Death and destruction are mere moments away in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and few know this better than Alfrid Lickspittle, the power-hungry adviser to the Master of Lake-town whose chief skill is ensuring his own survival.
One of the characters created for director Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of the beloved fantasy novel, Alfrid was introduced in the second film, The Desolation of Smaug, where he stirred the pot for his employer (Stephen Fry) and stood in the path of Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans).
Reprising his role as the sycophantic councilor in the trilogy’s finale, The Musketeers actor Ryan Gage spoke with SPINOFF about his unique casting process, Alfrid’s rivalry with Bard and playing a “dark clown.”
Spinoff: Were you a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-earth before landing the role of Alfrid?
Ryan Gage: Absolutely, I was. My mum actually read me The Hobbit
You were originally offered a different part. Can you talk about that experience and how this one eventually came about?
I originally auditioned for Alfrid. That was the first role I read for. Then they tried me out in different roles. I think they knew I could play other types of people. Eventually, they wrote the part of Drogo for me, but then they decided I was right for the first part I auditioned for. I was recast as Alfrid, despite having been told I was going to play Drogo. I was thrilled because I thought that was the best part for me anyway and the one I really wanted to do.
I went for four auditions over about a year. I found out later that they were always planning on putting me in the film from quite early, from my first take. They just wanted to make sure they found the right thing for me. I wish they had told me. I wouldn't have been quite so nervous.
You’ve described Alfrid as a "dark clown." Care to elaborate on that?
He's certainly a villainous character, but he's not evil. He's not in the same league as Sauron or the orcs. He's not the part of the world of real evil. He's a bit of a villain, which is where his darkness comes from. He's selfish, self-absorbed, greedy and ruthless. But, there's something vain, proud and ultimately sad about Alfrid, which is clownish. And his relationship with the Master is clownish.
What was your impression of Alfrid's wardrobe? There seemed to be a jester vibe to it.
Yeah, I'm sure that was very conscious. The idea is he is a servant. I think he was officially employed as a councilor, but the Master is so greedy and tight that he doesn't want to spend any money on anything. He only employed one councilor, and this one councilor has to serve him dinner.
This costume gives him some elements of his servitude and that of a comic sidekick with clownish elements. It's all been thought about by much cleverer, much more design-creative people than me.
How collaborative of a process was it bringing Alfrid to life?
Writers and directors and creative people like Peter [Jackson] and Fran [Walsh] and Philippa [Boyens] are brilliant at making you feel terribly collaborative. I always felt like I had huge contributions to make. I would come up with ideas. Some of them were accepted and some were rejected. Everyone was very open. Ultimately, they were in complete control. It's totally their vision. I think they genuinely want to hear your opinion. That's why they hired you. At the same time, they always knew what they wanted and probably drew me to that place.
What do you believe was Alfrid's beef with Bard?
The real beef is the Master is envious of a threat to his power and a potential threat to a payday. Alfrid's job is to protect the Master in this capacity. Whether he has any real personal affection for the Master is irrelevant. The Master is the most powerful man in the town. Alfrid's job is to eliminate threats. That's what keeps a roof over his head and keeps him alive. The people are starving in Lake-town and this is a perfect way of surviving. I don't think it's anything personal against Bard. Alfrid may think he's too good-looking for his own good. Bard is just an obstacle.
The last movie ended with Smaug descending on the town. Where do things pick up for Alfrid?
As you remember, I'm in that town. We find ourselves in Lake-town ready for Smaug. So, it begins. All hell is let loose. Alfrid goes on quite a journey to try and survive and keep alive. I'm afraid I'm not allowed to say much more than that. It's certainly good fun along the way. Alfrid is a determined survivor. That's his intention in life. We'll see how successful he is. He may win out or he may not.
How was it filming those big chaotic scenes with everything going on?
You've got brilliant people working on the movie. Peter Jackson is an extraordinary brain dealing with so many things at the same time, watching multiple screens, people coming up to him with models of sets that need to be built the next week, and also the costumes and weaponry. He has to give his approval to various things. Then he says, "Action" on a scene. Then maybe there's green screen going on in a different studio. He also had great people around him, so it's a very disciplined, well-oiled machine. Within that as an actor, you can have fun and spontaneity. You're also working and there to get it right.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is in theaters now.