How do you follow up one of the most successful films of all time? If you're a hobbit, you might experiment with memory-erasing technology, take up martial arts, or head straight for the unemployment line.
"The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," the top-grossing film released in 2003, heads into this month's Academy Awards fresh from a Golden Globes sweep. But you can't stay in the Shire forever. So while the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy has made its Halfling stars — Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd — household names, the actors are looking ahead to new projects. So what lies ahead for everyone's favorite hobbits?
Elijah Wood (Frodo): Leaving Hobbiton light-years behind, Wood will next be seen in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," from out-there scribe Charlie Kaufman ("Being John Malkovich," "Adaptation").
"I'm such a nut for his work," Wood said of Kaufman. "I think he's brilliant, and Michel Gondry directed it, who's also an absolute genius. I felt like the luckiest guy alive getting to work with those two geniuses ... not to mention Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet."
Wood plays Patrick, an employee at a company that erases people's bad memories. "My character kind of manipulates his way into Kate Winslet's life after we've erased her memory of Jim Carrey ... so that is very interesting."
"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" will hit theaters on March 19, then Wood will head to London in April to begin work on "Houligans." "It's sort of about [English football] fans and the violence that ensues between them."
Wood will also finish up voice work on an animated flick called "Happy Feet," which features the voices of Robin Williams and Brittany Murphy.
Sean Astin (Sam): Astin returns to theaters this week alongside Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore in the romantic comedy "50 First Dates." Astin plays Doug Whitmore, the brother of Barrymore's character. "With 'Lord of the Rings' being so kind of all-consuming with my life, the idea that I'd actually get to work without putting on hobbit feet in a feature film sort of felt good," Astin said of the role. "Adam and Drew are dialed in with Americans. People just love the chemistry between those two, and ever since I saw Adam do Operaman on 'Saturday Night Live,' I've been kind of a devotee of his."
But what about life beyond Sandler for Astin? "I am unemployed. I may never work again," Astin joked. "I'm going into a vegetative state watching television." Actually, Astin can be seen later this year in "Slipstream," which tells the story of a scientist who decides to rob a bank using his latest invention — a time-travel gadget that sends its user 10 minutes into the past. Astin has also completed work on "Elvis Has Left the Building," which was directed by Joel Zwick ("My Big Fat Greek Wedding") and stars Kim Basinger, Angie Dickenson and Billy Ray Cyrus. That flick should hit theaters this year.
Dominic Monaghan (Merry): Monaghan is looking to rock and perhaps kick a little butt in the coming months. "I just wrapped on a picture in New York called 'Shooting Livien,' which is the story of a rock and roll band obsessed with the Beatles," he said. Monaghan has also completed work on the British martial-arts film "The Purifiers," from director Richard Jobson, and has found time to shoot "Spivs," an emotional gangster flick that stars Ken Stott ("Shallow Grave") and Nick Moran ("Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels"). No release dates have been set yet for either film.
Billy Boyd (Pippin): Boyd is a one-man gold rush, starring in both "The Return of the King" (which has garnered 11 Oscar nominations) and "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World" (which has 10 nominations). Next Boyd will take on the romantic comedy "On Love." "Like every job, it's about the script. It's about the words and the story. If you get that ... you're dying to start and see what characters you can make up," Boyd said of the project. No word on when "On Love" will be released.
While Wood, Astin, Monaghan and Boyd are all looking forward to exploring new territory, the actors look back on the "Rings" trilogy with gratitude and fondness. "Maybe we'll get back together in 10 years and have a reunion in New Zealand," Boyd said. "We can go back and see what's left of the sets, and re-enact scenes."