In mid-July 2019, Amazon Prime Video's upcoming The Lord of the Rings series started rolling out updates – beginning with reports that Markella Kavenagh (Picnic at Hanging Rock) had joined the highly-anticipated epic fantasy series as a character named Tyra. Then during the Television Critics Association (TCA) summer press event, the streamer formally introduced the creative team behind the project (more on that below).
In August, it was reported that actor Will Poulter (Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, Midsommar) had joined the series in an undisclosed lead role. Then in November came word Maxim Baldry (Years and Years) had landed a "significant role" in the project, and that Game of Thrones alum Joseph Mawle was set for the role of the villainous Oren (all casting still to be officially confirmed).
Last month, Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke confirmed that work was already underway on a second season (including writers' room). While an early renewal notice is usally a long-term good sign of a shorter break between seasons, the short-term bad news is production will undergo a 4-5 month hiatus once filming on the first two episodes wraps.
While that time will be used by writers/showrunners JD Payne and Patrick McKay to plan out the second season, it also means the series will lose Poulter's services. While The Hollywood Reporter reports that the actor's deal was "never officially closed", Poulter was expected to play an undisclosed lead but was forced to drop put over scheduling conflicts.
No matter what (if any) involvement Lord of the Rings/Hobbit cinematic guru Peter Jackson has with Amazon Prime Video's upcoming prequel series, the streaming service and Payne and McKay are looking to walk in the filmmaker's footsteps by basing production in New Zealand.
Filming marks a major short-term and long-term financial boost to New Zealand. The streaming service is expected to spend close to $1 billion on the project – much of that spent in and around the country. The country's direct association with the film franchise has proven a considerable boost to the tourism industry.
Here's a look at what Payne and McKay to say about the decision:
— The Lord of the Rings on Prime (@LOTRonPrime) September 17, 2019
"As we searched for the location in which we could bring to life the primordial beauty of the Second Age of Middle-earth, we knew we needed to find somewhere majestic, with pristine coasts, forests, and mountains, that also is a home to world-class sets, studios and highly skilled and experienced craftspeople and other staff. We're happy that we are now able to officially confirm New Zealand as our home for our series based on stories from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings."
We are grateful to the people and the government of New Zealand and especially Auckland for supporting us during this preproduction phase. The abundant measure of Kiwi hospitality with which they have welcomed us has already made us feel right at home, and we are looking forward to deepening our partnership in the years to come."
– J.D. Payne & Patrick McKay, Executive Producer
In the video below, LotR fans learned the creative team's killer line-up of talent – including Amazon's ex-genre head Sharon Tal Yguado as well as Lindsey Weber (10 Cloverfield Lane), Bruce Richmond (Game of Thrones), Gene Kelly (Boardwalk Empire), and Tal Yguado – as well as writer/executive producer Gennifer Hutchison (Breaking Bad); writer/executive producer Jason Cahill (The Sopranos), and writer/executive producer Justin Doble (Stranger Things)
Meet our Fellowship. pic.twitter.com/Npouu6ZlRt
— The Lord of the Rings on Prime (@LOTRonPrime) July 27, 2019
Writers Payne and McKay are developing the series and serving as showrunner, with Bryan Cogman (Game of Thrones) serving as a consultant. Juan Antonio (J.A.) Bayona (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) is set to direct the first two episodes, with Bayona also serving as executive producer alongside producing partner Belén Atienza. Amazon Studios produces, in conjunction with the Tolkien Estate and Trust, HarperCollins, and New Line Cinema.
"J.R.R. Tolkien created one of the most extraordinary and inspiring stories of all time, and as a lifelong fan it is an honor and a joy to join this amazing team. I can't wait to take audiences around the world to Middle-earth and have them discover the wonders of the Second Age, with a never before seen story."
– J.A. Bayona
While specific details on the Lord of the Rings series are still few-and-far-between, we do know that the new stories will take place prior to J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Fellowship of the Ring." Also very telling are the tweets that have come out from the series' official Twitter account, which allude to the "Second Age" – a time when the Rings of Power were first revealed.
"We are thrilled to have J.A. and Belén joining the fellowship as we continue to develop this epic series. We have been great admirers of J.A.'s work for years, and know that his epic, cinematic and deeply heartfelt aesthetic is the perfect sensibility to bring Middle-earth to life anew."
– JD Payne & Patrick McKay
In addition to names listed above, the creative team behind Amazon Prime's "Lord of the Rings" series are executive producers Lindsey Weber, Bruce Richmond, Gene Kelly, and Amazon's former head of genre programming Sharon Tal Yguado; writer and executive producer Gennifer Hutchison; writer and executive producer Jason Cahill; writer and executive producer Justin Doble; consulting producer Stephany Folsom; producer Ron Ames; writer and co-producer Helen Shang; and writing consultant Glenise Mullins. Bayona will executive produce alongside partner Belén Atienza.