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Benjamin Walker Talks Gil-Galad's Dad, Leadership Styles, And Half A Million Gold Hand-Painted Leaves - Exclusive Interview

Gil-galad only appears briefly in the introduction of "The Fellowship of the Ring" movie. Even in "The Lord of the Rings" books, he's only mentioned a handful of times. But the Elven lord will be one of the central characters in "The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power."

The regal Elf is one of the most important leaders in the Second Age of Middle-earth history (when the show is set) and is a primary player in identifying and resisting the Dark Lord Sauron during his first rise to power. Gil-galad interacts with key figures, including Elrond and Galadriel, and is even given two of the Three Elven Rings at one point. He rules over the powerful kingdom of Lindon and influences many of the surrounding realms in his role as the High King of the Noldor.

This essential character will be portrayed in Prime Video's massive streaming series by Benjamin Walker. Looper's resident Tolkien expert sat down with the actor over a live video stream a couple of months ago. Together, they broke down some of the revelations and challenges that come with portraying such an important character of the legendarium in a serialized, cinematic adaptation. From religiously referencing the source material to Gil-galad's parenting-style-inspired approach to ruling to acting on a set with half a million hand-painted gold leaves on the ground, Walker wasn't shy about sharing his "Rings of Power" experiences.

Walker's favorite character and going to the source material

I want to know what your favorite original Tolkien character is from the text.

Selfishly, I like High King Gil-galad, and I'll tell you why. It sounds cheap, but what I like about him is that he's prescient, that he seems to have this heightened awareness and always be a bit ahead of the curve. He's got his finger on the pulse of the life force of Middle Earth, which he chose to remain in, by the way. "I could go to Valinor or stay on this dirty, disgusting rock filled with creatures that want to kill each other, and maybe I'll sacrifice myself for their wellbeing," which makes me love him even more. But in the process of doing that, he has this ever-vigilance that I love about him. The price of liberty and peace is constant vigilance, and he is that embodied.

That actually leads right into my second question. Gil-galad is fairly inaccessible as a character in the text because he is so high up there; he's dealing with all of the high-level stuff. To adapt him to something that is not just a character in a film, but an extended serialized series, how challenging has that been for you?

Any time I feel stumped, I go back to the source material. You go back to the books, even if it's not specifically about Gil-galad. You can get into the minutia of his parentage and the debate about who his dad was or wasn't, and you can drive yourself insane, but also you want to imagine what a war would be like. You want to imagine what immortality really means, which is the ultimate death of everyone you've ever known and loved over thousands and thousands of years on repeat. Then you have to ask the question, "How do you muster the strength to have hope in spite of that?"

Most people know him from that song Sam sings, but there's actually quite a bit that you can glean from the text. Like a religious text, you return to Tolkien and you get something new every time. That's one of the selfish joys of it for me. But also it's an infinite font of inspiration. It's the perfect resource.

Who is Gil-galad's dad, and what makes the character a good leader?

Who is his dad in the show? Did you pick, or did you leave it vague? Or are you not allowed to say?

You don't want to know ... yeah. You don't want to know.

You don't even have to say the name, but is that addressed, or is it something you've sidestepped the way Christopher Tolkien wished he did?

Trust me, you'll be happy. But also it's a bit like, "How did you saw the girl in half?" You don't want to know. Just enjoy it. She's in half, and now I'm going to put her back together, and everyone's going to be happy.

In his writings, Gil-galad doesn't rule over everyone, but he's the High King. There's this dynamic of almost a democracy mixed with a monarchy, as far as trying to organize and orchestrate all this resistance. Like you said, he's prescient. He's seeing ahead and people are not. How do you apply that in the story here? Is that on the screen right from day one here, when it premieres, or is he going to come into that role as time goes on?

Well, the Second Age is the coming of age of Middle Earth. If you imagine, we're all in our adolescence and starting to go on the paths that we're destined to exist on. But Gil-galad, as a leader ... What I think makes him a great leader and an inspiration to leaders out here in the outside world is that he can delegate and play to the strengths of those who serve with him, [and] he is aware of everything. Who has the strength to give those who serve under you the freedom to make their own decisions? There's bravery in that, and that's the kind of leadership that Middle Earth needs. How can I bring out the best in everyone?

I know that's kind of a non-answer answer, but it's one of the things that fascinates me about him. Yes, the way that he leads is with ... There is freedom within the structure. If he were a parent, he's the parent who lets the kid climb to the top of the tree, and when they're screaming, "Get me out of here!" he helps them climb down themselves.

I like that about him. He's not choppering in and, "Get over here, honey. I'll save you." No, it's like, "You got yourself up there, now get yourself down."

Half a million gold hand-painted leaves and being gobsmacked

What is the most important or most exciting part of this story that you're looking forward to portraying over the five seasons?

Ooh, I don't know. That's a trap, especially as an actor, because the biggest joy of this job for me has been turning up and being surprised every day. The first day I was on set, we walked into this sound stage and there were half a million gold hand-painted leaves on the ground. You're looking at this army of technicians and craftsmen and artists, and you know the grueling labor that has gone into that and their placement on the ground. It moves me. I feel gobsmacked by it. I think it's the bare minimum that you need to tell these stories properly.

But also, I'm trying not to look forward. I'm trying to let it wash over me because I don't want to get caught in that, "Oh, this is going to be great. This is going to be great." I want to be surprised every day. I don't want to miss a thing. I'm just trying to stay ...

In the present?

Well, yeah, but every thought about the future is a thought wasted in the present. Every thought about the past is a thought that you wasted now. I'm trying to soak it all up for purely selfish reasons, because I love it and I'm a fan, and for some reason, I've bamboozled them into letting me be in this show.

"The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power" premiers on September 2. This will be the first of five seasons that will chart several of the greatest stories of the Second Age of Middle-earth history.

This interview was edited for clarity.