– Azog is Bolg, then Yazneg is Azog, then Azog is Azog …
To the general movie goer, not interested in the comings and goings that occur during the production of a film, or the juicy tidbits and rumours that trail along till the cinematic release, will undoubtedly shrug off any knowledge concerning the complex changes that two characters in ‘The Hobbit’ went through.
Avid fans eager for any piece of information during the last two or three years since the Trilogy sprung to life, will certainly have come across (or at least, heard) of the “yo-yo” design process in bringing to life the terrifying orcs better known as Azog and Bolg.
A process so volatile that it produced a completely new, non-canon orc character in the mix: Yazneg.
Conan Stevens may not have been on the radar of most movie audiences, however, his towering height and muscular build were the perfect match in portraying the brutal character of Gregor Clegane in the first season of HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’. Not only that, but back in May 2011, Peter Jackson hired him to bring to life the character of Azog in his trio of ‘Hobbit’ films.
Fans rejoiced (at least, I for one did) at the thought and confirmation, that we would be seeing this character on screen and played by someone who’s physical qualities were the right match for the great Orc during the battle of Azanulbizar against the Dwarves.
No casting news was received regarding the character of Bolg … for a very long while; and many people started to think that his role would be scrapped and instead be completely replaced by Azog …
– John Rawls enters the scene
In early 2012, a new rumour began to spread that actor John Rawls had been given the role of Azog. Whatever happened to Stevens’ version was as yet unknown and still there seemed no official mention regarding the character of Bolg – until a few weeks later, through product descriptions released for the characters’ action figures, it appeared that Conan Stevens’ original role (and design) for Azog, was now destined to take over as Bolg.
Meanwhile, the name “Yazneg” popped out of nowhere and was thrown in amongst Bridge Direct’s line of products – along with other characters that were destined to become action figures. The mystery of this orc was peculiar, however, it was immediately noted that this character would form part of Jackson’s imagination within the Trilogy – considering there is no mention of the name anywhere in any of Tolkien’s works. Eventually, John Rawls was yet again announced to be playing this particular orc, Yazneg.
Back then, when we were all ignorant to the design changes, there was yet another question to be asked. If Conan Steven’s Azog now became Bolg, and John Rawls’ Azog was now Yazneg, then who would be Azog?
– Manu Bennett steps in …
In August 2012 (a few months before the release of ‘An Unexpected Journey’) it was revealed that actor Manu Bennett would be portraying the orc by means of motion-capture. In October, the design of Yazneg (formerly, Azog) was finally revealed – tightly wrapped in hard plastic and a piece of cardboard. We finally got our image of what would have originally been Azog. In appearance, he certainly was not as daunting as Stevens’ Azog originally was; and now, having seen ‘An Unexpected Journey’, we know all about Yazneg’s story and his terrible faith half way through the film.
Meanwhile, there was no clue as to Bennett’s final Azog design until the release of the film itself. Impressive, daunting and boosting swag skills beyond anything human, Bennett gave a thrilling rendition of the brutal orc’s exploits.
However, as revealing as both Azog and Yazneg’s characters were, there was no sign of Conan Stevens Bolg – nowhere. It was therefore, somewhat misleading to fans who were eagerly expecting to see this character (me included), especially after the studios released a poster of the first film clearly portraying Stevens’ design. Then again, could that poster have been an early creation when Stevens was still in the role of Azog? We may never know until we see the the behind the scenes features of all three films.
Another mystery was due to the fact that Stevens was credited at the end of ‘An Unexpected Journey’ and it soon emerged that a quick cameo of Bolg could be seen during the Battle of Azanulbizar – fighting against Dwalin who immediately strikes a seemingly mortal wound to the orc.
Yet another set of questions were being asked as to how Bolg could have been slain in Film 1 when he was clearly going to be part of Films 2 & 3. Quick-thinking and witty fans immediately came to the conclusion that this had to do with a particular Necromancer and his capability of bringing back the dead …
– Almost a year later, a new design change seemingly takes place
During most of 2013, Conan Stevens was pretty much confirmed as portraying the offspring of Azog in the upcoming ‘The Desolation of Smaug’. Fan site theonering.net even posted an interview with the actor a few months before release and all seemed to be going pretty well.
