Interview with Jed Brophy

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Following the Hobbit success and our chat with writer-director Dan Freeman, we had the chance to interview Jed Brophy, who plays the dwarf Nori in the Jackson trilogy and the Pilot in The Minister of Chance. Jed is a well-established New Zealand actor with a list of credits ranging from theatre to TV drama to major feature films. After his screen debut in 1988 with Small War on the Edge of Town he went on to play a few leading roles both in film and TV. Braindead (1992) marked the first of many collaborations with director Peter Jackson (followed by Heavenly Creatures (1993), King Kong (2004) and The Lord of the Rings trilogy). Enjoying an array of very diverse characters, Brophy has also starred in several short films; he won attention for his role as Ewen, a man addicted to self-help groups in the comedy Group Therapy (1998) by Tessa Hoffe; he was also award-nominated for his portrayal of a paranoid interior decorator in Room Tone (1999) by Charlie McLellan. Most recently he appeared on stage alongside his son, Riley Brophy, in the play An Unseasonable Fall of Snow by NZ playwright Gary Handerson. Awaiting the release of The Hobbit: There and Back Again later this year, we asked Jed a few questions about his experience making the film:
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You appeared in almost every Peter Jackson film, you have extensive experience in film, theatre and TV. You have also recently starred in the radio drama “The Minister of Chance”. I hear you have a band too, you are a photographer and an excellent horseman…is there anything you have not tried yet that you would like to have a go at? Perhaps a specific role, or project (filmic or not)?

I would very much like to do some diving . I am a little intimidated by the sea I will admit and have dived a few times, but under the sea is amazing. So yes that is on my list of things to do this year. And of course make a great Western with Richard Armitage, Bernard Hill and Viggo. That would be fantastic.

In The Lord of the Rings you played some iconic characters although minor ones; what was your first reaction when you got cast as Nori in The Hobbit?

I whooped and cried . Like a small boy. I was so over the moon. I didn’t really think I would be lucky enough to return to Middle Earth as such a cool character. I knew these films would be masterful and was very happy for my fellow Kiwi’s who had been cast, but had no idea I was in the running to be there too.

How did you prepare for your character, Nori, in terms of performance, voice etc.? Were you allowed to give any input into its creation in terms of appearance, weapons and backstories?

We were given very good back stories by the writing team as to where our various characters fitted into the whole story and had fantastic dialect coaches who worked out where to place our accents, but we were also given a lot of scope within the framework to develop the characters as we saw fit. We were asked to come up with design concepts for our weapons for instance and I had a great time working out what Nori might weild. The knives I wear on my backs were from the Nepalese Khukri knives and then shaped to look dwarven and the staff was sort of based on the idea of the Maori Taiaha  but changed to be also a mining tool. These initial ideas were taken and the Weta team came up with the end result. I could not have been happier . We also had a lot of help from the makeup team and costumers to help create distinctive rounded Dwarven men. Mark and Adam and I talked a lot about how we would operate as a family too and I am very proud of the way that comes through in the films.

What scene in The Hobbit: There and Back Again you most look forward to see on the big screen?

I think the Battle of the five armies and in particular our charge out of the fortress. We had been waiting two years to do that scene and on the morning we filmed Richard Armitage  turned to me and the gleam in his eye said it all. He said to me , “We have been waiting two years to do this and I can see you are ready”. He was so much our king in that single moment. It was like the charge of the Rohirrim in the Return of the King which I was also lucky to be a part of. Just …..well hard to describe, but very emotional.

Will you be filming any additional pick ups?

Ha ha that is the Question we would all like the answer to. I would love to and I think so would all the lads , but it is not up to us. We shall wait and see, but it would be fitting .

What is your favourite scene of all time? Why?

That charge of the Rohirrim I spoke about before.  Bernard Hill was at my theatre show the other night and we talked about that scene and the goose bumps came up for both of us….it was the closest thing to really going over the top in conflict that I have ever felt. It was no longer a film….we were really charging . I doubt we will ever feel that again but I hope we do.

I hear you are a keen Tolkien fan. Even before the making of The Hobbit there were talks about a film version of The Silmarillion – although at the moment it does not seem likely. What are your thoughts about that? Would you like to see it?

Yes of course I would love to see it but to be honest I am not sure even Peter and Fran and Phillipa and all the amazing family of film makers they work with could do justice to the scope of the material. It is so complicated and non linear and so full of incredible landscapes and peoples. For me it really works as a book. I also think we should honour the wishes of the author on this one. It is childish to assume we can force the issue. Some things should stay as they are and for me it will always be one of my favourite pieces of literature. I reread that tome at least once a year and always will.

