The former hobbits discuss Stuart Townsend's departure, the backlash against Star Wars and that ropey first Deadpool.
20 years after the release of the Fellowship of the Ring introduced us to one of cinema's all-time greatest double acts, Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took — AKA Merry and Pippin — AKA Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd — have returned for a very special podcast: The Friendship Onion.
"It's kind of Billy and I sat around having the usual conversations that we have, and we realized that if we're going to do that on an everyday basis, we might as well start getting paid for it," Dominic explained to TooFab. "Everyone else has a podcast!"
"It's totally my fault that it's taken so long," Billy chimed in. "Dom said to me years ago: 'Why don't we do a podcast?' and I didn't even really know what a podcast was."
If you have a dig through the Apple Podcasts reviews for The Friendship Onion, you would be hard pressed to find one of the very rare four-star reviews, buried under the thousands of perfect five-star ones.
The boys' banter, camaraderie, chemistry and story-telling is lauded in pretty much every one, and it surprises very few to learn the pair are as solid friend in real life as they were in Middle Earth.
"Here's the thing, me and Dom didn't know each other before Lord of the Rings... we only know each other with Lord of the Rings in our lives," Billy said, admitting that as a result, "a fair bit" of LOTR content pops up during their chats.
Members of the Fellowship, whose bond when filming was something of legend, will very likely be future guests (in fact, Elijah Wood has already swung by).
Two decades on, the film series has not aged a day. The final installment "Return Of The King", still jointly holds the record (with "Ben Hur" and "Titanic") for most Oscars at 11; it is only the second ever sequel to win Best Picture (along with "The Godfather: Part II") and was the first ever fantasy film top win same.
"I think a big part of it is, where it came from, the writer — basically it was his whole life," Billy mused. "It's a beautifully structured storytelling."
"And then on top of that to have a filmmaker like Pete Jackson, who is passionate about making the best Lord of the Rings that he could make, and part of that was casting people who wanted to be in it, who weren't using it as a way to get to something else, and so everything about it was authentic. There was nothing that was contrived or anything done for any reason other than to try and make the best story that we could, you know, so I think that's the reason that it's hung around."
All the series' best lines — "Where are we going?" "It comes in pints?!" "What about second breakfast?" — also just so happen to belong to the pair; or more accurately, as Dominic playfully/begrudgingly points out, to Billy.
"It's not that they're great lines," Billy boasts: "It's how they're said."
While it is nigh impossible to imagine anyone else in the role of Aragorn other than Viggo Mortensen, there was a time when Irish actor Stuart Townsend had the part; as the story goes, Director Peter Jackson decided after a good two months of training and rehearsal that he wanted someone older than the 29-year-old, and replaced him with the then 42-year-old Danish American.
"Yeah, we hung out with Stuart for probably six, seven weeks, maybe eight weeks before he left the project," Dominic recalled, adding it might be more of a "sensitive" topic for Stuart himself to better fill in the blanks.
"But I think ultimately, the filmmakers, you know, between Pete Jackson, the producers and the studio, they all got together and said how do we feel about our cast, and when they got to a point where they had to commit to certain characters, they had, you know, second thoughts about Stu and he left the project, and less than a week later Viggo showed up."
"I think it was mainly due to the age, you know," Billy added. "I think they felt like the character should be older."
There are, of course, other stories set in Middle Earth, some already made, some in the process of being made, and others, as Galadriel would say, that have not yet come to pass.
The Hobbit series, for example, both men love (Billy even wrote a song for it).
For the elusive Silmarillion meanwhile, Dominic argues the appetite is still there, although "I'm not sure if Pete Jackson would go back to Middle Earth at this point in his life, so you'd need someone to compliment his work, whilst also having their own fingerprint."
If someone ever does make The Silmarillion, it will not be until "Billy and I are old men, and then we can both play Gandalf."
"Maybe we could direct it?" Billy suggests, to agreement from his pal. They both agree they could bring some funny into it, which it is admittedly lacking.
As for the upcoming $250million Amazon LOTR series — set thousands of years before the events of "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" — the boys know absolutely nothing.
If anyone has approached them to make a fun cameo, they are keeping mum — even to each other — although they both agree they would require "incredible amounts of money" to do so.
"No one has approached me — they might have approached Billy and he's keeping it secret — but no one's approached me," Dominic said. (cue sneaky thumbs up from Billy)
"But I'm looking forward to seeing the show and I wish them a massive amount of luck, I hope it goes well," Dominic added. "It brings a lot of work to the Island of New Zealand, a country that we both love."
After Lord of the Rings, Dominic would go on to star in an even bigger (biggest?) movie franchise, playing Beaumont Kin in "Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker"; a franchise so big, it couldn't help but partially buckle beneath the weight of impossible expectation.
"You know when you're dealing with a film series that has a massive fanbase — a very enthusiastic, involved fanbase — you're gonna have a bunch of people that don't like it," Dominic said, recalling some of the negativity, especially from the toxic corner.
"But, you know, When you come in towards the end of the stories of Poe and Rey and Finn, and to a certain extent Chewy and R2 and C3PO, you can't please everyone. J.J. did the best that he could, he's a massive Star Wars fan."
"I had a great time doing it. It's a film, you know what I mean? It's a film at the end of the day, and you know, people shouldn't feel so personally offended by it. It's a movie, everyone took a massive swing, they tried their best — move on. I loved it."
Billy completely agrees... despite falling for "the popcorn trick" for the fifth time at the premiere.
"Dom took me as his date to the opening, so I loved it as well — 'cause I got to go to a big party," he smiled.
Another film of Dom's that got a lot of flack — perhaps a little more deservingly so — was "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", due in no small part to its non-canonical interpretation of Deadpool... which Ryan Reynolds would later decidedly rectify, and then some.
Reception aside, Dominic said he had a fantastic time making it: "Yeah, it was great man," he exclaimed. "I mean I'm a huge fan of Hugh Jackman. I think he's fantastic and a lovely person. Ryan and I got to spend quite a lot of time together, he's great, too."
Reynolds unrelenting passion for the character is what ultimately brought about his well-deserved and much-adored reprise. In retrospect, it may seem odd that he participated in such an off-the-mark on-screen debut; but as Dominic pointed out, he didn't really have any control back then.
"I don't think Ryan was super happy with the way that they had presented Deadpool to an audience, but he'd already started to think about how they could do it in the future," he recalled.
"In the Deadpool films Ryan Reynolds is a producer, so at that point, they have to listen to him. But in the Wolverine film, Ryan Reynolds is just an actor. So he reads a script, and decides whether or not he wants to do it, he has no control over what happens next."
"So I think he wanted to play Deadpool, he didn't want anyone else to play Deadpool, and from there he tried to wrangle back a little bit of control. But I mean, Hugh Jackman gets a bit of a say as to how Wolverine looks in that film, but I certainly didn't with my character, nor did Will.I.Am, and nor did Ryan, you know... you're just kind of guns for hire, really."
And as for the $64million question: Will Billy be gracing The Friendship Onion with his beautiful singing voice?
"Well there'll be singing. Oh, they'll be music," he assures. "Me and Dom will be writing some music for The Friendship Onion, I'm absolutely sure of it."