‘The Power Rings’ Morfydd Clark as Action Hero Defends Galadriel: ‘Her Peace Is Hard Won.’
“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” is the biggest TV show ever, with a record-breaking budget spent recreating J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth during the Second Age, and a cast of nearly two dozen series regulars and dozens more featured players deployed to enact its sprawling tale of Sauron’s rise. (The Rings of Power everything you need to know)
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Despite this, one figure stands out at the heart of the show: Galadriel. Cate Blanchett portrayed the ancient elf, who was born before the moon and sun first visited Middle-earth, in Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” novels and Peter Jackson’s “Rings” trilogy.
A younger Galadriel is not yet the peaceful and wise co-ruler of the Elven kingdom of Lothlórien in “The Rings of Power,” which takes place thousands of years before the events of “The Lord of the Rings.” Instead, she is absorbed with her search for the Dark Lord Sauron, the curiously missing lord of evil who is responsible for Galadriel’s brother’s death. Galadriel is toughened by the millennia she’s previously lived, but she’s not yet the stately (and formidable) lady of height she becomes in the Third Age in “Rings of Power.”
Morfydd Clark (“Saint Maud”) manages to capture all of the character’s aspects. Variety journalist Caroline Framke compliments Clark’s “arresting gravity” in her review, writing that “tasked with making Galadriel equal parts voice of reason and fighting hero, Clark proves the series’ most consistent constant.”
Clark, a lifetime Tolkien enthusiast owing to her parents, recognises the significance of Galadriel. “My friends are all huge ‘Lord of the Rings’ fans, and I have to tell you, they describe her a lot,” she says to Variety. “She’s a living legend; a living myth.”
Clark, however, claims that it wasn’t until she decided to join “The Rings of Power” — and landed in New Zealand in the autumn of 2019 to begin filming the first season — that she discovered from showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay that she had been cast as Galadriel. Because of the epidemic, the event turned into a nearly two-year odyssey, stretching the now 33-year-old well beyond what she thought were her own capabilities. She spoke with Variety about preparing for Galadriel’s numerous stunts, how her Welsh upbringing helped her with Tolkien’s Elvish language, what it was like to spend so much unexpected time in New Zealand, and what she would tell Tolkien fans who were astonished to see Galadriel as a ferocious warrior.
When did you realise you were in the running to portray Galadriel throughout the audition process?
Even when I landed in New Zealand, I had no idea I was portraying Galadriel. I was aware that I was portraying an elf. I could tell it was the Second Age. My sister and I were reading through it all, and I assumed I was Celebran, her daughter, since I couldn’t see it being Galadriel. So I travelled to New Zealand not knowing who I was playing, which now seems ridiculous. Everyone in the cast did the same thing. We all kind of jumped into this frenzy together and ran into each other down there.I didn’t find out who I was playing until I arrived, and I definitely had to re-calibrate. I still can’t believe who I’m portraying.
How much did you know about Galadriel’s background before you found out you were portraying her?
I’d read “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” but I’d never read “The Silmarillion.” I had no idea what she’d gotten herself into. Tolkien portrays Galadriel as putting her hair up into a crown with a plait before going into combat. I was thinking, wow, this opens up so many possibilities. Tolkien also revised his view about Galadriel, which makes her more intriguing. I grew preoccupied with why Tolkien needed Galadriel to be so at the time. I believe he became more in love with her as he grew older, and so there’s a fluidity to her character.
In only the first two episodes, you’re climbing, battling, swimming, and diving deep into the sea. Did you have any idea your job would be so physical?
No. That took me by surprise. I’ve never considered myself to be a natural at it. I have dyslexia. Because I was terrible at writing, I was given additional time in tests. So I honestly believed I couldn’t accomplish all of it. The folks that worked with me were great in convincing me to do so. That I was doing all of these things is a tribute to them. The stunt department was incredible, not only in terms of what they physically taught us, but also in terms of your mind blocking [that you can do it]. I believe that everyone would benefit from learning from New Zealand’s stunt teams. On this job, we’d all be more happier if education was like stunt school.
