PageSix Gossip | December 9th 2003
WAITING IN THE 'RINGS'
by Corey Levitan
Moviegoers are in for a surprise when "The Return of the King," the
final "Lord of the Rings" installment, opens Dec. 17 - and it's not
just that it's far superior to its two predecessors.
After all the hype, you'd expect the heroes to be Viggo Mortensen 's brave soldier Aragorn and Elijah Wood 's marble-eyed Frodo, who's striving to return the cursed golden ring to Mordor, the black hell where it must be destroyed.
But don't count out Eowyn and Sam, two previously minor characters played by Miranda Otto and Sean Astin , who step up in "The Return of the King" - and nearly steal the movie, not to mention the Oscar buzz.
"The nice thing about J.R.R. Tolkien's story is that often the characters who don't seem to have monumental things to do end up saving everything," Otto told The Post.
As Eowyn, the niece of the King of Rohan, the 35-year-old Aussie faces off against the evil army of Sauron - and as she stands her ground against a ghastly demon, she also gets the movie's best line.
When he declares that no man can kill him, she reminds him, "I am no man!"
That sound bite - embellished by writer/director Peter Jackson from the 1953 book to give it "Terminator" oomph - sounds a note for female empowerment in an otherwise male-centric saga.
"At first, you think Eowyn's story is a romantic story about her feelings for Aragorn," Otto said.
"But that completely changes in this film, and it becomes a story of a woman out to seek her own path and fight to the death."
And the hero of the ring gig isn't Frodo, who lets himself get distracted by evil. The hardest Hobbit to break proves to be his ever-loyal sidekick, Sam (Astin).
"At a certain point, the ring can't go forward anymore without Sam," Astin told The Post.
"He's such an important archetypal character, representing such critically important values. I know that Tolkien put a lot of himself into that character, and I think Peter did, too."
Much as the dreaded ring forever altered the destiny of Frodo and Sam, the success of the trilogy has rocked the lives of Otto and Astin.
Before Middle Earth called, Otto - whose biggest previous role was as the red-herring neighbor in "What Lies Beneath" - was best known for her lineage: Her parents, Barry and Lindsay Otto, are stage stars down under.
Likewise, Astin - a 32-year-old L.A. native who hasn't done anything big since 1985's "The Goonies" - is the son of TV stars John "Gomez Addams" Astin and Patty Duke .
"'The Lord of the Rings' has opened up a lot more career choices for me," said Otto, who after this interview jetted 37 hours to Namibia to film "Flight of the Phoenix" with Dennis Quaid and Giovanni Ribisi .
"It's also let me go back and work in the theater."
Astin's been busy, too - though not quite as lucky.
"I'm attached to, like, 37 different projects, none of which can get the money together," he said, laughing.
He did a cable TV show, "Jeremiah," that was quickly unplugged. He has a one-note bit in the upcoming Adam Sandler comedy, "50 First Dates," and he stars in a low-budget, sci-fi thriller, "Slipstream."
"Whatever comes after this will be a step down, in a lot of people's eyes," he said. "Hopefully, that won't be a barrier in and of itself."
Astin knows he's not a sex symbol like Orlando Bloom , who's ridden a lesser "Lord of the Rings" role into upcoming Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp flicks.
"I think his rapid ascent to international movie stardom is sort of predictable," Astin said.
"He's new to the American audience and to the studio executives, and he's got such a classic, matinee-idol look. I'm kind of envious, but I yearn to be able to have the luxury of spending time getting my body in shape. For me, it's a lot of work.
"When I do get into great physical shape, I think I look good enough to be a leading man."
Perhaps that chance will come once the trilogy's true ringmaster is revealed.