As even the most casual Tolkien-watcher probably knows, the key lines from the author’s fantasy sagas are: “One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, one ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them…”
That idea lay at the heart of the Lord of the Rings books, and of Peter Jackson’s blockbuster movie trilogy. Now, two decades on from those cinematic epics, that proposition also powers Amazon’s prequel series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. But with this new eight-episode Prime Video show coming in with an overall price tag – some $1 billion – that might bring a tear to even Jeff Bezos’s eye, we might tweak that line to: “One ring to bring them all within bragging distance of Game of Thrones…”
Freely adapted from the appendices of the original books, The Rings of Power is set many, many moons before the events of The Lord of the Rings. So many moons, in fact, that immortal elf Galadriel – played in Jackson’s movies by Cate Blanchett – is now played by Welsh actor Morfydd Clark, who’s 20 mortal years younger than the Australian actor.
The action begins with Clark’s warrior princess leading a band of heroic elves across various forbidding terrains in pursuit of any traces of the ultimate bad guy, Dark Lord Sauron, and his orc minions. Galadriel thinks evil still stalks the land; her all-male squad, and the blokey elf leaders back home don’t listen to her (of course).
Soon, though, in the exposition-heavy first episode, the elvish have left the building and other Middle-earth peoples enter the frame: harfoots, humans and (in future instalments) dwarves.
To further distinguish these different humanoids – just in case the lavish CGI and New Zealand filming locations come up short – they have specific accents. The high-born elves sound like posh Londoners. The peasant humans are Northern English (like GoT’s wintry Starks). The bog- and field-dwelling harfoots appear to be Irish. And the angry, beardy, mountain-based dwarves are Scottish.
Coming from the dwarfish Celtic badlands myself, I’m not sure how I feel about this racial profiling. It’ll certainly be interesting when production begins this autumn on series two – reportedly in Scotland.
No matter (for now…) because, on viewing of the opening episode, and a “sizzle reel” of future highlights, The Rings of Power promises fantasy excitement on a gripping scale. And for the aforesaid casual Tolkien-watcher, especially younger ones, the harfoots (effectively, hobbits) are the most immediately relatable.
Enter, face down in a puddle, Poppy Proudfellow, a young harfoot. She’s played by Megan Richards, who was a 19-year-old novice from West London when she was cast in the biggest TV show in the world. Alongside fellow harfoot Nori Brandyfoot (played by Australian actor Markella Kavenagh), Poppy is clearly pegged as half of the show’s fun double-act. But the pair also have a crucial dramatic role via their discovery of a mysterious stranger who falls from the sky at the end of the first episode.
When THE FACE meets Richards in a central London hotel, two days before the show finally launches after several years’ anticipation, this daughter of a Singaporean mum and Welsh dad is on the last lap of a round-the-world promotional Rings blitz. Now 22 and living in North London she is, as she has been for most of the past month, red carpet-ready in a dazzling plum smock dress.
“Someone said to me yesterday: ‘I promise this is not an insult, but you look like you styled yourself!’” says a smiling Richards. “I really loved that because that is what I want to [look like], and just feel myself.”
It’s quite a different look from the first moment we see you properly in the show, Megan, which is falling face-first into a muddy hole.
Ha ha! Yeah, my family watched it yesterday at the premiere. And one of my agents turned to my sister and was like: “Incredible entrance, right?” And my sister was like: “Classic Megan. Very Megan to fall into a puddle.”
How would you describe your character?
Poppy Proudfellow is a harfoot. She’s very cautious and observant. Very loyal, very witty, very loving. She has a lot of heart and a lot of strength. She doesn’t do anything she doesn’t want to do. And I think that’s very important to know, throughout this series.
She’s best friends with Nori, who drags her into everything. But actually, the crux of Poppy is also that she does that because of the loyalty of her friendship. And because there is an intrigue there, too. She wants to know what’s going on. There’s a little bit of adventure, a little bit of mischief in her.
It does seem like that she might be the relatable entry point for a lot of viewers, especially younger ones. Fair comment?
I hope so. Obviously, you’ve got incredible canon characters that people will know because of the Lord of the Rings books and the [film] trilogy. But because Poppy is not a canon character, it is really nice to be able to enter the world with so many other fresh eyes as well within those characters.
For non-Tolkienistas: what’s the relationship of harfoots to hobbits?
Harfoots are the ancestors to the hobbits. They have similarities in the feet and the ears. But the difference is their circumstances. The hobbits have a home, a base, they have The Shire. Whereas harfoots are very much longing and looking for that. They are a nomadic community who travel through the seasons, and they literally carry their homes on their backs.
