Let’s be clear: if Hollywood mega-producer-turned-convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein had actually fired Peter Jackson as director of Lord of the Rings and replaced him with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s Quentin Tarantino, it probably wouldn’t have cracked the Top 100 of the most monstrous things the former Miramax head has ever done. But Weinstein did indeed threaten to take LotR away from Jackson and give it to Tarantino if Jackson didn’t condense J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy into a single, 150-minute movie.
This fact comes from The Independent’s wonderful new oral history of the making of the films, and came about because Peter Jackson had a first-look deal with Miramax when he was developing the Lord of the Rings movies. According to Jackson’s manager, Ken Kamins, Weinstein was initially down with Jackson’s plan to make multiple movies but ran afoul with Disney:
“Harvey was excited. We found that very encouraging and thought we’d have room to tell the stories, only we weren’t paying attention to the political dynamic between Miramax and Disney. Disney had set a budget cap on Miramax and Lord of the Rings was well in excess of what they could greenlight on their own. When Disney realised the budget and that we were going to shoot the films back-to-back, and the director was not exactly an A-list name, they made it very clear they were not on board. So then begun the very tortured process of Harvey not wanting to admit to the Disney pushback and then at the same time saying to Peter, ‘This is what you have to do.’”
The result was Weinstein turning into a huge, verbally abusive arsehole, as he so often did, and demanding massive changes to the project he’d previously approved. Again, from Kamins:
“Bob Weinstein suggested at one point that we kill three of the Hobbits. Disney didn’t want [the adaptation] and the relationship between Peter and Miramax soured. Harvey would go from acting empathetically to turning on a dime into Mr. Hyde and would threaten Peter. He’d threaten to get Quentin Tarantino to direct if Peter couldn’t do it in one film that was two-and-a-half hours — which was the exact opposite of what he initially told us he wanted.”
God only knows if Tarantino would have had any interest in making a Lord of the Rings movie, or what it would have turned out like, but things obviously worked out. Weinstein let Jackson shop LotR to other studios, which almost certainly had more to do with Disney not wanting to pay for an expensive epic from a largely untested director. Thankfully, New Line Cinema took the deal, and even suggested to Jackson that he turn his two-movie project into a trilogy.
The entire oral history is well worth a read, and filled with anecdotes from Ian McKellan, Elijah Wood, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, and more. My favourite is this one about known badass Sir Christopher Lee, who reportedly served in England’s Special Operations Executive during World War II, a top-secret organisation whose missions included sabotage, creating resistance armies in occupied territories, and assassination. This incredible tidbit comes from actor Dominic Monaghan, who played Merry in the movies: “I watched him once take a pen and throw it at a tree and it stuck into the tree like a knife.”
I think New Line Cinema producer Bob Ordesky describes him best: “Christopher Lee was the best dinner guest you’ll ever have. His most boring story is somebody else’s best story.”
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