Flashbacks and little memories of a fabulous experience – playing Ivorwen of the Dunedain in ‘Born of Hope

February 2004 – I see a posting on the Shooting People casting website from actor/film-maker Kate Madison.

Kate has recently set up Actors at Work Productions based in Cambridge. She is planning to shoot a short film related to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in March 2004 for an exhibition in Seattle in May 2004. It will be shot at the reconstructed Anglo Saxon village at West Stow and will follow the story of the Dunedain before the return of the King, focusing on the lives of Arathorn and Gilraen, the parents of Aragorn.

Among the characters listed is the role of Ivorwen, the mother of Gilraen. I’m interested, and write to Kate.

Later, there’s another announcement. It seems Kate has been amazed by the interest her first email had caused. She says “ this project has snowballed from a small ‘that’ll be fun’ idea into a major project …the response from the Shooting People email alone has been fantastic, if a little scary…’

Things quieten down and for a while I hear nothing. Then comes another Shooting People call announcing the project is going forward, and I let Kate know that I still want to be a part of it all.

November 13th 2005 – I’m in a church hall in London, pacing up and down, waiting for my audition. It’s the scene where Ivorwen persuades her husband Dirhael to let their daughter marry Arathorn and so begin the whole story of their son, Aragorn. Just Kate and myself, nobody else there, with Kate reading in and also videotaping the audition [it later turns up in one of the many podcasts].

February 2006 – a message on my answerphone from Kate asking if I’d like to accept the part – that’s a yes please.

April 2nd 2006 – Thomas and I are on a train from Brighton to Cambridge heading for West Stow Anglo Saxon Village where I’m to join the production for just one day filming a trailer for BoH. Usually a trailer is created from material taken from the main film, but this is different – cast and crew are spending a few days there filming a trailer in advance to create interest for the main project.

West Stow is an extraordinary place, an Anglo Saxon village recreated from the archaeological remains on the original site. Solid wooden houses, trees and huge skies, thatched roofs, pigs and chickens, it’s perfect for the Dunedain village of Taurdal. When I arrive there are costumes and props everywhere, makeup artists, wardrobe people, actors and crew milling about in the main building. A moment’s panic when I think I can’t get into my costume – the sleeves have got caught up in the overdress… into hair and makeup [the ‘natural look’], then up to the main village to film the scene with Andrew MacDonald, the actor playing my husband. [ A few weeks later we are at the National Theatre to see him play the lead role in The Royal Hunt of the Sun, as Alun Armstrong’s understudy.] Meet lots of cast and crew members. Film the scene with Andrew. Then back on the train to Brighton.

[Thomas videotaped much of the day and later cut footage of the trailer shoot into a short documentary.]

Then once more it all goes quiet …

April 1st 2007 – Kate announces that it’s all starting up in earnest again.

September 13th 2007 – the new script arrives! In rather an understatement Kate says “as you see it’s changed quite a lot since the little trailer shoot version…” We have a new writer on board, Alex K Aldridge from the USA. Kate needs to know if everyone still wants to be part of the film, and I say a definite yes.

September 26th 2007 – I hear that RC Annie Ltd, a dramatic fight training and performance company, are offering BoH members the chance to take a series of basic fight training classes in London, and I decide that although Ivorwen doesn’t actually fight in the film, I’ll take the plunge. I haven’t done any weapons training, but am determined that I’m going to take this chance.

October 11th 2007 – My first fight workshop! Learn how to do punch-ups and thoroughly enjoy it. Will be attending workshops every week for the next two months, working with various swords, falling and rolling, quarterstaff, expressing pain, acting the fight … It’s a brilliant course for anyone trying it for the first time. Also go to several other workshops for BoH people, but I’m surprised how few take up the chance to go. Kate and Chris Dane are regulars so I get to know them well before filming starts, which I really welcome.

It was a great time, looking back, lots of fun and very good for confidence even though it’s a difficult thing to be constantly trying something new each week with others who are already practised at it. Well, I worked and learned at my own pace.

February 24th 2008 – BoH script read-through at Framestore in central London. The full developed script being read by all the cast pretty much together for the first time. I have a few lines in Sindarin, the elf language. The narration is provided by Daud, a young actor who features as Daniel Craig’s first 00-qualifying kill at the beginning of Casino Royale. Some of this script-reading features as a podcast on the main Born of Hope website.

July 5th 2008 – to Westbourne Grove Church in Notting Hill, London, for a costume fitting, and to meet some of the wardrobe team.

