Sitting at the end of the row of talent at a press conference in New York last week, Andy Serkis looks pleased but also removed, like a proud father who wants to let his kids be the center of attention. Part of that's a function of his role in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. He returns to play Gollum in the film's best scene, the "riddles in the dark" scene with Bilbo, but he's not a function of the larger narrative the way he was in Lord of the Rings, and says as far as he knows, Gollum won't appear in the next two Hobbit films. But Serkis also had the new role of second assistant director on all three Hobbit films, which means he really is like a father of the entire story-- and along with Peter Jackson, one of the key figures in helping bring Middle Earth back to life for a new trilogy.

"It was only four weeks before going down to reprise the role of Gollum that Pete asked me to be second unit, so it went from a two-week job to a year and a half," Serkis said at the press conference. When I spoke to him later I asked if there were mistakes he made as an actor stepping behind the camera-- like trying to over-direct the performances or making assumptions only an actor would-- he explained that his background making short films was plenty of preparation. Some actors need different levels of support than others, he told me, and as an actor it's easier to know that-- even when you're directing scenes that are full of CGI trolls, or shooting from a camera on a crane 50 feet above the action. Martin Freeman, speaking at the press conference, backed up Serkis's take by praising the sense of calm he brought to the set:

We weren't always aware of Andy's feelings, so we would go on to second unit, so we weren't always aware of how stressed you might be. [Speaking to Serkis] You did a good job of being diplomatic and making us feel good.

The iconic "riddles in the dark" scene, probably the most famous in The Hobbit and one of the best Tolkien ever wrote, was the first scene shot when production began, and Serkis admits it was a challenge to get back under Gollum's skin. "He's always been with me," he says of the character, who he's heard imitated by countless people and whose voice he'll do on command if you ask nicely. But he also worried about the cultural ubiquity of the character, and how Gollum may no longer belong entirely to him. "Am I just doing an impersonation of other peoples' impersonations?" he asked himself when he first stepped on set. After so many years of living in pop culture, could Gollum go back to being just inside one man?

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