Spoilers follow for “The Great Wave,” episode four of Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
In this week’s episode of Rings of Power, Elrond makes a big discovery about the mining operations the dwarves are up to in Khazad-dûm, namely that they’ve found a precious metal that he refers to as “mithril.” It might not mean too much to the casual viewer, but to someone like Robert Aramayo, who plays Elrond and knows his Tolkien lore well, it’s a big moment. The lightweight but sturdy metal has all sorts of uses — for armor and weaponry and, crucially, in making one of the Elven Rings of Power. In Tolkien’s lore, the overmining of the material led to all sorts of dangerous consequences, which, go look those up in the appendices of Lord of the Rings if you want.
“It’s massive, massive, massive, massive!” Aramayo enthused over Zoom, though of course he can’t say much about what’s to come with the future of mithril on the series. He could, however, talk about the other Tolkien lore that informed his performance as a younger Elrond, including the character’s sense of being an orphan and his dynamic with Morfydd Clark’s relatively older Galadriel as well as what it’s like to act inside a set scaled to the size of dwarves and the very involved thinking that went into Elrond’s ear prosthetics.
So as someone who does know Tolkien lore, how did it feel to get to introduce mithril on the series?
It was a huge deal, that element coming into our show. We had big long discussions about how to talk about mithril and how to reference it and where it came from, which is wonderful because there’s a real passion in decisions like that. It’s one of those moments where you take something that Tolkien creates and the showrunners meet that with themselves and then you get our show. That’s the truth of the show in general.
Pronunciation-wise, do you have someone on set who is telling you how exactly to say a word like that?
Well, there’s Mr. Tolkien himself. He writes extensively about how you should stress his Elvish. We’ve also got this incredible resource in our dialect coach and linguist. I remember walking onto set for a different scene that was in Elvish and she was playing Mr. Tolkien speaking Quenya. Quenya is a very different language in the way that it’s spoken than Sindarin, which is more melodic in the way it’s spoken. We’ve heard Sindarin a lot in other iterations, but Quenya was really new in terms of the structure of how it goes. Tolkien created all this to justify his passion for languages, which was really a surprising thing for me to learn.
How familiar were you with Tolkien’s work before getting this part?
I encountered the books in the way you should encounter them. I started as a child with The Hobbit, and when I got to a certain age, the First Age stuff, which is the most dense and complicated. It’s also my favorite. I discovered it in this period of my life, and now it is pretty much all I read. I especially love things like The Silmarillion that you can just read and reread.
Are there aspects of what you’ve read in there that inform your performance as Elrond?
We spoke a lot about his parentage. He’s sort of an orphan, and there are unhealed wounds that exist within him. I liked the showrunners’ ability to collaborate with that, because it became important to me that he’s an orphan and that he doesn’t belong here or there. I’d gained such passion for Eärendil and Elwing, everything they’d achieved. It’s a lot to live up to for him!
It’s interesting to throw Elrond, who has a complicated relationship with family, into the relatively happy family dynamic that the dwarves Durin IV and Disa have.
I think they teach him a lot this season. The Elrond that begins the show couldn’t be sat in Disa’s kitchen having a chat. He’s adapting to being around a certain mortal energy because it’s inside of him. I was lucky to take him into a world of warmth and happiness and away from the clinical Elven world. It’s part of his growth, and there’s hopefully more of that to come.
Just physically as an actor, it must be wild to act in a set that’s specifically designed to make you feel too large to fit.
Especially in certain sequences! Owain Arthur, who plays Durin, would work with background actors who were around to make him look the same size as the dwarves around him. I would work with background actors who were around to make me look bigger than the dwarves around me. In that rock-breaking sequence, for instance, Owain is an enigmatic and incredible man to be around, so when he’s breaking rocks, everyone was really onboard with him doing it and cheering him on like they were in a beer hall. Then the energy was very different with a whole bunch of new people who came in for my coverage and didn’t like me as much. So sometimes it was really useful for the acting.
What was it like filming the scenes between Elrond and Galadriel in the earlier episodes? There’s a lot to work with in their dynamic, where there’s a layer of mutual respect but also a sense that Elrond’s trying to fit in while Galadriel has already proved herself.
Morfydd is unbelievably talented, so you’re just trying to work with what she’s giving you, which is usually quite a lot. They’re very different. He’s young. She’s ancient. She’s famous, and at this point, he’s still the son of greater parents. He feels that strongly, and it was fun to play him having to say certain things but feeling complicated in saying them. That’s central for Elrond this season — the idea of friendship and duty and balancing the two.
Well, then there are the scenes with Benjamin Walker’s King Gil-galad, where Elrond is just trying hard to appease this authority.
In lots of ways Gil-galad is taking care of Elrond, and in many ways Ben Walker was taking care of me. Gil-galad is kind of undeniable. He’s the king! With Elrond, he has to do what he’s told, but he has to figure out a way to bring himself to the table in doing what he’s told. Ben himself just looked out for everyone. He would have us all over on the weekend to his house with his family, and we would just hang out and talk about not Lord of the Rings sometimes. He’s very good for morale.
How did you think about how Elrond tries to navigate the political intrigue of the elves? They’re all very canny.
They’re all tricky to figure out, you know? Even Galadriel. To Elrond, it seems very clear to follow duty, and trying to figure out where she’s going to go and what she is going to do is impossible. And Gil-galad and Celebrimbor. They’re all very tricky about what they’re going to suggest and do next. It is fun to play opposite them, as an actor.
You played a young Ned Stark on Game of Thrones, and I was curious if having had that experience on one big fantasy TV show prepared you at all to act in one like this.
They’re very different experiences. I get why people ask about it. They’re both fantasy shows, but they couldn’t be more different to work on, and what they’re exploring and how they’re exploring it. As an actor, they were two very different jobs for me. They’re both well-known characters. But in Thrones I was literally wearing Sean Bean’s clothes. This time, it’s a very different experience to do a fresh take on a character in a period of his life that is very unknown.
Obviously, people do know Hugo Weaving’s performance as Elrond in Peter Jackson’s films, and you are doing something different. Did you revisit them before working on the show or completely set them aside?
I grew up with those movies, and I love his performance, and I think it’s natural for people to compare the performance. But right now, Elrond’s a very young elf with so much to go before we get to the Council of Elrond in The Fellowship of the Ring. He’s lived through so many defeats by that point, so I was excited to just start with this young elf who still has a lot to learn. That felt like an exciting place to begin. He’s going to live thousands and thousands of human lifetimes until he gets to that point!
Elrond’s got a very distinctive coif going on in Rings of Power. What was the process of getting it ready like?
Man, it’s long. My hair is a beast. The ears are also a really long process. But what’s great is that you get to work closely with a prosthetic artist, and mine was so passionate about the lore and Tolkien and really got me. That time in the morning was just a wonderful time because you have to be in the chair for two to three hours.
What went into designing Elrond’s ears?
They’re modeled after your own ear, and it’s as if your ear sort of continued, and that’s the basic process. But Elrond’s ears are slightly different. There are subtle choices that we made that might be unnoticeable that indicate that he’s half-elven. That influenced a lot of decisions.
To bring it full circle, were there a lot of conversations about how specifically that shard of mithril would look?
That’s a good question for the showrunners, but I can definitely say that I have a very intimate relationship with that piece of mithril.