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Lord Of The Rings: Who Plays Smeagol & What Does He Look Like In Real Life?

Peter Jackson's "The Return of the King" is loaded with epic action, tragic moments, and an endless string of character conclusions. While most of "The Return of the King" is spent depicting the climactic ending to the "Lord of the Rings" story, the first few minutes of the film actually jumps way back in time (about 500 years or so). It shows how the One Ring was found after it was lost in the waters of the Great River millennia before Frodo and company set out on their quest.

The scene depicts the halfling Sméagol just before he stumbles on the corrupted jewelry while he and his friend Déagol are fishing. Déagol is pulled into the water by a giant fish, finds the Ring, and ultimately is killed by his friend in a fight over who will possess the evil trinket. In that opening sequence, the actor who plays Sméagol is none other than Andy Serkis. The British actor is the immensely talented individual who voices and plays Gollum throughout Jackson's movies (including "The Hobbit" trilogy). However, in this brief moment, we get a glimpse of the actor himself.

Serkis is already on the shorter side, coming in at a compact 5 feet, 8 inches, which makes it easier to show him as a down-to-earth Hobbit forefather. He has a thin, wiry body and an expressive face. While most of his time in Middle-earth was spent wearing motion-capture technology, the brief backstory of Sméagol gives us a glimpse of the man behind the CGI.

How do Serkis' Sméagol and Gollum connect on screen?

For those who aren't up to date on their Tolkien lore, Sméagol is another name for the character Gollum. Gollum was originally introduced in the "Hobbit" book, where he played a brief role as a minor (though fascinating) side character. However, when Tolkien decided that the One Ring would be the primary connecting point between "The Hobbit" and its sequel, "The Lord of the Rings," Gollum's part increased in importance.

The slimy wretch ends up playing a pivotal role throughout "The Lord of the Rings" by chasing down his Precious and then helping lead Frodo and Sam into Mordor on their quest to destroy the One Ring. Gollum is typically depicted as a thin, warped creature. He's the epitome of Bilbo's "butter scraped over too much bread" line from "The Fellowship of the Ring." But he didn't start that way. When Gollum finds the Ring five centuries before "The Lord of the Rings," he looks like just another Hobbit (hence the ability to have Serkis play the role in his normal skin).

After Sméagol kills his friend and claims his treasure, the power of the Ring extends his lifespan, allowing him to obsess over it as it slowly turns him into the subterranean wretch that Bilbo meets much later. Before that transformation, though, Gollum is a Hobbit — or at least a member of the proto-halfling race that eventually becomes the Hobbits. Peter Jackson found this so important that he moved the critical origin story to the opening act of his biggest Middle-earth film — and chose none other than Serkis himself to play Sméagol.

Serkis was a pioneer and innovator in Hollywood

Andy Serkis was a pioneer when it comes to motion capture technology — and it started with his "Lord of the Rings" adventures. When he initially took the role of Gollum, Serkis had his hesitations. "There were lots of jokes about it," he told GQ in an interview early in 2023. This came right after explaining that older actors commented on his Gollum role, saying, "You wouldn't catch me dead doing motion capture. It's the end of our profession."

Despite the doubts and criticism, the forward-thinking actor continued to blaze an exciting new technological trail right into the heart of Hollywood — and it didn't stop with Gollum. He resumed his motion capture acting as Kong in Peter Jackson's follow-up fantasy "King Kong" before delivering a moving portrayal as Caesar in the "Planet of the Apes" reboot trilogy.

As icing on the cake, in 2011, Serkis finally rolled all of his innovative motion capture experience into co-founding his own studio, The Imaginarium. The studio specializes in special effects and has been behind several significant projects, including Netflix's "Mowgli."

While Serkis has made a name in cinema as an actor and director, he will always be seen by the larger public as the man who brought the beloved character of Gollum to life on screen. For the most part, that labor of love was an off-screen endeavor, but it's fun to see the actor pop into view "in the flesh" for a few minutes there as he shows us the series of disturbing events that turned Sméagol into Gollum.