A lot has been talked about when it comes to the budget of Prime Video's The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, but when the show premieres on Sept. 2, J.R.R. Tolkien fans will actually see the spend. Unlike many other fantasy epics that are filmed primarily on soundstages utilizing green screen and other digital technology, Rings of Power built full worlds practically on location in New Zealand.
"It was really about a 360-degree — as much as possible — in-camera, practically-built world," said Cynthia Addai-Robinson, who plays Queen Regent Míriel, at the Television Critics Association press tour panel for the forthcoming drama.
For example, "Númenor is a fully built, fully functioning city with a dock and boat and other elements," she said.
Addai-Robinson, who has worked on sprawling period series before, noted that stepping on that set, where she spends most of her time in the series, "felt like a real world within Middle Earth."
"My first day was on an unnamed mountaintop somewhere in the South Island of New Zealand. ... There was a very memorable helicopter ride; I'd never been on a helicopter before, but I just channeled that all into the scene," she continued.
This is not to say that Rings of Power doesn't use any green screen or other effects, of course! One important element for the series is scale, as the characters that are Dwarves are significantly shorter than characters that are Elves, and their world is built to their size.
"Eldrond is much taller so the height difference, I was often on my knees and Rob was often on top of a ladder," said Owain Arthur, who plays Prince Durin IV, about filming with Robert Aramayo, who plays Elrond. "There were moments where Rob had to jump on a stage on a small version of the set we were just in."
"The most difficult part was trying to match what you just did on a much smaller version of the set. But I think what was good about it was we were in it together," Aramayo added.
To assist with these special circumstances, Rings of Power had "scale doubles" for actors, in addition to the usual stunt doubles.
Although the work was often very technical, and although the show will likely be under the microscope by Tolkien scholars, critics, and fans alike, the actors tried not to fixate on anything but their characters while filming.
"We talk about the two trilogies [a lot], but we're all actors and we're all artists, and when you are approaching the work, you're concerned with things that are essential: honesty, truth, what drives your character. ... You can't concern yourself with the largeness of it all," said Ismael Cruz Cordova, who plays Arondir.
This approach especially came in handy for Morfydd Clark in making her character of Galadriel unique from Elves who have been seen before her.
"I was really fascinated by obviously the Elves that we know from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit [who] have been through a lot to get there and that their serenity and wisdom is hardened. I wanted to look at the arrogance of the Elves, and so, she is right, but she should take some advice occasionally."
"Galadriel says something that alludes to, 'With wisdom there's a loss of innocence,' and so, that was really formative for me, in terms of what does it mean to have innocence as a creature who's already been alive for thousands of years? I think she has a unique perspective because she is history. ... To play a kind of living myth was wonderful," she continued.
Rings of Power is a new story that takes place before the events of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but it is drawn from Tolkien's works, sometimes down to the writers taking "a single sentence buried in Tolkien that then we would...really build out," noted showrunner JD Payne.
"This story isn't ours. This story was in the books, waiting to be unearthed," showrunner Patrick McKay said.
Those who have been longtime fans of Tolkien's works will be able to experience Rings of Power on another level because of those "deep roots" in the books, as McKay called them. But, they believe they made a show that can appeal to everyone.
"If you've never seen The Lord of the Rings or read the book The Lord of the Rings or never even worn a ring before — if you think it's not your world — the human drama or non-human drama will be as engaging and accessible to [you] as a super fan," McKay explained.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power premieres Sept. 2