What exactly did you do to prepare? What exactly was the procedure?
Every morning, we’d start with three hours of stunts, which would include general strength, flexibility, and, of course, swords. And there were times when there were about 20 of us there and we’d study a sword battle and then execute it like a group of elves, which was very entertaining. We had an outstanding personal trainer named Matt, whom I occasionally despised. But I believe that’s a necessary aspect of being a competent personal trainer. I did a lot of climbing, which I enjoy doing anyhow. It’s helpful to have one thing you’re learning that you’re already really excellent at. Otherwise, you could feel a little down. Then there’s swimming. I assumed I could swim, but after my first session, I realised I was incorrect and should never have gone into the sea. But, due to Trent Bray, I can now swim.
How did you find using the Elvish language into your performance?
So I went to a Welsh-language school, where everything is taught in Welsh. Welsh is phonetic, making it ideal for dyslexics. When I started learning English in third grade, I was thinking, “What is this?” My Tolkien-obsessed mother was quite proud of and passed on to us the fact that Tolkien was influenced by Welsh. So, strangely, his writings have served as a badge of pride for me, since the Welsh are obsessed with the Welsh and everything Welsh. It was fantastic to portray a multilingual character. And, yes, I believe it served me well.
Some people envision Galadriel as this majestic queen of the woods who isn’t as physical as you are on the show. What would you say to people who are startled or dubious of Galadriel’s portrayal in “The Rings of Power”?
I would say that her serenity is hard earned. I don’t think you get to that level of wisdom without going through things. She actually speaks about [how] with wisdom, there is a loss of innocence, which was a really good thing for me to find in the lore. Because, like, how young are you when you’re still thousands of years old? So it was thinking of what innocence she lost during this time. The elves by the Third Age have evolved to a certain degree. The elves in the First Age are really messy and screw each other over a lot, and fight and mock each other also. They are the history of Middle Earth, and so they are forever changing. It was really interesting for all of us playing canon characters to be exploring how these characters become what we know them to be.
The project is such a huge commitment — the showrunners have stated that they intend to do a 50-episode series. All of my questions were designed with the assumption that you knew more coming into the show, so how much of that committment influenced your decision to produce “The Rings of Power”?
Yeah, I had no idea. When you’re auditioning for something like this, you never know whether you’ll get it, so you don’t worry about such things. Personally, I refuse to allow myself to fantasise or daydream since it causes me to become overly attached to everything I audition for. I guess I’m still getting used to what this implies. The following several weeks will be crucial in that regard, but also somewhat relieving. You create things to be viewed and appreciated. It’s past time for it to happen with this. But I guess I’ll need another acclimatisation time.
How long were you in New Zealand from beginning to end?
It was supposed to be nine months, but it ended up being from October 2019 to August 2021 in New Zealand. Almost two years.
So, how did you pass the time?
We didn’t have much time to waste because we were so busy. I was quite fortunate to be able to go across the South Island, which was simply incredible. I mean, in New Zealand, you’re always in a state of wonderful bliss. That was crucial since the Elves are preoccupied with nature. Beauty is such an important element of their soul and what they view as a purpose to exist. So that was incredibly motivating. I made a lot of crafts. I was also fortunate to make incredibly wonderful friends with my neighbours, who took me under their wing. You know, I didn’t expect to feel like I was moving away from home again when I returned from New Zealand. And it was — well, sure. [A lengthy pause.] I consider myself quite fortunate to have been welcomed so warmly into New Zealand.
Finally, you stated before that you believed you were cast as Galadriel’s daughter. Is it possible that we may see clues of her meeting her spouse and having a daughter in the Second Age this season?
Galadriel’s family is an important aspect of her identity. There are five seasons, and much will be discovered.
This interview has been trimmed and reduced for clarity.