Charles Ross is set to play Frodo in “Lord of the Rings.” And Samwise. And Gandalf. And Sauron. And Gollum.
The Canadian actor and “professional geek,” who wrote and starred in his own one-man version of “Star Wars,” is out touring with his very own “One Man Lord of the Rings.” Ross is set to make a stop at the Birchmere in Alexandria on Saturday.
Ross said he originally tried the “One Man Star Wars” just to see if it would work, which it turned out ... really well.
“I underestimated the power of geekdom,” Ross said. “People really, really know their Star Wars really well. After the success and sustainability of the Star Wars show and touring it around, it kind of got into my head, ‘Well, is there something else? Is there another story that is as popular?’”
It was at that time in 2003 the third and final “Lord of the Rings” film, “The Return of the King,” had just finished wrapping up in the movie theaters. Ross had his idea.
“I watched the films and I loved them,” Ross said. “I’ve read the books like crazy and, as much as I thought I was a nerd, I really wasn’t in comparison to some people. So it was latching on to a fandom or fanaticism that was already there. So it was a mixture of love and curiosity to see if taking something that is super high-tech and tearing it down to its simplest form.”
In this case, the simplest form is Ross on stage with just the 55 to 60 characters he plays — no costumes, no sets, no props — and a pair of black coveralls. Ross knows it might take the audience a little time to adjust to seeing just him on stage.
“It’s like watching a mad person,” Ross said. “… I have a lighting design which will help lead people through the pace of telling the story. Like the films, I start at the beginning of the first film and I take you all the way through the end. I do this in about an hour and 10 minutes. I take a couple of little water breaks to catch my breath and talk to the audience for a second where it would naturally fall in the films.”
During one of his performances, Ross had a bit of a surprise while he was looking out into the audience. Sir Ian McKellen, who played Gandalf in all three “Lord of the Rings,” movies, as well as “The Hobbit,” films, was sitting in a seat watching him perform.
“That was a bit freaky,” Ross said. “I didn’t know he was going to be attending my show until a couple of minutes before the show began. Sure enough, I look out and there’s the face of Gandalf sitting out there. The show itself, I don’t really remember much about it because I was so self-conscious. I was at the end of an eight-month tour, so I knew the show like the back of my hand even at that point. So I felt pretty relaxed.”
Gandalf must have been impressed. After the show, while Ross was in the shower, the stage manager came to tell him McKellen was on stage and wanted to meet him.
“We talked for about an hour just about the show, of course, but also all kinds of stuff,” Ross said. “He was really supportive and I ended up having lunch with him a couple of weeks later on the movie set he was working on at the time. He was full of good advice.”
The show is meant to be entertaining, not only for those who are fans of the J.R.R. Tolkien works, but for those who are simply curious as to what a one-man show like this is all about. However, Ross said he hopes audiences walk away with a perspective they had, but didn’t realize they had.
“I hope they take away an experience that will inform them the next time they watch the films,” Ross said. “… It’s really a simple story of good versus evil. For all the intricate histories and different races, it really is just a guy from a farm being tasked with something great that he has to achieve and finding the strength to achieve it in the end.
“Like Frodo, who can never really come back as himself to the Shire at the end, I would hope people would come see to this show and can never truly go back to watching ‘Lord of the Rings’ the way it was.”