The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has its foundations in J.R.R. Tolkien’s work, from The Silmarillion to the appendices of Lord of the Rings, but the popular Prime Video series has plenty of storytelling gaps to fill. Showrunners Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne crafted a plausible history of Middle-earth’s Second Age, but the creative team had to draw on many inspirations to help bring it to life. Director J.A. Bayona, who helmed the first two episodes of the season, had the particularly important task of setting the stage for everything to come in the series overall.
The Rings of Power season 1 finale brought various threads together with the return of Sauron and the forging of the titular rings, leaving the door open for more characters and locations to intertwine in season 2. While many new crew members are in charge behind the scenes, the work done by series originators like Bayona remains the blueprint for upcoming episodes.
Screen Rant spoke to Bayona about how he approached his role as director and executive producer of Rings of Power season 1, the way in which he used Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings as a guidepost, and which character’s journey resonated most with his own.
J.A. Bayona on Directing Rings of Power
Screen Rant: Outside of directing the first 2 episodes, what does your role as Executive Producer entail?
J.A. Bayona: I focused mainly on shooting the first 2 episodes. By doing that, I had to have a very deep knowledge of everything that was going on in the story – not only the first season, but the whole arc for the story. I sat down with the showrunners, we read all the scripts together, and we made a plan with the cast.
There was a lot of work, not only to create these worlds that didn’t exist from scratch, but also to have a big understanding of the whole show and try to somehow bring your best, not only for those two episodes but for the whole design of the show.
Your episodes set the tone for not only the rest of the season, but the story as a whole. You have a wealth of source material to choose from, yet many of the characters here are original. How do you deal with the research and the creative aspect of bringing to life new characters, new races, and new locations that we haven’t seen before in other Tolkien works?
J.A. Bayona: I read the books again. By reading Tolkien, you get into a very specific tone with very rich detail. The way he tells a story using big ideas – beauty versus ugly, light versus darkness – [sends] you into that fairytale world. But at the same time, there are the politics. It’s interesting when you talk about Tolkien, it’s like, “What do you mean by Tolkien?” because if you read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, they’re totally different. It’s a very rich world, so I had great help in reading the books again.
And also, I think that [showrunners Patrick McKay and J.D. Payne] did extraordinary work filling the gaps that we had in the appendixes. I think that the original idea was fantastic because it takes the map that Tolkien already set up and fills the gaps. You have a very good understanding of where we are heading and, at the same time, we have the excitement of working on something new. The writers were extraordinary, and I enjoyed the collaboration with Patrick and J.D.
What would you say are the signposts when you are staying true to Tolkien spirit? It’s a very diverse world and, even in the first two episodes, we go to all different locations from Lindon to the Southlands to Khazad-dûm. How do you maintain the Tolkien-ness of it while bringing something original to the screen?
J.A. Bayona: I think the fact that we are following the appendixes means we know where we’re going. I think there is a guide that already was set up by Tolkien. By having that, you know that you’re going in the right direction.
Then Patrick and J.D., they’re very different to each other. I think that’s a good thing, because they focus in different things but with the same goal. And the writing was extraordinary. The way they portray every single action and character was fantastic, so everything was on paper. I could go back to the books, but I also had the scripts.
Was there a character that you felt proudest of in your episodes, in terms of how they grew from what was on the page to what was on the screen?
J.A. Bayona: Wow, that’s a very good question. It’s true that one thing is when you have things on the paper, and then everything comes to life in front of the camera, and sometimes you get surprised about certain things. I really enjoyed how well the chemistry between Owain Arthur and Robert Aramayo worked at Khazad-dûm. I really enjoyed so much working with these two characters, and the relationship that they have. Then you have Sophia, and it was beautiful to be involved in those scenes.
But in general, I enjoyed the whole show. The Harfoots had great chemistry too. I loved to be involved in those scenes with the Stranger; they have this E.T. flare that connects with your inner child. I enjoyed the elves that somehow are more [like] the Lord of the Rings in the political aspect.
There is that scene with Galadriel and Elrond; a long scene is more than five minutes of dialogue, and it feels like an action scene because the goals of each character are so different. But they know that they care about each other, and they are fighting somehow with the biggest respect. That scene was fascinating. I really enjoyed working with all the different kingdoms in the show.
I was just speaking to Ron and Kate, and they talked about being inspired by nature in so much of the series. What did that mean for you, in terms of what you shoot versus what’s going to be added later?
J.A. Bayona: Landscape is very important when you read Tolkien. He was using landscape in order to increase or to have a better understanding of what the characters are going through. The way you use textures and color and light and darkness to find what makes every kingdom particular.
The references were very different, actually. I would say that we used a lot of references from nature for the Harfoots. I remember watching lots of photos from ancient communities, Indian communities, [Romani] communities. I remember we saw lots of references from Russian movies, [Sergei] Eisenstein or Tarkovsky, for the costumes of the dwarves. For the dwarves, we used more the Russian silent film aesthetics.
I remember using lots of paintings for the elves. We went to the Pre-Raphaelites and all those fantastic painters, and we used them to create not only the costumes but the whole kingdom; the colors, those golden textures. Of course, they had a lot to do with nature, but it’s a very specific interpretation of nature that we achieved by going back to those paintings.
You are not directing season 2, but you know the story moving forward. What would you say viewers can expect?
J.A. Bayona: Because we’re following the appendices there’s a lot of things that we can play with anticipation. Somehow, the audience knows where we’re going, but the big question is how are we going there. That is the most exciting thing about doing this show; that we know what’s going to happen. We know what they’re doing, but how are we going to get there? That’s the big question.
Is there another Tolkien character or story not covered in Rings of Power that you would love to be a part of, that you would love to help bring to life?
J.A. Bayona: I really enjoyed working in this world. I would love to go back, because Tolkien is so rich that there’s plenty of material in there. I would love to go back there. I don’t know exactly how, and I don’t have a specific idea about it, but there’s thousands of ideas that I came with when we talked about this world and this universe.
Do you have a character that you relate to most in Rings of Power season 1?
J.A. Bayona: Of course, I really like this idea of Galadriel, and the intuition that she has. She knows that she wants something, but she doesn’t know how to get there. She’s navigating a very complex world.
That has a lot to do with directing too. When you are on set and you know what you want to try to get, sometimes you need to navigate muddy waters. The performance that she did is fantastic because it’s so rich, but at the same time, it’s mysterious. I would say it’s probably Galadriel, yes.
About The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Prime Video’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power brings to screens for the very first time the heroic legends of the fabled Second Age of Middle-earth’s history. This epic drama is set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness.
Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.
Check out our interviews with The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power cast at SDCC 2022, as well as with:
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power season 1 is now streaming on Prime Video.