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Ian Holm passed away on June 19, 2020 at the age of 88. A true legend of the stage and screen, many knew him best from his work in films like Alien and Ratatouille. But he is perhaps best known for his performance as Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series. It should come as no surprise that the director took a moment to reflect on his time with the actor, and his heartfelt tribute is a must-read.
Peter Jackson shared a long letter with his Facebook followers that details his memories of working with Ian Holm. Within the post, he shared several behind-the-scenes photos of their days on the Lord of the Rings set, which added an extra personal touch to the memorial. He began by offering his abiding memory of the beloved actor:
Ian was such a delightful, generous man. Quiet, but cheeky, with a lovely twinkle in his eye.
He then shared that although he was initially nervous about directing such a prolific artist, Ian Holm was a joy to work with, not only because his performance was so good but because he was up front about how he liked to work:
Back in early 2000, before we started shooting our Bilbo scenes for The Fellowship of the Ring, I was nervous about working with such an esteemed actor, but he immediately put me at ease. Standing in Bag End on the first day, before cameras started rolling, he took me to one side and said that he would be trying different things in every take, but I shouldn’t be alarmed. If, after five or six takes, he hadn’t given me what I needed, then by all means I should give him specific direction.
And that’s exactly what we did. But incredibly his varied line reads and performances were all quite wonderful. He rarely needed direction. He gave us an amazing range of choices to select from in the cutting room.
Peter Jackson shared several stories about their time on the Lord of the Rings set, including a sweet anecdote about a challenging day on set. While they were filming the party scene in The Fellowship of the Ring, the director called on Ian Holm to help corral the child actors that Bilbo reads to. That meant he had to constantly change how he was reading the story to keep their reactions fresh. It also meant he had to do some behind-the-scenes work:
We also needed the kids to stay in place while we quickly moved the cameras around, from one angle to another. On a film set, “quickly” means 15 - 20 minutes. So, while this was happening, and no cameras were rolling, I whispered to Ian that he was going to have to keep them entertained. I helpfully suggested that he could, “tell them other stories between shots”. And that’s exactly what he did. After a couple of hours, we shot everything we needed.
The Lord of the Rings director also did not hold back in praising Ian Holm for being willing to reprise his performance as Bilbo in The Hobbit series. He shared the lengths they went to so they could record his performance - moving the set from New Zealand to London to accommodate the actor’s needs. It turned out to be his last on-screen role:
In the finished movie, I hope that audiences just see Ian Holm reprising Bilbo. But what I experienced on set was a wonderful actor delivering his last performance. It was incredibly brave of him to do that, and very emotional for those who witnessed it.
Peter Jackson ended his letter with an emotional reflection on how much Ian Holm, and his portrayal of Bilbo, meant to him, personally:
Watching Ian Holm perform taught me so much - as Ian was being his usual quiet self, that just somehow happened.
It was a privilege to work with him, and a blessing to know him. I’ve always loved Ian’s performance in the final scenes of Return of the King.
“I think I’m quite ready for another adventure.”
Farewell, dear Bilbo. Safe travels, darling Ian.
Ian Holm is survived by his wife, Sophie de Stempel and his children. He will be missed by fans all around the world.