It’s the theatrical equivalent of a DVD extra: Every so often, Fathom Events supplements a movie experience with something special and exclusive—a Q&A with the talent involved with the film the audience has just watched on their network of event cinema screens.
Last night, the film was Tolkien, the Fox Searchlight biopic of the formative years of J.R.R. Tolkien, the famed author of the fantasy classics The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Stars Nicholas Hoult (the X-Men films, Mad Max: Fury Road) and Lily Collins (Mirror Mirror) and director Dome Karukoski were interviewed live from the Montclair Film Festival in Montclair, NJ by Montclair resident and Tolkien super-fan Stephen Colbert. The event was a publicity coup for the growing Montclair fest, a pre-release boost for the film, and a special treat for Tolkien fans across the country. Colbert was his typically witty self, and he and Karukoski seemed to be in a friendly contest over who was the bigger Tolkien geek.
At a private reception before the Q&A, Finnish filmmaker Karukoski (Tom of Finland) shared his special connection with the subject of his first English-language film. “It’s something that catches me on a personal level. When I encountered [Tolkien’s] stories, I was 12, 13, and quite miserable. I was a loner, I was being bullied. I was growing up without a father, who I got to know later. And then these stories arrived in my life. I started The Lord of the Rings, then went to The Hobbit, then The Silmarillion. I’m this outsider, very poor, without a father, without basically friends. And then fast forward 30 years later, when I stumbled upon this story of friendship and this era of [Tolkien’s] life that is not so known. I felt like there was a destiny in it. He’s an outsider, he’s without a father, he’s very poor, and the need to find friends is very important to him. So I could relate to this character and understand him. And it was also an era that I didn’t know about, so it felt like this is exactly the [story] that needs to be told, because it shaped him so much.”
Karukoski noted that “my vision of [Tolkien] as a young boy was this privileged white man in Oxford, a professor living a rich life. But then you find out he was a poor orphan and he had to fight through social classes. You picture a totally different person at that point.
“Also, I get such inspiration from the TCBS [Tolkien’s fraternity of school friends]. How I wish I had such a friendship that would have inspired me at such a young age, wanting to change the world with art and inspire each other and loving the joy of life. I hope that when people see the film, they feel that joy of life.”
Hoult recalled being given The Hobbit to read as a child actor on the set of About a Boy, but he didn’t know much about Tolkien himself before being offered this project. “I was attracted to his work, but regardless of that this was a beautiful story of friendship and love and loss. The further I delved into his life and read his letters and recreated his drawings, the more I felt close to him.”
Collins, who plays Tolkien’s childhood love and eventual wife Edith Bratt, noted, “I was a huge fan of [Tolkien’s] work growing up in elementary school. I moved from the English countryside to Los Angeles when I was five, and I used to run around the woods pretending there were elves and fairies and other magical creatures, wanting to be one of the elves myself. And I did an audition for Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. Didn’t quite get it… So it was very at home for me to play a character like that. Little did I know that years later I’d end up playing the woman who inspired those characters.”
Colbert, who experienced great tragedy at age ten when his father and two brothers were killed in a plane crash, said, “Tolkien in some ways saved my life.” He remembered being so absorbed in The Fellowship of the Ring at 13 that he suddenly had to gasp for air. “I hadn’t been breathing for an entire page. I was so deeply in Tolkien’s story that I felt like I needed a snorkel.”
At the end of the Q&A, Colbert thanked the onstage trio “for the film you created. It reminds me of the power of story and how it can give us hope, and I will not say do not cry, as not all tears are evil. I cried many times watching this film, and I want to thank you for those tears of pain and those tears of joy and thank you for what you have given me of [Tolkien’s] life and for your beautiful performances.”