My name is Fredegar Chubb and I am a Hobbit. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Let’s back up a bit, shall we?
My alarm went off at 5am and I once again took the gorgeous 40 minute drive from my Hamilton, NZ hotel up through the rolling farmland hills towards Hobbiton. At base camp I barely had a moment to scarf down a quick breakfast before being whisked to the wardrobe tent to shed my human clothes and gain my new Hobbit skin.
I gotta say, the actual wardrobe was incredibly comfortable. Loose, suedey, just warm enough to cut down on the morning chill and covering enough to save my delicate “living-life-in-a-movie-theater-and-in-front-of-a-computer-screen” pasty white skin from the burning rays of the sun.
With a spring in my step I made my way to get the Hobbit ears put on, another innocuous process (the pain and torment would come later after the ears were removed and the sticky remnants of the spirit gum refused to leave my skin and hair for a week), and then I was off to the makeup trailer.
The worst part about the process was having to shave my beard off. I’d be willing to bet there’s a fair amount of AICN readers that understand why that particular process wasn’t my favorite. Big guys use their beards like shields. My shield was taken away from me because Shire-folk don’t have facial hair, so my saggy jowls would be immortalized for all time.
A lovely lady named Ricci-Lee turned my irritated, pale beardless face into a nice solid Hobbitesque visage, rosy cheeks and all. The wig was a surprising amount of work, the netting clipped to my real hair by bobby pins, hair clips and, ultimately, glue. My own hair was blasted with industrial strength hairspray and laid as flat as possible. Still, there was a lot of tugging to get the wig fitted, but when it was on it looked great. Of course, I immediately covered it up with a floppy Hobbit hat, but you could still see wild curls underneath.
Up to this point I had been tooling around base camp in my shoes and socks. It was time to shed the last vestige of humanity and take the final step of my transformation. That’s right, it was time for my feet.
On Lord of the Rings these feet were applied like shoes, glued at the ankle, which meant they had to be de-glued at the end of the day. In my brief time on the set of Return of the King I saw Elijah Wood undergo this process, which honestly looked kind of relaxing, but must not have been the most comfortable thing in the world to have to undergo every day for a year.
Hobbit feet technology has evolved in the last decade. No longer is there just a foot appliance, but a full silicone skin that your foot is guided into by a very patient prosthetics person (in my case a very pretty girl named Heather McMullan) until the heel sets in the squishy foot and then the skin of the leg is tugged up to just over your knee.
What that results in is a uniform piece that is secure and even provides a decent amount of padding for bare feet. There were some Hobbit feet that had little footies inside with extensions built into the toes so the wearer could actually twitch the big toe on the prosthetic.
I was in a pair of regular Hobbit feet, which were oddly comfortable as long as you didn’t stomp heel-first onto a sharp rock. Which happened. A couple of times. I’m sorry, heel. Please forgive me.
Fully Hobbited up, I was shuttled to Hobbiton and slowly made my way to The Green Dragon where a market place was set up outside. I spent the walk trying to get used to my floppy, furry feet and had a decent handle on them by the time I made it to the outdoor market.
It was nuts there. The giant Technocrane was set up near the famous bridge and mill overlooking the front of The Green Dragon which was decked out in dozens of rickety stalls selling everything from cheese to toys to books to fowl.
I was told I’d be handling a giant rooster for the shot. His name was Trevor and the action I was given was that I’d go up and pay the Hobbit selling him (whose stall also had ducks, pigeons and chickens), pick Trevor up and place him on the ground and walk him through the market. Yes, walk him. Trevor had a harness on with a rope tied to it, so the idea was that I’d walk him through the market on this harness.
I was given a crash course on how to handle roosters which went something like this: “Hold him at the breast, make sure your hands cover the wings, don’t let go and watch out for his claws. Now you try.” Turns out I’m a natural and didn’t have any trouble with Trevor, but sadly he and I weren’t meant to be. Again, I’m getting ahead of myself. I gotta stop that…
One of the cooler guys working crew on The Hobbit is a man by the name of Terry Notary. He is a movement coach, but geeks will know him for his rather iconic work in this year’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. He played Rocket.
This guy knows his shit when it comes to movement (the secret to doing an ape is to fuse the hips, keep the head straight and lead with the chin, for example) and I consulted him on how to walk as a Hobbit. I didn’t want to look too bouncy or make my feet jiggle when stomping about.
Notary said Hobbits lead with their knees and are always happy, looking around as a child seeing something new and interesting everywhere they look. Also, the secret to keeping the feet from jiggling as I walked was to step down with my heel, but follow through with putting my weight on the edge of my foot. So, not heel-toe, but heel-edge-toe.
