Here's a shocker: Blockbusters make movie stars. Big films with big action and big, heroic roles can turn actors into celebrities and nobodies into household names -- and films don't come much bigger than the upcoming adaptations of "The Hobbit," with an estimated budget of $500 million.
"Lord of the Rings" director Peter Jackson seldom gets credit for creating movie stars. Remember that Orlando Bloom fellow? You probably know that, before he was a pirate, he was blonde elf Legolas. But you may not remember that before that he was... a completely unknown acting student.
Jackson also launched the much decorated Kate Winslet in 1994, in a dark little film called "Heavenly Creatures"... and she went on to star in "Titanic." He turned Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn in "LOTR") from just a handsome actor into a bona fide leading man with a fan following.
If you act for a living, you want to work on a Peter Jackson project.
So "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," due in December and "The Hobbit: There and Back Again" in 2013 combine a large cast, a star-launching director and its blockbuster profile; the film has the juice to make careers. So who stands to gain the most from the project? Let's take a look.
This guy has fans and they're extremely devoted, but he isn't in the minds of the general public — yet. The "Captain America" star is rich with talent and his role as emotionally tortured dwarf Thorin Oakenshield will let him showcase his abilities.
Thorin is complex and conflicted, will have his fare share of screen time and will also be the most heroic dwarf in Bilbo's company. And, as we already know from the films' single trailer, he gets to use his trademark baritone voice.
Who knew dwarves could be sexy? Yes, Aidan Turner was on TV series "Being Human," but now he is destined for action figure boxes and Pez dispensers (We hope). It's clear that his character Kili is meant to look good.
His pal Fili, played by relative unknown Dean O'Gorman, could rise from obscurity as well. These are the youngest of the dwarves in the film and the most likely to appeal to a post-"LOTR" audience. Before all is said and done they will even tug a few heartstrings.
In a role that is part Legolas, but with the humanity (and five o'clock shadow) of Aragorn, Mr. Evans becomes Bard (the Bowman). Evans has already been in big action films ("Immortals," "Clash of the Titans" "The Three Musketeers,") and he might have the widest recognition of the bunch, but more is coming. He is with John Cusack in April's "The Raven," and several smaller budget films in 2012. However, we may not see his work on "The Hobbit" shine its brightest until the second film in 2013. Even without Jackson, this guy's career has the trajectory of a rocket.
The guy is funny and an excellent actor, and he already has a nice career ("Shaun of the Dead," British TV series "Sherlock") but the two films are about THE Hobbit (him) and don't forget, Jackson and the studio arranged the whole shoot around his schedule. His character is ultimately the guy we identify with. Just like people will adore Elijah Wood for the rest of his career, Freeman is destined to have devoted lifers.
All this fame and Middle-earth goodness will make his role in "Love Actually," as a porn-set worker, even more humorous. Like his movie character, Freeman will get his hands on chests of gold and silver -- and if the movie succeeds as expected, he will have earned it, appearing in a significant portion of each film.
Like Evans, this guy is already on the rise. His BBC series "Sherlock" with Freeman showcases his intelligence and acting. His turn in "Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy" earned him a lot of attention. He has an upcoming role in the new "Star Trek" film and seems to have locked in credibility in geek realms and in theater circles.
He's poised to benefit from the films, but to a lesser degree -- we'll only see his acting through motion capture and by hearing his voice. His portrayal of Smaug is a cornerstone of the second film and should elevate his voice into the realm of legends like James Earl Jones for Darth Vader, Jeremy Irons as Scar in "The Lion King" and, obviously, Andy Serkis as Gollum.
Ultimately, being in these films is a career win for all of these guys. Others will benefit as well, but this group stands the best chance of reaping the biggest benefits from their work. They can also kiss privacy goodbye and can start planning, if they choose, convention appearances for the next 30 years.
In terms of skyrocketing career moves, Armitage will be the ultimate winner. Thorin will be a more important part of this film than many realize and the Shakespearian tragedy elements, with his talent and good looks, make this a perfect situation for him. Still, the rest of the group can console itself knowing they all will enjoy a pile of dragon's gold, fame and buzz.
Check out all the 'Hobbit' photos so far
TheOneRing.net veteran Larry D. Curtis is NextMovie's regular "Hobbit" gollumnist, exploring Middle-earth and all things halfling as we gear up for the December 14 release of Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" prequel, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." Follow The Gollumnist on Twitter!