John Rhys-Davies | THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES

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A towering Welsh actor best known for his role as Gimli in the Lord of the Rings movies, JOHN RHYS-DAVIES has, over his long career, also been Professor Maximillian Arturo in SLIDERS and INDIANA JONES’ friend, Sallah. He can currently be found as the Elf King in the fantasy TV series THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES, which is out now on DVD.

STARBURST: Tell us about The Shannara Chronicles

John Rhys-Davies:
The Shannara Chronicles, I think, is going to be for televised science fantasy what The Lord of the Rings was for fantasy filmmaking. It will invite that sort of a comparison. It will change our expectation of fantasy on our television screens.

How familiar were you with the original Terry Brooks books before this started?

I had read one or two of them. I used to be a very keen science fiction and fantasy fan. I tend to be more science fiction than fantasy. I was aware of him by reputation. A reputation, by the way, which I have confirmed in person. He is delightful and creative. He’s a dear man, I like him so much, such a good fellow.

It’s a very long series of novels…

What MTV has got here is a tree almost as big as The Ellcrys. It’s twenty-seven books so far, which have grown from 1976 onwards. So what they have here is a man’s central vision that has been grown like a tree. The strength and originality of the vision is going to turn this into one of the biggest fantasy shows so far. I put it to you that what you may have seen so far on television will make other shows in comparison look a bit small. That’s exactly what The Lord of the Rings did when it came out.

As an actor, how do you prepare yourself for the role of an Elf Lord?

[Puts on Gimili’s instantly recognisable voice] Well we dwarves, y’know, are naturally adaptable people and infinitely susceptible to suggestion. We are in no way dogmatic, I hope I made that bloody clear. [big booming laugh] It’s just such fun. Just imagine being able to stand up in front of an audience and say ‘From a Dwarf to an Elf King’, eat your heart out Orlando Bloom. It’s just such fun.

You’re also known for your work in Sliders. Is acting how you get to explore other worlds in this world?
Yes. Acting and reading, of course. Sadly, these days as I get older, the amount of time I get to read the twenty-two thousand odd books I have in this house is limited. So I’ve started to limit what I do read. I rarely read fiction anymore, unless it’s been written by friends of mine.

Is there a project you’re still keen to be involved with?
I’ve just finished dramatising a short story that I wrote which is about our common ancestors. Twenty-thousand or so years ago, the ice was its furthermost extent. The people who survived then had brains that were larger than ours and there is a belief that they were smarter than us. Every observation they made was crucial; if they got it wrong, they died. Everything you hunt is bigger than you, stronger than you, or can fly. You go without food for four days and there’s less you can do. This story deals with a very, very smart ancestor of ours. That’s something I would love to have made if I can raise the money to get it done.

Would you do Doctor Who?

I think I’m a little bit too old to play the Doctor. I hear they have a character called The Corsair, I’d quite like to play him.

What else can expect from The Shannara Chronicles?
MTV is trying to make its mark in this fantasy series. It’s picked the best team I’ve ever seen in fantasy television.  As people become more aware of Shannara, I think it’s going be huge. They’ve got a series here that can run for twenty-seven years, there’s such a rich well of imagination to draw from. All credit to MTV for employing the genius of young Terry Brooks.

THE SHANNARA CHRONICLES is out now on DVD.

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