BEVERLY HILLS, California — Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" movies thrilled millions of moviegoers, endeared themselves to us, and touched fans so deeply that many feel like Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the Grey, Aragorn, and the rest are members of the family. It's no surprise, then, that they've spent the six years since "Return of the King" wondering if we'll ever see those characters onscreen again. Now, Jackson is hard at work prepping a return to Middle-earth with "The Hobbit" and has revealed to us that three — and only three — of the "Rings" actors will be returning for the family reunion.
"Gandalf, being a 2,000-year-old wizard, is still around and plays a major role in 'The Hobbit,' and we're having Ian McKellen reprise," explained the filmmaker, who is executive-producing the flick and writing the screenplay. "There's a couple of other characters: Elrond, who was played by Hugo Weaving [in the original films], and there's a possibility of Galadriel, who was played by Cate Blanchett."
With that, the fiercely loyal-to-J.R.R. Tolkien filmmaker shot down any talk of folks like Orlando Bloom, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, Viggo Mortensen or John Rhys-Davies being shoehorned into the prequel via flashback, flash-forward, dream sequence or any other Hollywood trickery — as much as some fans might like to see them again.
"In some respects, it's a prequel," Jackson said of the flick, which he plans to begin filming in mid-2010. "In book terms, the world of 'The Hobbit' takes place 60 years before 'The Lord of the Rings,' as it was written by Tolkien. So, not a lot of the characters actually feature, because they weren't around yet."
As for the film itself — the first of two planned "Hobbit" flicks — Jackson gave us an update. "Guillermo Del Toro is the director of 'The Hobbit' — we're producing it for him — and I'm involved in the scriptwriting, which I love," he explained. "Screenwriting is my favorite part of the whole process. I'm very happy being one of the writing team on 'The Hobbit,' and we've written the first script. It's two movies, and we've written the first script, which the studio responded well to. And we're now halfway through the second script."
"At this rate," he said, "we're on target to begin shooting the first half of next year."
As for his returning stars, the filmmaker, whose "The Lovely Bones" hits theaters later this month, said McKellen is onboard, and he has no fear that Weaving and Blanchett would be willing to return as well.
"They are elves, so once again, in the realm of Middle-earth, they're immortal, they don't age," he said of Galadriel and Elrond, the only returning "LOTR" main roles besides Gandalf in his script. "We have a process that would start with showing them the script. We're not [beginning] any official process until we have the 'official' script that they can read."
Check out everything we've got on "The Hobbit."
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