Naturally, rumours began to spread once again (probably around October), that Peter Jackson had decided (in the light that Azog was a completely CGI character) to re-shoot Bolg’s performance entirely as a computer-generated character.
What this meant for Conan Stevens’ portrayal was yet left as another mystery.
September 2013 seemed to be going through a period of ups and downs. Once Stevens’ Bolg seemed altogether rejected, their came another “tidbit” of his reaffirmation. This seemed to be the case with the release of another poster for ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ – clearly showing a silhouetted shape of the orc, brandishing his massive club and distinctive bone-armour structure.
But yet another blow was dealt to the seemingly ill-fated interpretation of Stevens, as someone confirmed the casting of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ orc & ringwraith veteran, Lawrence Makoare. Would he be playing Bolg? It seemed so. Then again, others still suspected that Conan Stevens had yet the final say over Bolg’s design.
Then came a much anticipated production video, recounting the cast and crew’s race against time to complete the pick-ups in mid-2013. An interesting shot of Makoare in mo-cap suit, whilst making a threatening gesture and uttering the guttural tongue of the Black Speech, (with a pre-viz shot of him in orc-shape) was displayed on screen. All characteristics synonymous with Steven’s design were there. The piece of iron nailed to the head, the facial features, the height – but most damning evidence of all seemed to be the exact same design of the orc’s club – indicating that what we were seeing on screen was Bolg himself and not some other of Azog’s minions.
The only difference in this design was the lack of facial hair and bearing a closer resemblance to the Pale Orc – a fitting image considering their father-and-son relationship.
Yet again, questions were asked as to whether this was simply a “quick job” done by Makoare to enhance or fill-up any missing scenes with Conan Stevens’ portrayal or whether the latter’s design and performance was completely scrapped and was being made anew.
But then, Games Workshop, the company responsible for producing table-top wargaming figures for the films, changed the product name attached to Conan Stevens’ design – from “Bolg” to “Gundabad Orc General”, which seriously seemed to suggest that changes had been made to the overall design. Furthermore, Bridge Direct had (a month or two before that) removed any products associated with Bolg from their website.
Things weren’t looking very good for Stevens once again …
The trailers and tv spots coming in for Film 2 were nowhere near to indicating the presence of Bolg’s design and only the release of the film itself would eventually reveal whether Conan Stevens would ever making it on screen for more than 4 or 5 seconds …
Indeed, the mystery of Bolg’s design seemed to take precedence over Smaug himself!
– ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ is released and with it, the truth …
With the 13th of December come and passed, we have finally come to the resolution of the matter once and for all (hopefully).
It is now confirmed that Lawrence Makoare’s motion capture sessions were in fact done due to Bolg’s redesign into a completely CGI character – most probably, to be more in tune with the rest of the digital orcs (not least, Azog himself).
Whilst I praise Makoare’s performance in the film (he seems to be a natural talent when playing orcs – think of Lurtz in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’), this means that Conan Stevens’ design will never see the light of day – except for that very brief scene in the battle of Moria flashback in ‘An Unexpected Journey’.
A true pity, for his design surely embodied something of the brutal Middle-earth race which was so synonymous with ‘The Lord of the Rings’; not to mention the absence of Conan Stevens’ performance – which would have been a very interesting addition to the films.
Cherish the images of the “original” Azog/Bolg in Dol Guldur, for they are a piece of history in making this films; a reminder of the characters that could have been, but never were (Ugh! That sounds a bit too poetic and nonsensical – though it DOES come from part of my brain so I guess that’s inevitable … pardon me!)
[Much of what is written here has been collected through various sources and information of books, action figures and other merchandise related to these films. I have not yet seen the books ‘Chronicles: Creatures & Characters’ and ‘Chronicles: Art & Design’ related to ‘An Unexpected Journey’ or ‘The Desolation of Smaug’- however, I believe they contain a few illustrations of both Azog and Bolg’s early designs which might conflict with what is written here. If you have access to these books, please do not hesitate to share the information here on this post :)]