam never really being able to understand what it’s like to have that kind of addiction.”
Astin said of his character, Sam: “Gollum is a genuine, real threat to them. And his instant reaction is a kind of obvious first reaction, and an understandable reaction. But what makes Frodo so powerful is that he’s able to learn from his conversations with Gandalf and to grow and to be able to see that this treacherous little creature is worthy of some kind of care.”
Indeed, no one was interested in portraying Gollum as a completely evil being. Philippa Boyens, one of the screenwriters, said Tolkien believed that people weren’t totally evil, and that the potential for evil existed in everyone.
“There’s this duality in there,” she said of Gollum. “And things aren’t black and white. And it isn’t good versus evil. It’s a continual conflict.”
Serkis spoke of Gollum’s character in similar terms.
“There was never a sense that he was born evil,” he said. “He had a weak, moral stature and the ring had got hold of him and got its claws into him, and he’d responded very quickly to it.”
“Gollum is an archetype,” said Serkis. “The way he comes across the ring is like Cain and Abel. He kills Deagol (his cousin). And then it’s almost like a fall from grace; he’s expelled from paradise. There is this sense of it being an idyll, his life before he becomes drawn to the ring. And then this bad decision—and it sort of takes him.”
Smeagol gave way to Gollum, so known “because of the sound his voice makes,” Serkis said. “So we devised these two voices.”
Two voices were necessary because Smeagol does “come out” occasionally. Smeagol is in fact drawn out by the kindness Frodo shows.
Smeagol’s voice is more nasally, while Gollum’s is more guttural. Gollum “is more like the survivor, the predator, the more vicious, revengeful side,” said Serkis. “But I wanted the audience to feel that they had some connection to this character, that he wasn’t just a black and white villain, an absolute villain, because you’d get bored with him after two minutes.”
“I really felt it important that people understood Gollum—that he wasn’t just this craven, lustful, evil thing,” said Serkis.
One of the highlights of the film belongs to Gollum: a schizophrenic soliloquy of sorts, in which Gollum and Smeagol’s personalities emerge simultaneously, battling with each other about what to do about the ring around Frodo’s neck. The sequence is masterful.
Boyens said the scene came from her co-screenwriter Fran Walsh and “her incredible understanding of his character. It was a great joy to see it evolve and see it come out of her and be in the room.”
“It’s in the book, but we had to pull it out a lot more,” Boyens said. “It’s so worth seeing again, that scene, because there are some extraordinary lines in there.”
Extraordinary lines, and an extraordinary performance that alone makes “Towers” worth seeing.
“I think fundamentally what’s beautiful about Gollum is he has a soul,” said Richard Taylor, the New Zealand effects wizard in charge of make-up, creatures, armor and miniatures. “You feel that when you’re watching it, there’s a soul in that character.”
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director for EthicsDaily.com.
Visit the movie’s official Web site at http://www.lordoftherings.net.