I was practicing this, trying to get Trevor to walk where I wanted by guiding him with my foot (this wasn’t going too well and I was wondering how on Earth I could do this when the cameras were rolling) when Peter Jackson came up and told me I was no longer going to be walking Trevor through the scene.
“How do you feel about fish?” he asked. I don’t eat ‘em, never could stomach the taste of seafood for whatever reason, but I don’t have any phobias about handling them, so I told him I was up for it.
“Good. You’re going to be selling a fish to Bilbo,” he said and I was pointed to the fish stall. An older extra was already placed there and the A.D.s pulled him out and put him in another part of the scene, placing me behind the counter which was flanked by baskets of realistic looking giant fake fish and eels.
(Note: I didn’t have my camera on me for obvious reasons, but I got this shot of the stall the next day. It’s about half-dressed, the real fish long gone, but gives you an idea of what my station looked like.)
I looked up and saw the Technocrane was pointed right at me. A few feelings hit me at once: excitement, nervousness and guilt. I felt really bad for that poor guy who was pulled out of this spot. He must have thought it was going to be his big moment. I did some extra work as a teenager and I know that excitement when you think you’re going to be featured and I know that disappointment when it doesn’t come to pass.
So, I felt sorry for this guy, but that feeling was quickly overcome by the realization that I was front and center for this shot and that I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do.
Peter was blocking the scene with Martin Freeman, which begins with Bilbo buying a fish and looking around nervously. At this point he has already been propositioned by Gandalf for the big adventure and expects the wizard to pop up and bug him about it some more, I guess. After buying the fish from me he bumps into another Hobbit named Worrywort pushing a wheelbarrow of vegetables and Bilbo asks if he has seen the wizard wandering about.
Over some stalls Bilbo sees Gandalf’s pointy grey hat and he tries to hide, usually behind other Hobbits including a confused Worrywort and an oblivious Hobbit couple on a romantic stroll through the market. This couple ended up being my friends Aaron and Kaela Morgan, who have joined me on many New Zealand adventures in the past and wasn’t about to pass up the chance at another. They were almost obnoxiously cute here, stealing kisses as they shopped, unknowingly hiding a Baggins.
It’s also of some note that Otho and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins are in this scene, Lobelia turning her nose down on Bilbo’s erratic behavior as he hides behind Worrywort. Her outfit is outrageously pomp, with the most ridiculous bright hat I’ve ever seen. The actress, whose name fails me at the moment, seems right for the character. Fans of the original films may remember Elizabeth Moody (the mum from Braindead) played the part in the Extended Edition.
I’m piecing this all together after-the-fact, by the way. Because the shot was wide and I was still in frame I couldn’t very well be watching Bilbo the whole time. I had to look like I was mongering some fish!
During blocking Peter introduced me to Martin Freeman. I had been on the set for a couple weeks at this point, but hadn’t met the man until that moment. Having been a long time fan of the UK Office and a recent admirer of BBC’s Sherlock, it was a pleasure to find that he was very easy going and a fun guy to joke around with for a day.
Freeman asked Jackson if my character had a name. I didn’t, of course, but Peter mentioned a website that takes your real name and turns it into your Hobbit name. Within 30 seconds Sebastian Meek, Peter’s awesome, funny and ridiculously tall assistant, had his iPhone out and looked it up.
That damned site said the Hobbit name for Eric Vespe was Fredegar Chubb, a rather unfortunate name for a husky Hobbit, I must say.
But it was too late. Jackson and Freeman heard it and it became my official name. I believe Freeman asked for a name in the first place so he could have a little business as he was picking out the fish, referring to this portly fishmonger as if he saw him on a weekly basis.
So, every take it was “See you next Friday, Mr. Chubb,” or “I’ll take that one, Freddy.” Mostly it was Mr. Chubb.
It was about this point, when I was feeling super happy with myself, that the real star of the scene… nay, the entire movie… showed up. I may be mistaken, but I believe this is his film debut. This future movie star, Oscar winner and humanitarian goes by the name Leroy and instantly drew every eye on the set.
Leroy is a giant pig. When I say giant I mean massive, easily 4½ feet tall. And that wasn’t the only thing massive about him, let me tell you. As Leroy passed by everybody got an eyeful of Leroy’s mammoth testicles. I’m talking ridiculously gigantic nuts here and they quickly became the talk of the marketplace.
I grabbed a photo of Leroy a couple of days later. I couldn’t let Leroy’s nuts go by undocumented. I succeeded. Behold Leroy in all his glory!
Holy shit, right?!? Don’t worry, The Hobbit is still going to be family friendly and Leroy’s particular talents weren’t facing the lens when they filmed. I think there’s a law about featuring nuts that big in 3-D, as well there should be.
