The Greatest Adventure: Some Considerations in Casting Bilbo Baggins

The Internet was all a thither yesterday with rumors that Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro had finalized casting for Bilbo in The Hobbit… with Tobey Maguire. The Twittersphere went bananas, and after a few hours, we heard directly from the source, and the directors assured the panic-ridden public that they were still a month away from finding their Bilbo.

Did you hear that collective sigh of relief? I know I did.

But all this speculation begs a few questions and brings to light some inherent issues with casting such a monumental role. The biggest problem with casting Bilbo is that he’s really the sole hobbit, and truly the most important role in the film. There’s no hobbit supporting cast this time around, no Pippin or Samwise. Sure, there’s a lot of dwarves, a dragon, and some familiar faces (we’ll see Ian McKellan as Gandalf and Hugo Weaving as Elrond again) but much of The Hobbit revolves around Bilbo’s solitary adventures as he gets separated from the group time and again.

At any rate, here are a few things I hope that the casting directors will take into consideration when casting Bilbo.

  • Age. No, Bilbo isn’t aged as in the Lord of the Rings films, but as of The Hobbit he’s 51. Which, by hobbit standards is really closer to your 30s (since they mature much slower, having their coming-of-age at 33). Still, since Bilbo is definitely an adult in the film, casting too young of an actor would be a certain detriment. Case in point with Tobey Maguire, who still looks like he’s about 12. Though, I should point out that theoretically Frodo should have been the oldest of the hobbits in the Lord of the Rings, and yet PJ opted for Elijah Wood (who I love, honestly) but was barely out of puberty when filming started. The purist in me is still irked.
  • Accent. As recently demonstrated in Avatar, sometimes an actor simply can’t shed their accent. Adding another accent on top of that only makes it more laughable (seriously, I could not take it). Bilbo has got to be English! Or at least, have had extensive training to sound English… I mean, really, really extensive. It’s grating otherwise. And as a born and bred Hobbiton aristocrat, Bilbo’s got to sound pitch-perfect. There’s a ton of rather hilarious dialogue in the books, and if it sounds like he’s talking with marbles in his mouth, I’m going to be gravely disappointed. In my mind, James McAvoy would be perfect for this, especially with his occasionally twitchiness (granted, he’s Scottish… but he can do just about any accent).
  • Size. Okay, so ever since I saw the behind the scenes footage with the hobbits and their stand ins on the extented Lord of the Rings DVDs, as well as the camera angles PJ used in the last film, the whole mystique has been ruined for me when it comes to size manipulation. I hate to say it, but every time I watch some of the far away shots in the Lord of the Rings, I just don’t buy it anymore (although the scene where Bilbo makes tea for Gandalf in Bag End continues to amaze me). So let’s make sure the actor is short enough to make for some more believable CGI magic. Though, with all the advances in the last decade or so when it comes to Weta, I’m not sure that’ll be so much of a concern.
  • Wit. Bilbo has got to have charm; he’s that blend of English country gentlemen and eccentric, and since he carries the whole film this really must be taken into consideration. Ian Holm was perfect as the older incarnation of Bilbo, but clearly they are looking to cast someone younger for the new film (if only CGI could reduce wrinkles more convincingly). Unlike Frodo, who takes his adventure with remarkable poise and bravery, Bilbo is literally dragged kicking and screaming along on his trip, descrying the loss of his handkerchief and wishing after various foodstuffs every step of the way. He’s an anti-hero who achieves much of his success rather unwittingly, though by the end learns to embrace it.
  • Warmth. Bilbo is absolutely the heart of the story, inasmuch as he’s the soft, squishy center of the company and a foil to Thorin Oakenshield’s hard exterior. These two must play well, of course, but Bilbo needs to have that sense of humility, self-doubt, and trepidation throughout the story that truly makes him the everyman (or, well, everyhobbit). It’s Bilbo’s heart that so often, inadvertently, brings him to heroic feats, and that must be portrayed well, or else the film will be a grave disappointment.

Personally I’m hoping they go with an unknown British actor on this one, but I know that won’t be the case. While there are a lot of rumors out there, chances are the actor they pick will be a surprise. Or not. Maybe it is Maguire after all. Which might make me cry.

Any LoTR geeks out there with predictions or other considerations for the portrayal of Bilbo Baggins, Esquire? And how about the dwarves? I wonder if we’ll see any intriguing casting surprises there.

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