Scale Doubles In The Lord Of The Rings Movies: The Unseen Stars

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Kiran Shah? Brett Beattie? Names that might not be too familiar, but if you’ve watched The Lord Of The Rings movies, you’ll have seen them in action, even if it is not entirely obvious.

They are amongst a host of scale doubles used in the trilogy and a vital part of the production.

Turning JRR Tolkien’s epic novel into a movie brought with it many challenges. Not least because Middle Earth is home to so many races. Hobbits, dwarves, elves and men are all of different average heights. A hobbit is usually about 3’6’’, so how do you reflect that with your cast on screen?

Peter Jackson and his team used a variety of techniques so that, for example, Elijah Wood’s hobbit Frodo looked in proportion to Ian McKellan’s Gandalf. Alongside forced perspective (characters would appear to be parallel when in fact they were some distance apart, which would emphasise the difference in stature) and blue screen, the movies made extensive use of scale doubles. 

Scale Doubles Of The Hobbits

Each of the four principle hobbits and a dedicated double. Kiran Shah portrayed Frodo, Bhoja ‘BK’ Kannada was Sam, 12-year-old Martin Lenisson Gray played Merry and Praphaphorn ‘Fon’ Chansantor doubled as Pippin. 

In the featurette ‘The Fellowship Of The Cast’ (available on the extended edition DVDs/Blu Ray) the hobbit actors speak about the importance of the relationship between actor and double. Elijah Wood explains “We had these doubles on the movie, that were short people used to represent the hobbits for the wide shots”. He goes onto say “we as hobbits had to direct them, which is interesting”. This was so the scale actors would match the movements of the star actors. Wood was doubled by Kiran Shah, who has an impressive list of credits including Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Return Of The Jedi, Aliens and Titanic. Wood calls him “the lord of the scale doubles”. Viggo Mortensen describes him as “the sergeant, the ringleader, the disciplinarian. He ran a very tight ship” Shah would go onto double for Martin Freeman as Bilbo in the Hobbit movies.

Frodo - played by Elijah Wood and scale double Kiran Shah
Frodo – played by Elijah Wood and scale double Kiran Shah

Dominic Monaghan says of his double, a 12-year-old boy, “they chose him, cos Martin had this nervy, twitchy energy that Merry seemed to have at the start of the movie”. Like Wood, he emphasises how closely they had to work together, “we had to have a very intimate relationship with these people. They had to become us in miniature form”.

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Scale Double Of Gimli The Dwarf

One of the most interesting and prominent scale doubles on Lord Of The Rings was Brett Beattie, a 4’9’’ martial artist who doubled as Gimli for John Rhys-Davies. Beattie has been in the news recently after giving spoke about his experience making the movies for the first time, nearly 20 years after their release. Speaking to Polygon, he says he spent 189 days, or around 2300 hours, as Gimli. A number that was almost certainly more than originally envisioned because of the bad reaction that Rhys-Davies had to the makeup and prosthetics required for the role. 

Beattie overcame knee injuries and plenty of scrapes to push on in the role. Speaking on the same ‘Fellowship Of The Cast’ featurette Viggo Mortensen says of Beattie “Anytime you were tired, all you had to was look at him and what he was accomplishing. He was definitely an inspiration”. High praise indeed.

Scale double Brett Beattie with Orlando Bloom
Gimli scale double Brett Beattie with Orlando Bloom (credit – Polygon)

Sean Astin, who played Sam, goes into detail on this in his book There And Back Again: An Actor’s Tale “there was discussion about Brett getting a co-credit for the role of Gimli. He wasn’t the voice of Gimli and didn’t appear in close-ups of Gimli, but day in and day out, the amount of time he spent in makeup and on the set was sufficient to prompt consideration of a co-credit from the people who were with him on the set so much”. 

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That co-credit didn’t materialise but his importance to the role of Gimli and the regard he was held in by the cast is shown by his inclusion with the other actors who formed the ‘Fellowship’ in getting matching tattoos. John Rhys-Davies did not get one. 

Next time you watch The Lord Of The Rings look closely. If you see the back of a hobbit but not their face it might well be a scale double. Anytime you see Gimli running or fighting, there’s a good chance you are seeing Brett Beattie!

More Lord Of The Rings – Best Fights | Plot Holes | Amazon Show Preview

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