Anyway, the wide shot started on us and pulled back to show the giant market and all the bustling business of a busy shopping day as Martin goes through his action.
Some real (dead) fish were brought out and Martin pointed to one, usually with a “Hrmmm… that one if you please, Mr. Chubb” and I grabbed his choice with a smile and dropped it onto a piece of paper, rolled it once, then wrapped it up in a second layer before handing it over to him. As I was busy wrapping the fish up, Freeman looked around nervously.
I handed the packaged fish to Mr. Freeman, who thanked me and put it in his basket, filled with tomatoes and other veggies, and walked off to have his run-in with Worrywort.
Of course I needed business for when Freeman and Worrywort had their encounter as I was still visible in the background so it was suggested that I either scale or de-gut some fish. It became clear that I’d run out of fish to scale within a few takes, so de-gutting was the decision because after each take I could shove the guts back into the fish carcasses and do it all over again.
Needless to say by lunchtime these three poor dead fish had been hollowed out a couple dozens times and spent some unflattering time in the sun. The smell was something else. It was almost a full time job keeping the flies off of them, which actually helped me keep busy during my time in the background. I could alternate between gutting the fish and shooing flies away.
The best memories I’ll have of my big day will always be of those 45 seconds before each take because it would just be Freeman and myself joking around. Jackson wanted everybody to be lively. Hobbits were content, jolly folk, after all. He’d be on the loudspeaker to all the extras telling us to move around, be loose and be happy. “Laugh with each other! Gossip and laugh!”
Typically this meant either Mr. Freeman or myself would crack a joke (usually about Leroy’s nuts) and laugh for real or go into comically exaggerated laughing which shifted down to us just having a good time when action was called.
Lunch was about to be called and I thought my day was over, but before everybody left Peter, Andrew Lesnie (the brilliant director of photography) and the camera operators blocked the next shot, a close up of the fish hitting the paper that pulled back to feature the top of my head as I rolled the fish, then my fat face as I handed the fish over. They also got a good, closer shot of Martin looking around nervously. The camera left me and got another angle on Martin as it followed him away to continue the scene.
Peter thought the pacing was a little slow, so he asked me to roll up the fish only once, but when I did it that way in the next take, I caught Martin at the beginning of his nervous look around.
Freeman requested that I still wrap it twice to give him a little time to look around, which Peter accepted as long as I sped it up a tad. Jackson did like the little moment of Bilbo being pulled out of his paranoia by the fishmonger, so he said I should get his attention when I was finished wrapping the fish.
Knowing I shouldn’t speak, the only options I felt I had were to either wave the wrapped fish in front of Bilbo’s face or give him a friendly tap. I went with the tap, but apparently that didn’t look good. Terry Notary gave me a note saying the movement came across as very modern and Peter came out shortly after and put it a bit more bluntly. “I like that you interrupt him, but the tapping looked bloody stupid.”
“Great,” I thought. “I’m ruining the movie.”
“We may have to give you a line,” Jackson said.
“Oh, Christ! We already gave you a name, now you’re getting a line?!? What more do you want!?!” cried Martin Freeman in feigned outrage. I responded that if he wasn’t careful Mr. Chubb would take over the franchise.
“How long are you here again,” asked Martin.
“Until December,” I replied.
“Ah. You’ll be Bilbo by November 18th,” Freeman conceded.
It was decided I would say a simple “sir” as I handed the fish over. I am by no means an actor and suddenly now I had to say something on camera. And I had to say it as a Hobbit, meaning I had to put an accent on the word.
My first attempt wasn’t wholly successful I’m afraid to report. Not only was I worried that my Hobbit accent was more Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins than an authentic inflection, Jackson said I was a little flat. Cue tightening butt-hole. Jackson had a thought, that I should be saying my line as I roll. As such, I needed more to say than just “Sir,” so I ended up with a nice, drawn out “’ere you go, sir!”
The important part was to keep it jovial. They wanted to see a twinkle in my eye and a smile on my face. Jolly happy Hobbits, remember?
After doing it that way Jackson’s focus seemed to be on the timing of the rest of the scene, so either I was doing something right or was given up on as a lost cause and they’ll fix my horrible line delivery in post, giving it to a talented actor to dub.
The framing of the beginning of the shot was on my hands as I plop the fish down and roll it up, I figured having clean, freshly washed post-lunch hands wasn’t going to work, so I looked around at what I had to work with. What I lacked in makeup I more than made up for in fish guts, both fresh and… not so fresh.
