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Casting Call: J.R.R. Tolkien

War and friendship are two major themes of Tolkien's work, and understandably so. World War I was a major event in Tolkien's life, and his childhood friend and fellow member of the secret society the Tea Club and Barrovian Society, Rob Gilson, was killed on the first day of Tolkien's first battle. We think that James McAvoy, who played a faun in Chronicles of Narnia as well as an ill-fated WWI solider in Atonement, is the right man to play Gilson.

Photo by Matt Holyoak, Interview, October 2006.


The authors of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of The Rings met and formed a lifelong friendship in the fantasy circles of their day, and were both members of literary discussion group the Inklings. Tolkien even managed to do the impossible: convert C.S. Lewis from atheism to Christianity. Though he has enough consonance in his name to rival Bilbo Baggins, it's Benedict Cumberbatch's role as Smaug the dragon in The Hobbit trilogy that earns him a live-action role in this biopic as Lewis.




Tolkien's story is as colorful as any he created, involving fantasy, war, religious devotion, politics, and romance. His courtship with Edith Mary Bratt began at the age of 16, until his guardian banned contact between the two for fear that Bratt would be a distraction to Tolkien's studies. Tolkien finally asked Bratt to marry him at the age of 21, but not without a fair share of star-crossed drama. A Protestant (the Tolkien family were staunch Catholics) and engaged to another man, Bratt agreed to marry Tolkien and the two renewed their love under a railway viaduct. Both on and off screen, Rachel Weisz inspires deep-rooted passion: her murder as an Amnesty official in The Constant Gardner inspired Ralph Fiennes' impassioned quest for closure, and her private marriage to Daniel Craig is a rare gem among the Hollywood set.

Photo by Max Vadukul,
Interview, September 2005




Tolkien's childhood was certainly a lively one, so much so that playing the role of young J.R.R. might infringe on child labor laws. Besides reading Treasure Island and Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland as one might expect, he was bitten by a baboon spider (though he claimed not to remember it, the pass of giant spiders on the road to Mount Doom in Middle Earth suggests otherwise), and he invented two of his own languages in his early teens. We're going to go with the Mary-Kate and Ashley casting philosophy that two is better than one and select Frank and Morgan Gingerich of Grown Ups for role of young J.R.R. Their resemblance to Edward Norton caught our eye.


Just as Vladimir Nabokov once graded Thomas Pynchon's essays at Cornell, Tolkien gave a lecture at Oxford in which he recited a passage from Beowulf so beautifully that a young W.H. Auden in the audience decided to give writing a go. Auden later became a friend of Tolkien's and one of the first, along with C.S. Lewis, to suggest that there was great literary value in Tolkien's escapist fiction. We think Rupert Grint's flaming red hair would be perfect for Auden's awakened literary passion, and a chance for Grint to finally play the teacher's pet after years spent in the shadow of Harry Potter.


The Illusionist and The Painted Veil proved that Edward Norton can pull off early-20th-century European suspenders superbly, and The Kingdom of Heaven is Norton's medieval-era calling card. But most importantly, the combination of Norton's award-winning filmography combined with his famously private life ensure that he will have complete credibility as J.R.R. Tolkien.

Photo by Bruce Weber, Interview, May 2006.