We had these incredible costumes that are camouflaged. Everyone’s got a skirt or something that’s long, and it folds over into an overhead leaf. So when you put it over your head, you look like a moss ball, or a piece of grass. It’s honestly remarkable. Half the time I couldn’t find people on set, because I just thought they were a tree.
When did the process of getting this job begin? And what was that process?
Actually, three years ago and two days ago, I auditioned for this role: 29th August 2019. I was a year out of BRIT School in Croydon.
How was that first year out of school?
My part-time job had become my full-time job: I was a lifeguard in London, at Acton swimming baths, Everyone Active Acton Centre, which was down the road from where I used to live. It was a wonderful job, wonderful people. But it was not what I wanted to do with my life.
I got to the end of that year, and I was like: “OK, I can’t do that again, I need to do something that’s more proactive in the industry that I want to be in.” So I started doing more workshops, and then I also applied for a conservatoire/university. So I got into Chichester University, to study acting. Then in the second week of that, I found out that I got Rings. I was like: “Whoa, OK, well, got to drop out now!”
I didn’t tell anybody, and I was still doing the course for five more weeks, just because it was easier for me to just stay there, getting all of the uni stuff finished. Then, seven weeks later, I was in New Zealand.
Did you audition specifically for a harfoot role?
I didn’t know what it was at all. The audition was a scene where Poppy and Nori find the stranger. Now knowing the scripts, it was a couple of those scenes amalgamated together. But I didn’t even know what it was for – at the time it was called Untitled Amazon Project.
So you had no idea there was a Tolkien connection at all?
No idea… Although, actually my agent did then tell me. He was like: “This is for Lord of the Rings.” And I was like, “OK.” He was like: “Do you know what Lord of the Rings is?” I had no idea, [although] I think I’d probably heard of it. And he was like: “I think you should at least watch the first movie, just to get your head into the world of what this is.”
When we spoke to Morfydd in early summer 2020, she was bunkering in New Zealand for the pandemic. How long were you stuck there?
I arrived two months after Morfydd. Then I was there the whole time, until just over a year ago, July 2021. So that’s about 20 months. The production was amazing. They gave us the option of either staying in New Zealand or going home for the pandemic. I remember looking at what was happening in the UK and thinking: “I’ll just stay here.” And there were a couple of us who stayed, Morfydd included. I was very fortunate that my family were very much in agreement with my decision.
At the BRIT School, did you specifically want to pursue the acting route?
Yeah. I did alright in school. I was very good at my options, music and drama and stuff. But then the sciences and maths and everything wasn’t so great! And I wasn’t that good at exams. So when it came to A‑levels, it was like: if we can find something that’s not an A‑level per se, that’d be great.
My dad had heard about the BRIT School, and we’ve got a couple of family friends who were going there. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t really know what an audition was either. But I just auditioned and I got in.
Prior to that, was there a particular actor, show, play or film that lit a spark in you?
At secondary school, we did a production of Pride and Prejudice when I was in Year 10, [aged] like 15. I was Elizabeth Bennett and one of my really good friends played Mr. Darcy. It was a really beautiful production, the whole set design was great. I was like: “I’m actually having a really good time. I feel something from this.” That elevated me and fuelled me. That was definitely the turning point of me going: “I think I could do that.”
To make Rings, did you have to learn things like combat skills for [spoiler alert] fight scenes later in the series?
Yeah. When I first got to New Zealand, that was in the pre-production stage – we didn’t actually start filming until February 2020. In those three months, I just did stunts for four hours every morning, from eight ‘til 12. I learned so much: sword fighting, rolls, falls, punching, kicking, and just building strength in a way that I’d never done before. I’m so grateful to have had that experience – and I hope that I can have more.
How are you feeling about how your life may change, when people all around the world finally see this very expensive show that has been so eagerly anticipated for so long?
I don’t even know if I’ve actually thought about it. The premiere last night, because it was in London, in Leicester Square, that was [a big moment]. This whole tour I’ve been like: “I want to be on [the electronic billboard at] Piccadilly Circus. If we are there, my heart will jump out of my chest.” Then [Rings director] Wayne Yep actually texted me and said we were there on Piccadilly Circus!
Daniel Weyman [who plays the mysterious stranger] and I went out and just stood watching it on the big screen and filming it. All of a sudden, these two people come up to me and they go: “Hi, can we get a picture?” I was like: “Oh, yeah, absolutely.” And they were like: “Yeah, so can you just take a picture of us in front of the screen?” [Laughs] So I’m kinda hoping that it will remain like that.
The Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power launches on Prime Video today.