The impact of “The Lord of the Rings” seems to span generations and continents.
Just ask Ismael Cruz Cordova, one of the stars of “The Rings of Power,” the mega-prequel that starts Thursday (Sept. 1) on Amazon Prime.
“I grew up in Puerto Rico, in houses with mud floors,” he told the Television Critics Association, “and experienced so many hardships in my life …. I saved all my money to buy my first DVD, ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ I felt myself in there. I felt the spiritual and emotional connection.”
His own background is far removed from that of the “Rings” creator: J.R.R. Tolkien was mostly home-schooled in rural England by his mother, until her death when he was 12. He went to prep schools, graduated from Oxford and later taught there.
Ensconced in academia, Tolkien reached into his boyhood memories to create worlds that a Puerto Rican kid might relate to.
“It hits you on this mythological level – this really primal, emotional, spiritual level,” said JD Payne, who runs the series with Patrick McKay.
That helps it span centuries, Nazanin Boniadi said. “It’s timeless. It’s universal …. Our characters are archetypes of the most basic human dilemmas.”
She plays Bronwyn, a human who is a healer and an apothecary owner. Cordova plays Arondir, a Silvan Elf who has a forbidden love for her.
They’re part of a widespread cast: Boniadi grew up in England, but was born in Iran … Makim Baldry (who plays Isiildur, a sailor-turned-warrior), grew up in England, but first spoke his mother’s Russian language … Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Queen Miriel) grew up in the U.S., with a mother from Ghana … Owain Arthur (Prince Durin IV) and Morfydd Clark (Galadriel, a royal Elf warrior) are Welsh … Markella Kavenagh (Nori Brandyfoot, an adventurous harfoot) is Australian.
This diverse group converged in New Zealand. Addai-Robinson had been there before, for the “Spartacus” series, where she worked entirely inside studios, with “green-screen” special effects. This time, large parts of her domain were constructed.
“Numenor is like a fully built, fully functioning city, with a dock and boats and other elements,” she said. It “felt like a real world within Middle Earth.”
She also got to use the landscape. On her first day, she was on a “mountain top, somewhere in the South Island of New Zealand …. I’d never been on a helicopter before.”
Most of this will feel new, even to Tolkien buffs, because it doesn’t appear in the “LOTR” trilogy. “It’s based on the appendices (and) poems and songs and stories and half-whispered rumors and histories that are found sort of scattered throughout the text,” Payne said.
The trick was to dig through it all and turn it into a story, McKay said. “We really immersed ourselves in this literature and this world for the past three, four years …. When you’re telling a story in a world as vast and complex … as this one, it’s really important to keep yourself anchored to a mother and daughter, a couple of friends, or a father-son or a husband and wife.”
That’s how Cordova sees it. “You can’t really concern yourself with the largeness of it all,” he said. “You have to find the essence of your role.”
He’s been doing that since moving from Puerto Rico to New York after high school. His breakthrough, almost a decade ago, was as Mando, one of the “Sesame Street” Muppets. He went on to do one season of “Berlin Station” and another (as a boxing champion turned killer) of “Ray Donovan.” Then he traveled to New Zealand, to the mythical Southlands and to the daydreams of his youth.