Tolkien took great inspiration from myths and legends of the Norse and Celtic tradition; is there any myth/fairy tale/legend which still fascinates you?

Living here in New Zealand the Maori Myths and legends I am fascinated with, and of course I have strong Celtic roots on both sides of my family. I cannot single out any to be honest because I love them all. It would be amazing however to get to the bottom of the Arthurian legend.

What are your favourite reads? What inspires you?

As I stated earlier the Silmarillion is a reread every year, and also I love Ersula Leguin’s  Earthsea Trilogy, and would love to see someone takle that on film. And not just because I would make a great Wizard Ged  but because it is so visual. I also love a good Western. As a student I would substitute text books for Louis L’Amour books.  Loved them . But I am widely read I love Kathy Reichs and I love Clive Cussler and I love Tolkien …… and yes I read all the Harry Potter books too. I read every genre and I am veracious. A book very seldom lasts long. But I reread too.

I recently listened to the brilliant podcast The Minister of Chance, how was your experience of working on that project? Will you be part of the film version?

I would love to be a part of the film yes. It was an amazing experience for me because the actors in that series are so good. I was a bit cheeky in getting cast and didn’t for a second believe I would get to do the part , but the world Dan and his team have created is fantastic. Very rich and very cinematic. I hope he gets the support he deserves to make the film, I think he will. I have to give Clare Eden a special mention here because without her I would never have been able to do it. She is tireless in keeping the fires burning for the project.

Speaking with Dan Freeman, creator of the series, he said about you: “Jed coming on board was terrific – that’s made a lasting friendship, he’s a lovely positive person who really grafts and puts his all into everything”. That of the actor-director is a relationship very much based on trust in each other; looking back at all the directors you have worked with, what makes a good director to work with / what takes you aback?

That is a very hard question to answer really. I think that relationship has to be one of shared trust and of shared enthusiasm for your project . But directing is not a democracy either. Someone has to take the reins to make sure the project realises its potential. Good directors fight to get the personnel they want, who inspire them and then let them find the character, let them add their artistic stamp to the work. But retain their vision. I have no time for actors who hijack projects with their egos and I have seen it happen. Peter is without a doubt my favourite director because he has such clarity to his intentions and vision. Dan Freeman was the same. In theatre Gary Henderson is the same. But you have to trust them and they you. There has to be a shared responsibility to let the project breath, and that comes if you are inspired by each other. I have not worked with too many bad directors, but there are some I avoid because they have never bothered to ever learn what makes actors tick, what our process is and how we can add to the project

Can you tell us something about the play An Unseasonable Fall of Snow?

Gary Henderson wrote this work back in 1998 and I have been waiting for an opportunity to play in it ever since. The fact that my son Riley who is also an actor loved the play was very timely. He asked me if we could do it together.

It is a two hander, a who done it, a thriller of sorts but with some very salient subject matter for all of us. Riley and I approached a very good friend and amazing actress/ director Geraldine Brophy (no relation) to put this piece of work on and we had full houses for our season we hope to tour everywhere. It is one of many plays of Gary Henderson’s I have staged and he is without a doubt my favourite writer for the stage.

The play is quite full on for the audience and they are left wondering what really happened, and this I love too. We have become very bad at doing too much work for our audiences and I think this play strikes a good balance and you as an audience have to do some work to understand the outcome.  I have never been so proud as on opening night standing onstage at the end looking at my beaming son, his professional stage debut, in my favourite theatre, having pulled of a great show of my favourite writer to such a great response.

Any future plans you look forward to?

I have just wrapped a three-week shoot on a feature film, a ghost/ horror story written and directed by my friend Jason Stutter and his writing partner Kevin Stevens. I cannot go into details but it has all the makings of a great wee flick. I then have some ADR and EPK stuff to do for There and Back Again, before heading off down south to play the lead bad guy in a film called Mad Dog Quinn at the end of March and then heading to Europe for some fan conventions, which I love doing. Then we decide where we tour with An Unseasonable Fall of Snow, and get ready to launch the third installment for The Hobbit.

Read our four-star review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug here.

Read our interview with Dan Freeman, the director of The Minister of Chance here.

Elisa was born in the small town of Udine, Italy, where she made her first short films. Aged 18 she moved to London where she achieved a degree in Film & Broadcast Production with her film "A Tragedy", based on William Shakespeare's "Macbeth". She recently pursued a Master degree in Screenwriting for TV and Film thus joining the group of struggling writers. Ssst! She's brainstorming.