I was so proud of myself. My hands were disgusting, globs of greasy fish guts stuck in just the right places, my fingernails were filthy, and I even had some strategically placed fish scales to give it all a bit of texture. Pleased as punch, I went through all of the rehearsal with these movie ready hands.
After about 20 minutes and just before the first shot was to go up I went to refresh my now semi-dried fish gut-covered hands only to be confronted with something incredibly horrifying. There were dozens of tiny, translucent worms reaching up from the guts, wriggling like some Rob Bottin nightmare.
It took a second for me to remember I wiped all that crap on my hands. I took a closer look at them and sure enough those creepy little parasites were on my hands. A friendly crew member had a wet wipe and I wiped the worms away with a grimace, leaving enough (wormless) grime on my hands to work for the shot.
The show must go on, as they say, and we got the shot. I just hope that’s all we got.
All the crew were lifesavers, I have to say. They had to tend to 60 adult Hobbits, 10 Hobbit children (including Richard Taylor’s two kids), the animals, Leroy’s nuts and other big problems yet they were always Johnny-On-The-Spot with some water or an umbrella providing sweet, sweet shade.
It wasn’t long before my tiny part in this adventure was concluded. By this time my Hobbit feet felt like mini-waterbeds as I shuffled back to the shuttle, the day’s sweat having pooled down there.
That sounds disgusting, it was disgusting, but what wasn’t disgusting was the damn near orgasmic feeling of relief having those bastards pulled off in a puff of baby powder by some heroic makeup person. Okay, that is kind of disgusting, but it wasn’t to me, I can tell you. It was marvelous!
I asked if I could keep my feet and got a sympathetic “no way” from prosthetics Heather. Heist scenarios ran through my brain, but it would have taken a young Michael Caine to sneak those feet out of base camp.
Watching Mr. Chubb disappear piece by piece at the end of the day was a little sad, but the sweet relief of losing the itchy wig, squishy feet, prosthetic ears (which muffled sound all day) and getting back into my comfortable civvies balanced it out.
I have a new respect for those that undergo this process every day, be it Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan on Rings or Martin Freeman here. The dwarves have it a hundred times worse, too. Giant beards, noses, prosthetic hands, thick costumes. I don’t envy them.
So there you have the tale of Fredegar Chubb, a simple fishmonger who brushes shoulders with adventure. And by adventure, I of course mean Leroy’s nuts.
On that note, let’s take a little time to focus on a new crew member! Every report will feature a member of The Hobbit’s crew, often the unsung heroes of moviemaking.
Today we’re going to follow up on a guy I mention in the above report, Mr. Terry Notary.
Terry’s a little more high profile than most of the crew thanks to his amazing year. From portraying Rocket in Rise of the Planet of the Apes to the main alien in Attack the Block to consulting on The Hobbit, Notary is a man on the rise.
He began his career as a stuntie on Ron Howard’s The Grinch. One day on set Notary noticed that the stunt guys were all moving differently and he thought they should all have one uniform movement for the residents of Whoville, some kind of consistency so they’re not all over the place.
Notary came up with some basic walks and movements and was teaching the team this when he caught Ron Howard’s eye. Howard ended up launching his career by hiring him on as a movement coach. At first they didn’t know what to call his position and his thinking was that they have dialect coaches on sets, so why not a movement coach?
And so it began. He rose through the ranks and ended up in New Zealand.
On The Hobbit he once again coaches movement and knows how all the different species of Middle Earth move. Walking, running, crouching, speaking, sleeping, falling, eating, working, fighting, you name it, he can tell you the subtle differences that make each race unique.
Hobbits, as we already know, lead with their knees, always have a smile on their faces and their eyes are easily drawn by movement, color and shiny things. Dwarves are instinct-driven and lower to the ground. They lead with their gut. Elves are very outward thinking and don’t internalize or have any image of self, so they walk lightly, almost floating as they move.
I haven’t asked how Goblins, Orcs or Wizards walk, but Terry’s the man and I’m sure can slip into their walk at the drop of a hat.
Before I sign off I have one more little bit of coolness for you, a video that Rise of the Planet of the Apes fans might find of particular interest.
Like I said, Terry’s the man.
That about wraps up this new column. If you’ll excuse me, I have to start building up a detailed backstory for Mr. Chubb’s inevitable Tolkien-Wiki article. I’m thinking he perhaps plays a part in Fellowship; Old Man Chubb chucking fish heads at the Nazgul delaying them just long enough for Frodo and his Halfling friends to make it to Bucklebury Ferry, hence saving all of Middle Earth from Sauron’s return. I’m open to other possible Tolkien history backgrounds, just let me know in the talkbacks below.
Thanks for joining me on my Unexpected Journey! Stay tuned for the next article!