Call sheets and instructions and advice coming quite often now – it’s all hotting up, four years on from the first inklings of the project on the internet, it’s really going to happen.

July 14th 2008 – Thomas and I travel to Bury St Edmunds. We have booked a b&b and are treating this as our holiday this year, so spend a few days exploring the old town.

July 16th 2008 – My first day of filming the summer scenes. I’ve researched the character of Ivorwen, and although she doesn’t feature in the LOTR which is set a generation later, there are just a few paragraphs in the appendix which mention her. Although she has a small part to play in the history of Middle Earth, her persuading her husband to allow Gilraen to marry Arathorn will have great consequences. This little scene in the Appendix is dramatised in “Born of Hope.”

And I’m sitting in makeup on day one, very pleased to be told that although it wasn’t originally scheduled they would like me to be in the scene following the birth of the baby Aragorn. I’m handed a new speech to learn while in makeup. Apparently this speech comes from one of Tolkein’s letters with information about Ivorwen that does not feature in the Lord of the Rings books. It’s perfect for this scene; Ivorwen can foretell the future and at the baby Aragorn’s naming she says that she can see a green stone on his breast.. This green stone will be given to him years in the future by Galadriel, Queen of the Elves, and he will also be known as Elessar, the name of the stone.

It’s lovely being in the little Anglo Saxon house, actors and crew all crammed in, with very well behaved baby Robert [‘Bobble’]. Strangely quiet and peaceful, too.

Filming all over the week, doing crowd scenes as well as the dialogue scenes, and of course I get a cold [quite a lot of us do]. It feels like hundreds of people milling around, cast, crew and background artistes, and the public are still coming in to the Village, all very interested in what’s going on. The Village has come alive, it must look very like it would have done in Anglo Saxon times with all the props, costumes and characters around. I meet lots of actors and background artistes, and discover that re-enactors exist – we have Viking and Saxon re-enactors in the cast who all have their own costumes, swords and kit. Some have driven over from Germany to join in. It’s a revelation. Sometimes it’s very hot and sunny, sometimes pouring with rain and we all have to rush for cover to protect the costumes.

Back to the hotel every evening very tired, we have accumulated about eight hours of background video by the end of the week.

A series of fragments:

A frisson runs through the makeup trailer at the leathery sort of stamping sound from outside, and the Rangers arrive – first sight of them all together, and it’s fabulous! All looking incredibly romantic and glamorous in long flappy coats, cloaks, swords, long hair flying … then not quite so fab seeing some of them having their wigs peeled off leaving their own hair all screwed up in little bobbles …a few of them come with their own hair though. ‘Ork’, Viking re-enactor and Ranger, is a bit put out when a make up artist asks him to come over so she can fix his wig … he isn’t wearing one …

Jack Butler, first encountered grating toast into a bucket, steps in to save the catering situation as well as acting, stunt fighting and fight coaching the kids

Dagr, re-enactor and Ranger, carving spoons and toys for the kids and at the last minute taking on the role of the Storyteller in the great hall scene. Then saying ‘Tonight Arathorn, this is your life! Do you remember this voice: ASH NAZ KRIMPALUK…’ and getting a huge laugh.

Then after the storytelling scene, the great hall full of people in near darkness sitting quietly together so Mark the sound man can record the sound of silence. [he’s forever to be known as ‘Boots’ because of the bright pink wellies he wore for the whole shoot]

Chris Dane being told by a member of the public ‘oo you look just like that Virgo Morganstein…’

Chris playing slow motion troll attack with little Luke, who’s playing Aragorn

Andrew standing in the village having dirt thrown over his costume and boots by the makeup girls to make him look grubbier, and remarking that some men pay a fortune for that sort of thing…

.. and asking why is it that as soon as he starts his Elvish language coaching session there is a background material camera up his nose?

Wardrobe lady Kay who couldn’t look more elvish if she tried – until she puts on a pair of elf ears and wears them the whole of the rest of the shoot. We capture her voice on the background material saying “if I was an earwig I’d WANT someone to squish me.!”

Bede the medic being lured into the trailer on the day of the wedding scene, and dressed up in Andrew’s costume and wig to stand in for him as my husband. I have to drag him about in the wedding dance scene, ensuring his face doesn’t get seen.

The crowns intended for the wedding scene have got caught up in Customs so Kay hand stitches headdresses with corn ears and flowers for Chris and Beth to wear .. they look beautiful, so in keeping with the mood of the film.

