The passing of famed British actor Ian Holm has been mourned throughout the film world, but especially by “Lord of the Rings” fans who enjoyed his performance as Bilbo Baggins. In a Facebook post honoring his life, “LOTR” director Peter Jackson reflected on his memories of working with Holm on both “The Fellowship of the Ring” and his final film performance in “The Hobbit.”
“Ian was such a delightful, generous man. Quiet, but cheeky, with a lovely twinkle in his eye,” Jackson wrote. “Back in early 2000, before we started shooting our Bilbo scenes for ‘The Fellowship of the Ring,’ I was nervous about working with such an esteemed actor, but he immediately put me at ease.”
Jackson would go on to discuss how Holm would do multiple takes of a scene, trying different ideas he came up with on how to play Bilbo. The biggest challenge came during a brief scene at Bilbo’s birthday, where he recounts some of his adventures in “The Hobbit” to a group of little kids, two of whom were played by Jackson’s own children. Since Jackson knew that the kids would get bored hearing the same story over and over during multiple takes, he encouraged Holm to modify the script to keep the kids interested and tell them other stories in between takes.
But his most moving story was about how he approached Holm about returning to play Bilbo in “The Hobbit” ten years later. Holm’s appearance in the film would only be a brief cameo, with Martin Freeman playing a younger Bilbo for the majority of the prequel trilogy. But to his surprised, Holm revealed something he had kept very private: he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and had difficulty moving or remembering his lines. It was a major reason why Holm hadn’t appeared in a live-action film since the romantic comedy “The Treatment” in 2006.
“He had difficulty walking, and certainly couldn’t travel to New Zealand,” Jackson said. “Always a private man, he told us that he’d basically retired, but wasn’t announcing it.”
But after Jackson discussed his own relationship with Parkinson’s — his mother and uncle had been diagnosed with it as well — Holm agreed to appear in the film. To make it easier for him, Jackson brought the Bag End set from New Zealand to London, allowing Holm to play Bilbo without having to fly across the world. Over the course of four days, Holm played Bilbo once again, sitting at his writing desk in the Shire and penning his memoir “There and Back Again.” Holm’s wife Sophie assisted both him and the crew during filming and Frodo Baggins himself, Elijah Wood, even flew in to give Holm his support.
“In the finished movie, I hope that audiences just see Ian Holm reprising Bilbo. But what I experienced on set was a wonderful actor delivering his last performance. It was incredibly brave of him to do that, and very emotional for those who witnessed it,” Jackson wrote.
Holm’s appearance in “The Hobbit” trilogy ended an acting career that spanned 46 years and included classic films like “Alien,” “Chariots of Fire,” and “Ratatouille.” Among his many honors were a Tony Award, a BAFTA, an Olivier Award, and an Emmy and Oscar nomination. In 1989, he received the CBE from Queen Elizabeth II in honor of his contributions to theater.