The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Wizard Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen) ©2012 Warner Bros

Pictured above: The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey – Wizard Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen) ©2012 Warner Bros

Ian McKellen and Elijah Wood reprise their roles in Peter Jackson’s prequel The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey, opening this week. It’s been 10 years since they respectively portrayed Gandalf and Frodo in The Lord of the Rings.

In the movie a young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is approached by Gandalf the Grey about accompanying him on a dangerous adventure to reclaim the Dwarf Kingdom from the terrifying Dagon Smaug.

At the recent press junket in New York, Ian McKellen and Elijah Wood spoke of their continuing connection to the franchise.

After you both finished The Lord of the Rings trilogy, how did you manage to shake off your roles emotionally and physically?

Elijah Wood ©2012 Warner Bros

Elijah: I don’t know. I think playing Frodo over the course of four years and ending that chapter, a funny thing happened as the films came out and all of the characters got absorbed in the popular culture. The character became bigger than I. The characters in that way have been with me ever since.

It’s a funny thing being a part of something that is so known in popular culture. The character is everywhere. People on the street daily reference Frodo, and it’s been that way ever since. It’s like a little shadow.

Wizard Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen) ©2012 Warner Bros

Ian: If you’re acting away for a film it will be with a certain intensity. What you might have difficulty shaking off when you remove the costume and the makeup is not the character, but the effort that you put into it.

The fact that it was difficult, or joyfully easy or there was something you didn’t quite get right or struggled over. I think that effort might remain with you. That’s what you’ll be thinking of rather than you having been lost in the world of Middle-earth.

Ian, you’ve stated that you prefer playing Gandalf the Grey over Gandalf the White. What are the qualities that appeal to you?

Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) ©2012 Warner Bros

Ian: [In The Lord of the Rings] Gandalf the White is on a mission and he has to help save the world, so there is no time for jokes.

Bilbo is on an adventure, it’s different in The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey, so he doesn’t need Gandalf the White to look after him. He needs the Grey, who he can have a smoke and drink with him.

There’s a bit more range for the actor in Gandalf the Grey, and that’s selfishly why I preferred doing him.

What have you learned about yourself making The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey?

Elijah Wood at the New York premiere ©2012 Warner Bros

Elijah: For me this time it wasn’t really an entire journey. I can certainly speak to Lord of the Rings. My experience was unique, we all had unique experiences.

I was 18 when I traveled to New Zealand, so they were formative years for me growing into being a man, and that’s what it’s meant for me.

It was the first time I’d lived away from home for any great length of time. It was a huge journey for me as a person.

I made some of the best friends of my life, and endured a responsibility as an actor that I’d never encountered before. So it totally changed me as a person.

I think through the collected experiences of making the film and going on that journey, and all the people that informed that, I am partially the person I am today as a result of that.

At any time did you think that the material in The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit franchise didn’t warrant three epic-length movies?

Hugo Weaving, director Peter Jackson and Ian McKellen ©2012 Warner Bros

Ian: Anyone who thinks Peter Jackson would fall for market forces rather than the artistic comparative, doesn’t know the guy, [and hasn’t] necessarily examined the body of his work.

And it’s not a franchise! They are films. This isn’t X-Men!

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.