Russell Baillie

Russell Baillie is the Herald’s entertainment editor

Now the real 'Rings' adventure begins

By RUSSELL BAILLIE

Peter Jackson sounds calm. But he always sounds calm. For a man at the centre of a grand $600 million gamble - the three films of his Lord of the Rings adaptation - he comes across as so self-possessed it's weird.

Go on Peter, tell us something that might drive you to be less than calm.

Jackson chuckles about his experiences of media junkets while on the publicity trail in the United States where he has to answer questions from 9 am to 6 pm as a conveyor belt of journalists arrive in his presence at seven-minute intervals.

"It drives you mad. By the end of the day I just want to scream," he says.

Luckily, we get rather more than seven minutes. And if we are driving Jackson mad he's polite enough not to show it. He laughs when we greet him as "Dr Jackson" - he and partner and co-writer Fran Walsh were awarded honorary doctorates this week by Massey University.

But his schedule being what it is - he delivered the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring, a week after his 40th birthday on October 31 and it has its world premiere in London on Monday week - it means he's on the phone somewhere from his ever-expanding Wellington-based film empire while we sit in Auckland under our LOTR souvenir calendar.

This month it's Gimli. He looks terrific.

The countdown starts here. But rather than being nervous, Jackson says he is most looking forward to the point when the hype has to give. To when Lord of the Rings and especially its first instalment stops being an event and becomes - just a movie.

"It's been so long that Lord of the Rings has been this phenomenon, this national phenomenon, and it is just a movie and in a way it needs to arrive at a place where it's there for people to look at," he says.

"If they want to go see it they can pay their 10 bucks and go see it. It deserves to be seen in that way now. Because ultimately, what we tried to make is just a good movie.

"I will be relieved when it gets past the point of hype and anticipation and all of that and just becomes a film you can have your opinions about, good or bad."

But just making the films here has made Jackson a local hero. He's become the cultural equivalent of a victorious All Black captain, a true Kiwi legend, the little guy who brought Hollywood here on his own terms.

He's not too sure whether he likes the weight of all that respect.

"I am happy if people in New Zealand feel proud about what we have done and it's not just me," he says. "What there is to be truly proud about with The Lord of the Rings is the fact that it was largely made by Kiwis and it's not just what I have done.

"I don't particularly relish [the attention]. What I relish is people seeing films I have made and saying, 'I enjoyed that'. That is the reward that you are actually seeking. You're hoping desperately that people are going to like what you have spent two or three years doing.

"I sort of never really want anything beyond that. I do like a degree of privacy and a degree of having a quiet life. I hope that isn't going to get too threatened."

Now he is working on the post-production of the second and third films, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. It means the Hobbit-infested nightmares he had while shooting have abated and he can keep relatively normal hours and be home in time for the two children he has with Walsh. Yes, the five and six-year-old are beginning to realise that Mum and Dad do something rather different to most mums and dads.

"They are starting to get some sense of film," he says. "They have always loved films. They are starting to get some sense that films are made and they are made by people who point cameras at things."

Jackson and his crew pointed their cameras for 15 months around New Zealand. And now, having finished the first film, he and his team will be pointing and clicking through another two years of editing and effects-work.

All of which must require, well, a certain amount of concentration.

"You pace yourself. It's a very interesting lesson in how the mind controls the body really. It's all a psychological thing. It's nothing to do with your body, with how fit you are. It's all to do with your mind telling you you have to keep going."

I T'S hard to picture the mild-mannered Jackson dealing with those Hollywood big-wigs. The ones who finally agreed to stump up the cash and let him make three movies of the hefty volume he first read as a 17-year-old photo engraver apprentice who got his start in the film business making spectacularly splattery zombie movies.

"You are a politician but I just think ultimately a degree of honesty is the best thing. It's something that Hollywood isn't particularly used to either, which puts you at a slight advantage."

He was given approval to do all three films by backers New Line - a studio built by the money made from the Elm St horror series for which Jackson once wrote an unfilmed script. But even before any film had been through a camera, it seemed as if everyone who read LOTR had already posted on the internet an opinion about the movie and about Jackson.

No, he didn't take any of that fuss personally. He found it heartening and still does. Especially after his previous film, The Frighteners, sank without trace in the States because of a pronounced lack of hype.

"That was a fairly horrific experience to see your film open and no one knew anything about it. Having had that experience, I have always taken comfort that there is a huge amount of interest in what we are making. It is a very warm and fuzzy feeling."

So what next, after the Hobbits have done their dash and, if all goes well, Jackson finds himself rather more than world famous in New Zealand? Jackson sighs that his next film is at least two years away, but he and Walsh have been thinking about a new project.

"We'd love to do another New Zealand-based true story. In some respects Heavenly Creatures was such a fun experience for us on the writing part of it - it was true story, we were able to do research and talk to people.

"It's fun having different experiences but certainly I do like the idea of making something smaller on the next film. It will be impossible to make anything bigger."

* The Fellowship of the Rings opens on Thursday, December 20, after its New Zealand premiere in Wellington the previous evening.

Feature: Lord of the Rings

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