Today is the first day of filming on The Hobbit, an occasion that signifies the departure of Bilbo Baggins and companions on their mighty quest for the Lonely Mountain. Over the months ahead Bilbo Baggins' small but stout band of dwarfish fellows will be beset by vicious wargs, bug-eyed trolls, giant spiders and infuriating beard itch. To mark this momentous occasion, we've designated this 'Hobbit Week', a place where travel tips, story pointers and the nostril sting of pipe-weed abound. Who better to get things started than the original mini-warrior John Rhys-Davies, the thesp who played Gimli in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. We called him up and asked for some advice for his successors in the axe-wielding business...
1. Prepare For Pain
"You've got to have a lot of patience to play a dwarf. I spent over four hours in the make-up chair each morning, then had 20 minute touch-ups between shots. It's absolutely energy-sapping. And with The Hobbit there'll be a whole band of poor actors in the clobber. It's a pretty thankless and unrewarding task. I know the devils of temptation and I avoid them very carefully. The trick is not to drink."
2. Keep It Classical
"When you're sitting in the make-up chair, your only input is auditory. And if you have to listen to four hours of contemporary music, you go insane. I used to snarl, "Get that fucking crap off!" The only thing I could take was classical music - Bach, Vivaldi, the great Venetians. In time the other actors bowed to my wishes. It probably upset everyone else in the make-up room but I had my eyes shut, so I didn't notice."
3. Hit The Gym
"Usually Gimli's costume weighed between 60 to 80 pounds. My favourite anecdote is about this one day where we were shooting halfway up a mountain. There was a girl carrying my helmet, somebody else carrying my heavy boots, another person with the helmet and two men behind us struggling with a hamper containing the top armour, chain mail, belts and all that. And then the armourer with the five axes I'd be carrying. They put it all on me and Peter said, "Right, I want you to run up that slope." I could barely move!"
4. Axin' Ain't Easy
"I did a lot of weapon training and it was almost entirely useless! The great truth is, the first time I swung an axe on the set, I toppled over, straight into the mud. Because I had to be on my knees so that I'd look shorter than Viggo - which I'm not - and you can't fight on your knees. The full-size axe was also enormous, with a giant arc. So it was often better to have my double do the fighting. I did enjoy the odd scrap, though. The stuntmen used to complain, "Oh God, it's John again." I'd bellow, "Come on you, wusses! Stand up and take your punishment!"
5. Deny All Tossings
"Nobody, but nobody, tosses a dwarf! This is not something I am meant to talk about. It doesn't happen. It never happened. And anyone who says it did is a liar and will have to answer to my axe!"
The Hobbit is in production. Part 1 is due out in 2012.