Two separate gangs of cockerels that roam the village and never ever mix … it gets like West Side Story, sometimes…

Our little Aragorn, Luke [on being picked up and swung around for the umpteenth time by Halbarad in the banner scene], shouting ‘yeah, that was a GOOD one!’

Some of the lady background artistes secreting a wine box onto the location and getting steadily more merry as the day goes on

Two makeup girls moving their tent to get away from the extras’ snoring next door and waking up the next day to find another lot have pitched a tepee right next to them

Seeing a poor little dead deer on the road, casually mentioning that I could imagine Arathorn carrying it over his shoulder – and then watching the ‘boys’ stride off to collect it. It is christened Fang and is featured in a shot as the result of a day’s hunting, before being buried. A good life and a clean end to it.

Terrible withdrawal symptoms over the next few months, that place and the story we’re telling has really had an effect on me.

August 10th 2008 – information about the Autumn and Winter shoots starting to come through. Happy to see that I’ll be needed at Epping Forest and West Stow.

September 14th 2008 – Fight workshop in Islington, London, with cast, background artistes and orcs. Very happy to see some old friends, including Beth Aynsley [Gilraen] and Amani Johara. The work is a lot of fun and very taxing as ever.

October 23rd 2008 – To Debden House, Epping Forest, for Autumn filming.

First Assistant Director Chris Carrico giving lifts up to the Epping Forest location calls his car Thunderbird 2 because it’s big, green and carries everything. Driving up the track through incredible autumn colours, discussing poetry – where two tracks converge, Chris mentions a Robert Frost poem [The Road Not Taken] he’s reminded of. I mention the poet Robert Service because we’d seen Ken Campbell base an entire act around the poem ‘The Cremation of Sam McGee’ – and Chris instantly recites it. We’d met Ken in Edinburgh while doing Fanny Hill and had met up with him again in Brighton at a performance. Ken passed away around this time, at Edinburgh, but he had lived in Epping Forest and he’s much missed.

At the end of the day we’re finishing the ‘dragging the cart through the forest’ scenes as the light falls. It’s ridiculously dark by then and we struggle through the brambles trying to find the way back to the path shouting ‘helloooo,’ and the runners turn the car headlights on to guide us back in.

Later, it’s freezing cold. We’re all booked into little bedrooms in the centre, but Ranger James Smith is bravely camping out. I see several people gathered round his camp fire – they say they’re burning cheap biscuits as they are cheaper than fuel. Orc Richard offers a G&T. He’s brought ice cubes! How civilised. I collect wine bottle, groundsheet and pillow and join them, confessing to everyone’s amazement that this is the first time I’ve ever sat at a campfire.

Makeup artist Allie takes lots of campfire photos with impressive smoke effects. James shows his ‘evil elf eyebrows’ impression.

There’s a discussion about chain mail – Richard produces his re-enactment chain mail and drapes it over Allie, who has till then been highly confused thinking they were talking about chain letters.

Later still when the cold has driven everyone indoors there’s a knocking at the window and Jonathan Peck from Norton Armouries has arrived. We all pile out to help unpack the car and bring the armour into the front room, all over the floor, it looks amazing; polyeurethane made to look like metal and leather.

Saturday 25th October 2008 – We have more orcs today and Lewis who will be doing my ‘husband’ Dirhael’s stunts. Lewis is brilliant, playing Dirhael being overwhelmed by orcs over and over again, then going into luvvie darling actor mode to make people laugh. He seems to be experiencing trouble with his acrylic hair, though; it keeps flying into his mouth as he fights.

Richard starts singing ‘Start spreading the news …. New Orc New Orc’ performed impromptu with one of the orc girls – sounds very good, and he does a fine Tom Jones, too.

Meet orc Sam Parry. She decides her hair looks far too neat, so instead of disturbing makeup artists, she picks up a clod of Epping Forest mud and smears it on. She says she’ll leave it in for tomorrow and sleep on a towel. A pro!

Later everyone goes off to fight in a different area and they ask me to stay behind and guard the site. So I pick up litter, tidy up, listen to the faint sounds of mayhem from everyone else in the distance, and generally reflect on the glamour of filmmaking. Wish I had a book.

