Being cast as Galadriel in “The Rings of Power,” Prime Video’s prequel to the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, was so overwhelming for Morfydd Clark that she actually fainted. The Welsh actress spent nearly six months auditioning for the role — initially without even knowing what she was auditioning for — throughout the summer of 2019. When she finally got the call that she would play the warrior elf, Clark was at the Toronto International Film Festival promoting “Saint Maud” and “The Personal History of David Copperfield.”
“I was already having an out-of-body experience, and then I found out about this just before the premiere of ‘David Copperfield,’” Clark recalls. “It was just very weird. It was really exciting, but also secret. I went to do the premiere, and I passed out on stage during the Q&A afterwards. It was so embarrassing. It’s on YouTube — I do manage to get just offstage, but you can hear my mic drop. I was caught by a Canadian security guard, who was very nice to me.”
Shortly after, Clark flew to New Zealand, where the first season was filmed (Season 2 has moved its production to the UK). Along with the rest of the cast, Clark had “ages” to prep for the role, which required her to learn swimming, horse riding and stunts. The cast trained together with a stunt team ahead of filming, which meant that everyone became close even if they didn’t share any scenes. Galadriel, played in the films in her older, wiser years by Cate Blanchett, required a lot of physical stamina and awareness. The immortal is a skilled warrior who carries herself with confidence — something Clark had to learn.
“I decided that I was going to focus loads on trying to feel it,” Clark says. “It wasn’t really about how I looked. It was about trying to feel as strong and powerful and flexible as I could so I could feel as close to her as my little mortal body could allow. That was one of the big joys of it. [In the past], my characters have often been abused and killed in stuff, which I enjoyed playing. But it was very liberating to play someone who wasn’t physically afraid. I am often quite physically afraid, so to take those holidays in her universe where she is so powerful was good for me as a person as well as an actress.”
Clark was able to tap her own background for the role as well. Galadriel and her fellow elves speak the fantasy language of Sindarin, and Clark drew on her familiarity with Welsh to imbue the character’s voice with more strength.
“I worked with the voice coach trying to find the sounds [that I say easily
in] Welsh and English,” Clark says. “And so that's where her voice came from. Maybe it's because I grew up singing a lot in Welsh, but my Welsh speaking voice is more resonant.”
The actress also drew on her vast theater background, which was one reason she was originally considered for the series.
“Their main thing was that they wanted people who had experience with Shakespeare, because the way they've written the elves is actually in their own beat,” Clark notes. “They wanted all the different types of creatures in Middle Earth to speak quite specifically compared to each other.”
Clark did not reach out to Blanchett, who originated the role onscreen. However, she did use the actress and her overall work as inspiration for this version of Galadriel.
“She literally is like a legend to me,” Clark says. “And I wasn't sure how useful it would be for me to necessarily speak to her, because I would be so bamboozled. So I went back to her performances. I didn’t just rewatch ‘Lord of the Rings’ but rewatched lots of the stuff she has done. She has such a connection to cool and hot — I don’t know if that makes sense. That was something that I was really fascinated by watching her. So maybe one day I’ll speak with her, but I’ll be a faint risk for that as well.”
The Galadriel fans meet in “The Rings of Power” is not the serene ruler of Lothlórien who is familiar in the films. She is still discovering what sort of leader she wants to be, and Clark took inspiration from J.R.R. Tolkien’s books as she sculpted the character (she refers to herself as a “Lord of the Rings” nerd). Having the series act as a prequel to known events was particularly useful.
“I liked knowing where she'd ended up,” Clark says. “I feel that lots of the chillest people in old age that I know when they start telling you about their lives, you're like, ‘What? That is insane!’ So that was something that I went to. How extremely far away could she be from this lady of Lothlórien that [when] she becomes that it will be a shock to her that she could ever get to that type of peace and serenity. She truly couldn't imagine that she would be able to pass the test to go back to Valinor.”
The character is complicated and occasionally severe, which Clark appreciated.
“She’s admired and kind of feared,” the actress says. “She’s not warm and cuddly. I relished that opportunity to play someone who wasn't necessarily meant to make people feel comfortable. I think that's often what women tend to do in real life, and end up performing as well. But also I’ve played a lot of characters who don’t end up happy, and it’s nice playing her knowing that she will, in the end, find peace.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.