The production of Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy has been exhaustively documented in the various featurettes and documentaries and commentary tracks that are a part of the home disc sets.
Yet what doesn’t get talked about a lot by the people involved are the earliest stages of the project, namely when other casting possibilities were floated and even tried out. One of the most well-known ones was the role of Aragorn, played by Viggo Mortensen ultimately in the final film.
As we know, “Queen of the Damned” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” star Stuart Townsend was initially cast in the role but Jackson rejected him after working with him briefly, claiming he wasn’t the right fit – Mortensen then hopping onboard and scoring much acclaim in the role.
Even before Townsend came onboard though another name was floated for the role – Russell Crowe. The NZ-born, Australian-raised actor was nearly at the height of his fame when “The Lord of the Rings” was shooting. He had “L.A. Confidential” and “The Quick and the Dead” under his belt, had just worked with Michael Mann on “The Insider”.
In an interview the other week on the Howard Stern Show to promote Showtime’s “The Loudest Voice,” Crowe was asked if the rumors were true that he turned down the role of Aragorn and he confirmed that not only was it true but he turned down a deal that would have included a 10% of the film’s gross. Stern himself claims to have done the math and said it was a deal that could have potentially been worth $100 million.
He also explained the reasoning behind why he turned down the role, and it wasn’t anything to do with feeling above the material. Rather he could tell it was reluctance on Jackson’s part and the studio rather than the filmmaker were the ones pushing for his inclusion:
“I didn’t think Peter Jackson actually wanted me on [‘Fellowship of the Ring’]. Because I think he was forced into talking to me, because there was a moment in time when everyone wanted me in everything. He’s a fellow New Zealander, and I can hear his voice. And so I’m talking to him on the phone, and it is like, I don’t think he even knows what I have done. I just knew that… my instinct was that he had somebody else in mind, which turned out to be Viggo, and he should be allowed to hire the actor that he wants.”
Ultimately things worked out for everyone – Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy went on to be a smash success, while Crowe ended up doing and then winning the Oscar for “Gladiator” and followed that up with “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”.