How ‘The Rings of Power’ Navigated Great Expectations to Bring ‘Lord of the Rings’ to Prime Video

TheWrap magazine: Ismael Cruz Córdova, Morfydd Clark and director J.A. Bayona shine a light on bringing Amazon’s “Lord of the Rings” series to life

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This story first appeared in The Race Begins issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

When Amazon set out to make a “Lord of the Rings” TV series, they didn’t scale down the world of J.R.R. Tolkien for the “small screen.” Instead, for the first in a planned five-season storyline, the studio looked to meet the scale, ambition and prestige of Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning film trilogy.

“I’m glad that from the very beginning, Amazon had the ambition to try to match that bar,” J.A. Bayona, who directed the first two episodes of the series, said. “And because we were going to the origins of the story, to places and characters in a way that we had never seen before, that gave us the freedom to create our own thing.”

Pulling from Tolkien’s work, “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” takes place thousands of years before the events portrayed in The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, in a time of peace and prosperity throughout Middle-earth. And while it features younger versions of characters fans know and love (the elves Galadriel and Elrond and the series’ big bad, Sauron), the eight-episode first season takes place across four fully realized—and wildly different—realms populated by different races.

Visually, Bayona embraced the freedom to bring a cinematic approach to storytelling in a prestige TV series — not despite its fantasy genre trappings, but in celebration of them. “It was all about finding a visual language that will be at the level of the writing of Tolkien,” he said. 

While “The Rings of Power” features elves and dwarves and magical rings, actress Morfydd Clark’s first introduction to the show had a surprising hook: Shakespeare.

Clark, who plays the elven warrior Galadriel, came to audition for a then-unspecified project that was seeking actors who had experience performing the work of the Bard. (Later, she found out that this was largely for actors who would be portraying elves.) “I think Shakespeare fits really well with fantasy because it is heightened and dealing with the fall of nations and the fall of peoples and huge tragedy and huge heroic acts,” she said.

Fellow “Rings of Power” actor Ismael Cruz Córdova, who plays the elf Arondir, put it succinctly: “This was a character job.” He stressed the importance of storytelling in every aspect of the series, not just in his character’s emotional scenes, but in the action sequences as well. “We put a lot of work into making sure that we were still holding conflict and drama and story and performance in every move,” he said.

Córdova, who is from Puerto Rico, was one of many actors in “The Rings of Power” who faced racist backlash from fans due to his casting as an elf. And while he was touched by the warm reception audiences gave him once the show premiered (“It confirmed this effort of representation really has an impact”), he struggled with the “global tsunami” of hate that was thrown at him during production. “I questioned, ‘Will all of this pain and all of this harassment and racism be worth it on top of the work that I put in as an actor?’” he said. “To see the love that I’ve received — we’re winning and we’re not going anywhere.”

The actor said he feels more “at ease” making Season 2, which is in production in the U.K. “I feel energized and supported to continue to deepen that impact.”

As for where the story goes in the second season — now that Sauron has been unmasked, Clark says there’s a ripple effect on all the characters. “It’s really exciting exploring the biggest, most evil villain ever. He’s so bad!”

Read more from The Race Begins issue here.