Do you have what it takes to be a Gondorian?
While working as the visual effects supervisor on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Mortal Engines director Christian Rivers mentioned to Peter Jackson that it’d be nice to have a cameo somewhere in the films. As it turns out, the films’ casting department already had something in mind.
“I was a lot fitter-looking back then, and I had long, black hair, and a black beard,” Rivers recalls, describing how he got the casting department’s attention simply by walking across Stone Street Studios every day to get to work. Years after the fact, they told him, “When we’d see you, we’d suddenly point out and go, ‘That guy! See that guy? Gondorian. That’s what the Gondorians should look like. That guy.’”
And so Rivers was cast as “the soup-eating Gondorian guard” in one of The Return of the King’s most dynamic sequences: the lighting of the beacons of Gondor to call for Rohan’s aid. (“That was great, because you just know it’s a cameo that’s never going to be cut,” Rivers jokes.)
The pyre that Pippin (Billy Boyd) lights is real, which meant that the stakes of the shoot were high. “They actually lit it, and the idea was that we’d look up, and then quickly put the fire out,” Rivers explains, laughing as he remembers the process. “We were up there, up at the top of a quarry, and it’s a shot that’s shooting past us as Pippin lights the beacon. I was actually really nervous, and so I was really getting into character and I was eating my soup.”
As should be relatable to almost everyone, Rivers was so nervous that he flubbed the moment. “The guy goes, ‘Guard,’ meaning, ‘Guard, look up!’ And I thought [feigns being dejected], ‘Oh, he’s not talking to me.’ Of course, who else would be talking to? And so I keep eating and I hear, ‘Guard!’ So I look up at the camera, and they’re like, ‘Well, what?’ And then I just hear this guy go, ‘Can we cut?!’ The thing that actually caught fire, the whole pyre was about to go up.”
It’s a light-hearted anecdote that belies just how dramatic the sequence is — and adds a touch of earnestness to watching the scene, and picking Rivers out.
“I was a real idiot,” he says, as self-effacing as possible. “It was alright, though. We did a second take — and I somehow made it into the film!”