Sunday 26th October 2008 – Everyone in surprisingly good mood, despite rain and early start. Maybe because not too cold. About fifty people, a terrific fight team of orcs [about 2/3 of them girlies, although you can’t really tell], Rangers in full cloaky booty swordy mode – and us, the family with the cart carrying the body of our deceased son who are attacked by the orcs and saved by the Rangers [think that’s the right way round]. The ground is a quagmire and the poor orcs get very soggy because of rolling about on the ground but the atmosphere’s very positive, funny, bawdy, happy. At one point Nicky [costume] looking for a belt asks one of the orcettes “do you still have your strap on?” – cue everyone screaming with laughter.

All fighting today, orcs thundering down the track towards the camera, orcs and Rangers doing set-piece fighting among the trees and orcs clambering over massive fallen dead trees. Then my bit being menaced trapped by the cart holding sword and surrounded by orcs [they’re all girls – the Middle Earth Women’s Institute gone bad …] Not allowed to do any actual fighting whatsoever. Feel slightly sorry about that, mixed with relief – the sword I’m using had been taken away overnight to have the point ground down a bit, as it was probably the most dangerous item on the entire set. Then I do the bit from the beginning of the scene with the arrow being shot past my head [Kate does the honours]. Josh does his three-arrow-hit stunt fall over and over, then the arrows are screwed into a plate attached to his chest. Funny bit when Ruth the RC Annie fight director tries to help him up and he plays deadweight and won’t move. It’s amazing to be able watch the actors, fight and stunt performers working their fight scenes so close up, they are superb.

Encounters with rambler groups, dog walkers, cyclists, joggers and horses add to the surreal mood – especially when one dog panics at the sight of an orc jumping out from behind a bush and attempts to go for her.

Walking back to base with photographer James and wardrobe assistant Amanda, we stop to photograph some atmospheric toadstools, then as I step back onto the track manage to slip on some mud and fall over [first time] but nobody else saw. I can’t really whinge as the orc girls have been chucking themselves about all day, but it’s a shock. Luckily I get a lift back down the track to Debden House.

Saturday 22nd November 2008 – A few weeks later it’s back to West Stow for more filming. It’s the night of Ivorwen’s son’s funeral pyre scene – it’s absolutely freezing. I arrive in the late afternoon and head for the costume store, which is one of the Saxon houses lit only by one maglite torch. Wardrobe mistress Kay and I put together a costume which I just pile on top of my own wellies, jeans and jersey, with a cloak and fur cape over the lot. I’m going to need every layer I can get away with.

Up to the great hall where there is a big fire burning, we all crowd round it together eating bread and cheese. Incredible sky, no clouds, blazing with stars in the pitch darkness. The funeral pyre is set beyond the line of trees with the smoke from the torches rising behind them, and we film the sad scene over several hours.

Between filming we go back to the hall in little groups to keep warm. Sword lady Lyndsay and Amylea who plays Young Maia tell Anglo Saxon riddles, Kay and Viking re-enactor Hrothgar sing folk songs by the fire, it’s magical.

The six Vikings are all camping together in sub zero temperatures in one huge pink tent! Me, I’m staying at a B&B with Amani.

Sunday 23rd November 2008 – it’s snowing and freezing cold when we wake up. The West Stow staff open up the café early to keep us all warm so I trek through the snow to the Vikings’ tent to invite them to come and sit in the warm. Then walking back I slip over on ice patch [second time…] Tea and mince pies in the café as the Vikings gradually wander in looking frozen – it had been four below, that night.
Again wearing jeans, wellies and jumper, with costume and fur cape over the top, so surprisingly nice and warm. Gorgeous light, blue and golden in the rapidly melting snow. Again, lots of companionable Anglo-Saxon huddling round the fire in between filming. We do the scene where Arathorn asks for Gilraen’s hand. I have no lines, just a ‘look’. A short day, and I leave as it gets dark.

Friday 28th November 2008 – A week later it’s back to West Stow. I arrive as it’s getting dark, expecting to begin filming tomorrow – then am unexpectedly and happily asked to take part in a brief night scene [leaving the great hall after the storyteller scene that we filmed months before in summer]. As it’s dark, arclit and a wide shot, I just borrow a big cloak over my own clothes for strolling out with Amani.

This weekend I’ve been allocated a room in the nearby Greyhound pub – I find I’ve got the only single, everyone else is sharing. I have a four poster bed, with white lace hangings! Luxury. At one point I hear voices coming from the bathroom and find several Vikings in there together solemnly counting the dolphin pictures and ornaments. Fish and chips and mead for supper. I admire the Viking costumes and learn that they make everything themselves and can sew, knit, do metalwork, embroidery, make boots, everything they need. So I ask if they can weave too – and am met with an appalled ‘Nooooo – that’s WOMEN’S WORK!”

