James Loye has been living in Middle Earth for about two years now, but he hasn’t picked up the accent – his Bristolian burr is still as broad as ever. The actor has developed hobbit-like hair though – while he used to wear a wig for his role as Frodo Baggins in The Lord Of The Rings, now he just styles his own locks into a hobbity hairdo.
As Frodo, Loye takes a journey through Middle Earth every night on the Drury Lane stage, avoiding Orcs, Black Riders and a giant spider while resisting the lure of the ring until he achieves his quest to destroy it. He has also been on his own journey, from auditioning in London to opening in the premiere production of The Lord Of The Rings in Toronto, Canada, and now back to the capital for his West End debut. All that journeying must be exhausting, but so far Loye has enjoyed his time in the West End’s most expensive production. He tells Caroline Bishop how it came about and what it is like to be Tolkien’s famous hobbit…
How has it been going?
James Loye: Good, it’s all settling down quite nicely actually. The audiences seem very responsive. It’s such a huge project and such a big build up with four months rehearsal and then a five-week tech and a month of previewing, so it was nice to finally get there [to opening night]. I did the show in Canada as well so it just feels like I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing for two years before opening! So it is a relief to get into the swing of things, getting the shows out really.
How did your involvement come about?
JL: I went to about four auditions and it was all quite drawn out. Then I got asked to do a four-week workshop. We went through it all and then did a presentation at the end, and that was the last I heard of it at that point. Then I was working in Regent’s Park Open Air and I got a call from [producer] Kevin Wallace asking me if I wanted to go to Canada to play Frodo. So I upped sticks and flew over to Toronto, where I started the four-month rehearsal there.
Did you have any doubts about the show?
JL: Yes, I was quite surprised really, I remember my initial reaction was, Lord Of The Rings the musical? They said oh no, no, it’s very good, Matthew Warchus [the director] is involved, it’s all been done with lots of integrity. Of course when I got involved I realised that was true. I suppose people see it as cashing in, a commercial venture, but it really isn’t. It just so happens that there have been these three good films and it’s in the stream of public interest and curiosity I suppose, but we are certainly honouring the books as much as we can as source material.
What was it like working in Canada?
JL: Wonderful, actually. It’s like anything, if you get to travel with work and get to live in another country and experience a different culture, it’s wonderful. It was hard work but it was good. I met some really fantastic people and I fell in love with Canada. It’s really nice, very cold. I was there 11 months in total, so I experienced a winter, which was chilly. We were told it was actually the mildest winter they had on record, but I was freezing.
Were you apprehensive about the West End because the show had been criticised in Canada?
JL: Yeah but I always try, whatever show I do, to not really take too much notice. It’s kind of what you think inside that’s important. Obviously something so high profile is going to set itself up for a fall, possibly. It’s so incredibly ambitious and I think what we’ve achieved is quite wonderful really. It’s not an easy project. I defy anybody to try and put on a show like this. What I always try to go on is the audience response, you know. At the end of the show they are on their feet and seem to be really enjoying it. The feedback that I get from the punter on the street, friends that have seen it – I’ve got some very honest friends!
We get to know your character, Frodo, more than others who have less time on stage…
JL: Yeah but even so, that’s the huge challenge. We’re condensing 1,000 pages of a novel into three hours of stage time. Obviously in the films they had the luxury of nine hours and CGI. We’re using theatrical techniques. Even my part, it’s very efficiently written and it’s moving so quickly, I find I have to be quite accurate with each moment because you don’t really have too much time. It’s so narrative-led rather than character-driven. Some parts are sort of… efficient, shall we say.
What research did you do for the role?
JL: Well reading the books is a wonderful resource to dip into. And I’ve read books about the stock character, the hero. If you look at characters like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars; I’ve been reading the Odyssey, the Homer epic poem, and it’s a very similar thing, these characters and these incredible things happening to them in this epic way.
How long does it take to get into hobbit costume?
JL: It’s not too bad actually, it did take longer when we were in Canada, because we had facial prosthetics, and I’m not wearing a wig this time, I’m using my own hair, which is why I’m walking around with what looks like a hobbit wig all the time! Putting the fat suit on and various layers of clothing and microphones, that only takes about 15 minutes, and then I’m on to makeup, putting sort of simple makeup on. They give me a nice blow dry and straighten out my hair to make me look like a hobbit – not that hobbits have blow dries! There’s a Toni & Guy just opening up in the Shire!
Is it difficult to dance with those hairy feet?
JL: No they get quite comfy actually, they are kind of like old slippers, quite nice. They are almost too comfy, they wear out quite quickly, because they’re hand made and made of this soft leather. I think I’ve probably got through about 10 pairs already.
You have to tackle Shelob, a giant spider, during the show. Are you scared of spiders?
JL: No, I don’t mind spiders too much actually. You just get a bowl or a Tupperware box or something. I mean obviously you’d need quite a big Tupperware box for Shelob – a nice big piece of paper and a really big window!
Is the show exhausting?
JL: Yeah it is, we have two today. You kind of get used to it. The worst feeling is before the matinee because you think oh no, I’ve got to do two today, have I got it in me – six hours of Middle Earth? But once you get going and once the first one’s out of the way you think well one more, and then I’ve got the day off tomorrow.
This is the biggest show you’ve done…
JL: Yeah, I never really saw myself doing a big commercial show because musical theatre was never really what I’d done, so it came as a bit of a surprise when I actually got an audition for a ‘musical’.
Would you like to do more now?
JL: I’d like to yeah. I’ve never really categorised myself as a singer or a dancer, but I know there are certain parts where you can get away with being slightly remedial when it comes to choreography!
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