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‘Tolkien’ Director Said Working With Estate Would Have ‘Suffocated’ the Film

Star Nicholas Hoult said his obsession with portraying J.R.R. Tolkien even extended to his time on the set of "X-Men: Dark Phoenix."


Fox Searchlight

The estate of J.R.R. Tolkien issued a statement earlier this month saying it did not “approve” nor “endorse” Dome Karukoski’s biopic “Tolkien,” starring Nicholas Hoult as the “Lord of the Rings” author and Lily Collins as his wife, Edith Bratt. However, at a post-screening Q&A in New York City May 1 (conducted by this writer), Karukoski said not working with the Tolkien estate proved to be a creative benefit.

“Honestly, you try not to work with the estate for reasons obvious,” Karukoski said. “Even if it would be out of kindness to ask the estate, you start servicing them, they become your friends. You shouldn’t mess with the estate, so the film can exist purely for your own reasons and your own feelings about the characters. We did very, very thorough research, we understand these characters, and the emotional truth of them is very true. To dig out the emotional truth of the characters, you have to try to not hide certain evidence and when you work with an estate what happens is that that kind of gets suffocated. You’re not allowed to do certain things so that the audience can feel an emotion from it.”

Lily Collins, Nicholas HoultBAFTA 'Tolkien' Screening, New York, USA - 01 May 2019

Lily Collins and Nicholas Hoult at BAFTA ‘Tolkien’ screening

Andrew H Walker/REX/Shutterstock

Karukoski added that he offered the Tolkien estate an opportunity to see the film before its London premiere, but its representatives refused. “I actually approached them to offer them a chance to watch the film with me and Nick and I hope that will happen one day,” he said.

The Tolkien estate (led by the author’s now 94-year-old son, Christopher Tolkien) has long expressed dissatisfaction with adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, including of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The author himself was very adamant about resisting Walt Disney’s attempts to buy the screen rights to “The Lord of the Rings” in the 1960s.

At least one J.R.R. Tolkien descendant approves of Karukoski’s film. Said Collins, “Callum Tolkien, his great-grandson, plays a soldier in the trenches with Nick [Hoult], and he came to the premiere the other night. So there was a Tolkien present!”

As for Karukoski’s insistence that the film get all the facts right, not just those approved by the estate,  Hoult was so committed to the part that he learned to draw land spent much of his time on Tolkien-esque sketches while experiencing downtime on the set of “X-Men: Dark Phoenix.”

“We were doing a ‘Dark Phoenix’ action sequence, and I had this little tent where I’d go in to cool off because it was pumped full of air conditioning,” Hoult said. “I’d go in there and I’d copy Tolkien’s drawings. I thought it would hopefully be something that’ll subconsciously help me for the role.”

You can never say the makers of “Tolkien” didn’t care about the details.

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