Saturday 29th November 2008 – This weekend’s filming mostly centres round the death of Arathorn, and Gilraen departing for Rivendell with the elves and Aragorn. We have Matt and Sam Kennard, our twin elves, for the weekend and apparently all the makeup and costume girls get very girly and fluttery round them.

Amani, Beth and I do the scene where the mortally injured Arathorn is brought home, we see them arriving with him on a stretcher and run to them. It’s difficult to jump up in long skirt and wellies and I manage to fall over again – third time…

Sunday 30th October 2008 – Feeling very sad – the closeups for the death of Arathorn. Chris Dane seems to have spent most the weekend dying. Realise that Ranger Raphael’s wearing the dark fur cape I wore previously for the departure of Gilraen and he’s been wearing it the same way as I had – I wonder if the audience notices?

I leave before it gets dark for the long journey to Brighton, and as everyone else is still working away on the death scene, I don’t really get to say goodbye to anyone – and although I don’t know it now, this will turn out to be my very last day on Born of Hope.

December 13th 2008 – to London for a BoH party [Kate’s birthday too], meeting up with lots of people, watching clips, background videos and a scene from BoH’s little brother film The Hunt for Gollum. All very exciting! At the time, it seems likely I’ll be going back for some more scenes in February … but sadly as the year goes on, it’s not to be. Although there are more weekend shoots for others, that really is it for me.

To London for some additional dialogue recording at Michele Caruso’s home studio. I’m standing in big headphones as the shot where the arrow zips past my head is played over and over again, while I’m screaming ‘Dirhael!’ over and over again into the microphone to provide some versions to be dubbed in later. I wonder what the neighbours must think? A few more bits of dialogue, and the ADR session is completed. I catch up with Danny and Andrew who also turn up to do their bits – ships that pass in the night.

October 2009 sees a reunion at Debden House for an initial screening of the film so far, not completely edited and with some special effects to be added. About a hundred cast and crew gathering for a barbecue, huge campfire and outdoor screening, very much in the spirit of BoH. I wonder what the rest of the people camping out must think of it all? It gets colder and colder, stars coming out overhead and mysterious orange Chinese lanterns floating over the sky as the film plays.

It’s wonderful that we’ve made it after six years – the hard work of nearly four hundred people led by Kate, the heart and soul of the film, is about to become a reality. It’s been a great experience and I’m proud to have been a part of this extraordinary achievement.

December 1st 2009 – The finished film goes online and for a while it seems … that’s it.

January 24th 2010 – a cast and crew screening of the completely finished film at Framestore’s viewing cinema in London, and over dinner at Vapiano’s Italian restaurant Kate [now known as Kate Madison] says she’s going to be doing some more publicity for the film.

February 11th 2010 – six years after the original announcement for a little short film to be completed in just a few months came out on Shooting People, “Born Of Hope” hits international news headlines. All the major UK newspapers, television and radio news feature the film and Kate’s achievement, and it’s picked up on the internet round the world. Channel 4 news plays the clip of me fighting off the orcs during the attack on the family as the background to its short report.

Today, millions of people have viewed the film on the internet, and the Born of Hope website’s guest book is full of comments from people round the world who have watched the film.

Links:

You can read about the history and making of “Born Of Hope”, see podcasts, interviews and photographs and watch the film itself at www.bornofhope.com.

Internet news coverage:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1249966/Lord-Rings-fanatic-reaps-fruit-labour-self-funded-prequel-Born-Of-Hope-scores-500-000-views-internet.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturevideo/filmvideo/cinema-trailers/7204942/Born-of-Hope-trailer.html

http://www.mirror.co.uk/celebs/news/2010/02/11/low-budget-lord-of-the-rings-prequel-becomes-internet-sensation-watch-the-trailer-115875-22034893/

Comments from viewers:

“My wife & I watched this movie Wednesday night, then watched it with our 11 year old sons (twins) last night. We think you have done just a superb job. Thanks for your passion & commitment to quality. I love how the ladies stand to fight at the beginning – that is very moving. You should be very proud of the work you have done – every regard”
“My favourite ones were Arathorn, Dirhael, and Ivorwen of canon characters…
“I loved Ivorwen and Dirhael too…”
“Ivorwen’s lines about Aragorn’s name meaning Kingly Valour and the green stone. The director did the research!…”
“… how awesome Dirhael and Ivorwen were…”