“My head is spinning at the moment,” says JD Payne, as he sits down for an interview after a 35-hour transatlantic flight from Los Angeles to Mumbai.
The showrunner for Amazon Studio’s much-awaited and anticipated Lord Of The Rings: Rings Of Power brought the show and the cast to Mumbai for the first Asia-pacific Premiere. “I am now in India the place where I wanted to be and travel to for most of my life and to actually be here is absolutely amazing and to feel the spirit of the people and their excitement for the Rings Of Power I could not be more thrilled,” he says.
Set thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, Rings Of Power takes us back to Middle Earth but this time to explore the time and space of the ‘Second Age’ where we meet some familiar characters and many new faces.
With rights procured for a whopping $250 million, spanning across five seasons and filming nearly 50 episodes, this is Payne’s biggest and most challenging gig ever. Previously one of the uncredited writers on J.J Abrams‘ Star Trek and Beyond ( 2016) and a self-confirmed Tolkien Fan himself well aware of the Tolkien Fandom, he likened his situation to “Frodo setting out for the shire”, as he sits down for an exclusive interview With HELLO! India
“It was absolutely remarkable. We had a friend at Amazon who said he had got the rights to this material and invited us to offer our approach. We were talking about 9000 years of history and how do we portray the same? It was this huge wild creative playing field we had on hand. We were attracted to the ‘Second Age’ the forging of the ‘Rings Of Power’, the rise of the dark lord Souron the fall of Nùmenor and the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. As soon as we scratched around the area we got really excited that this is a story that deserves to be told and deserves the kind of resources Amazon wants to put into it. The more we developed it the more we realised we could do so much with it. It’s like excavating a fossil and you realise there is a whole dinosaur there and you bring him to life,” he adds, passionately.
As we meet the iconic characters Galadriel, Elrond, Isildur and track their backstories we are introduced to several new characters and the so-called predecessors of the Hobbits, ‘The Harfoots’, Payne admits that taking a deep dive into Tolkien’s universe was opening themselves to a world of possibilities since there is not much literature on the ‘Second Age’ it was left for them to create what it could be.
“There are a lot of things that Tolkien created he hinted at a culture speaking about the ‘Harfoots’ whom he described as ‘beardless and bootless’ they lived in holes were darker in the skin but he never named any Harfoot characters. So we thought let’s talk about that kind of society, the wandering days of the Hobbits thousands of years earlier. And on the other hand, what would characters like Galadriel and Elrond be like thousand of years before people met them and have known them from the adaptations they have seen it was a cool process.”
Well aware that comparisons with Peter Jackson’s universe are inevitable he answers simply that there is a lot to discover. But he is clear that this one is high on deep human emotions and when asked to describe which was an easier task Star Trek Or Rings of Power, Payne promptly responds with, “It’s a hard one they are very different but they mean a lot to their respective fan bases, one is a show of the heart the other is a show of the mind.”
When talking about his most challenging moment on set, he says, “You can’t go to a store somewhere and pull ‘Middle Earth’ out from a shelf the team has had to construct and build every leaf from scratch and scenes which would be easier to create in any other show are tough in The Middle Earth.”
Having shot the first eight episodes of the first season in New Zealand, the show has a massive star cast of known and a mix of unknown actors Morfydd Clark plays Galadriel in her younger year, Robert Aramayo as the young Elrond, Charles Edward as Celebrimbor, Maxim Baldry as Isildur, Lloyd Owen as Elendil.
The first episode premieres on September 2 on Amazon Prime and Payne feels the weekly drop of an episode keeps the momentum vis a vis a binge watch, “Tolkien was great at bringing people together hope the show does that too,” he says.
So what would he do if he had the Ring Of Power? “I would take it off!” says the excited show runner with a laugh.