Daniel Weyman either has the easiest or toughest job on The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Since falling out of the sky like a meteor, Weyman’s the Stranger has spent most of season 1 learning the lay of the land and upending life for Nori (Markella Kavenagh) and her insulated harfoot community, leaving him with only a few lines of dialogue and the occasional mystical magic moment.
But Weyman’s time on The Rings of Power press tour has been nearly as rigorous — as in, everything he could possibly say would be a spoiler. Is his character Gandalf? Sauron? Saruman? Radagast? Tom Bombadil? Other? The prying has been endless, but when your character is a walking mystery box, that’s part of what you sign up for. The Rings of Power season 1 finale answered a few questions — we know the Stranger isn’t Sauron, but is an Istar (or wizard), like Gandalf.
How did Weyman, whose previous work ranges from HBO’s Gentleman Jack to the Sandman audio drama, approach the ambiguity? And what’s in store for season 2? Polygon spoke to the actor, who was in London where the next season of The Rings of Power is currently being filmed, to ask everything we could possibly imagine him answering about the Middle-earth’s biggest unknown.
[Ed. note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity, and contains spoilers for all of The Rings of Power season 1.]
Polygon: The Stranger isn’t just a mysterious character; he’s pretty much a walking mystery box. How much did the creative team want you to know about him, and how much did you want to know?
Daniel Weyman: Pretty early on the showrunners made it clear that they we were really interested in following his story in the present. So they weren’t massively interested in overreach of where this character is going to go or anything that we had to tie in there. I think they allowed wonderful resonances to appear in lots of different scenes and episodes, not just for my character, but for others as well, that fans can go back and look at the source material and make up their own minds. Lots of them are very different. Up until this one comes out, I think there was a healthy amount who thought the Stranger might be very dark.
So it feels like it’s ongoing, and it’s actually been quite joyous to film because anytime I’ve come to a scene, starting in the crater, I haven’t had to think about anything past what’s in front of me in the script. He knows nothing when he wakes up. All I had to concentrate on was what that feeling might be like in his body, coming around in a crater with smoke, with fire, with rock, looking like an awful warzone, and then this very strange being in front of him, who I think at the beginning he can’t even separate from nature itself. Is this thing he’s looking at like fire or like air or like water? It’s very elemental. The great joy is taking the next season to build on that. But I don’t need to project into the future.
Are you an actor who looks to real life to build a character? Was there anything to draw from while playing an amnesiac bearded wizard from Middle-earth?
I found that being in New Zealand, where we were welcomed to just unbelievable open arms, and being able to experience some of the ancient Maori culture that is there, something about the land and the way they use land or respect land, the fact that my character was barefoot, the fact that I grew my beard so it was longer than I’ve ever grown it before, plus the fact that I was wearing clothes that were not really clothes, just things to keep him warm, that all grounded me in the best way, which was into nature. I felt I was part of the world.
The showrunners had also given me some film references when we were doing the audition process. One of the ones that I held on to most was Frankenstein, the 1931 film, especially where we see [the monster with the little girl]. In that scene in particular, we can’t say whether the monster is evil or good. We can certainly say that some of the effects of his behavior are terrible. But once that behavior has been completed, the rest of society treats him in a very different way and sort of turns him into an evil creature. They sort of write his future for him, don’t they? But I really loved the joy that he has in smelling that flower. I was massively excited by seeing the flower float on the water, and when he first sees the child, and they have this moment you think this is going to be awful. Then you think, Hang on, is that a laugh? And then he picks her up and you’re like, Oh, this is gonna be OK, and then, no, he dumps her in the lake and she drowns. That was a little touchstone for me, for the Stranger, that I found really, really helpful.
Understandably, most of what you could say about the Stranger would constitute spoilers for future seasons, so here are some burning questions about season 1: How much of a pain in the ass was the beard?
I started to grow it in October 2019. I started auditioning August ’19, but by October it was clear that a beard might be useful for the part. And so I started to grow it, and it was only itchy for a few days. But my beard is very gray, it’s almost a white beard. But obviously we dyed that up.
Your beard could be neither gray nor white.
So we dyed that and they kept trimming that obviously to the length that they wanted. But when I wasn’t filming, I would let it grow. And then we had COVID and over the length of time that we weren’t filming, I let it grow, and it was insane. It was the most ludicrous beard. Friends wouldn’t recognize me. I enjoyed going there with him. It changed my physicality, and who I thought I was.
You have a battle against Sauron’s disciples in the season finale — what is the key to waving your hands around like you have magical powers and looking cool?
The first thing for me was that we didn’t try and make anything look cool. But there was a brilliant movement coach [...] but she had great insights into how to make physical movements properly rooted in something other than “But I really want to make it look really cool and really magic!”
The rule of thumb for us was always that the magic — and we didn’t really call it magic, we called it the energy that flowed through him — was always external. He was always channeling energy from nature, above himself or below himself, and he was the conduit. He was the divining rod for this energy. It flowed through him often without his real understanding of why or how to control it. But it meant that his physicality during that wasn’t really his own either. It was how he responded to this stupidly large amount of energy coursing through him. And so it was different in different moments. I hope that we get to explore that as season 2 goes forward.
What was it like to throw a warg? It looked heavy.
I’m pleased you say that because that was tough. And they made it tough. Most of that was blue screen because I obviously was a different scale to Markella Kavenagh and the rest of the harfoots, so when we finally came to film that they knew that the shot that they wanted had them in the background, so I had to be in the foreground against the blue screen and the animal was held by a little blue person dressed in a full blue bodysuit. And they held this animal up. It had a little bit of fur on its back, but it was basically a large blue sack and it was very heavy and they kept putting more weight in it because they said I wasn’t making it look heavy enough. I can’t remember how heavy it got, but I do remember after doing several takes saying, “Guys, this is pretty heavy!” And them saying, “Yeah, but it’s reading!”
Do you think you’ll get a hat in season 2? Seems like you could get a hat.
What else, huh? That’s really good question. I haven’t thought about it at all. People at various points asked me about shoes. “Wouldn’t he have some shoes by now?” And I was always like, “No, he just is with the harfoots.” The only beings that he knows are the harfoots and they don’t have shoes! Why would he? How would he? Where would he?
Yeah, we’ve been wondering if the Stranger ever put on underpants.
Yes, it was a lovely pair of underpants he wore.