The Rings of Power’s Charlie Vickers explains Halbrand’s journey to Mordor
I suppose one might simply stroll there…
We knew something was wrong with Halbrand the moment he took Galadriel up in the Sundering Seas early in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, through no fault of actor Charlie Vickers — or maybe through tremendous praise. The hesitant ruler of the Southlands was always a little out of place among the grand ebb and flow of Middle-earth drama over the course of eight episodes. He had a tremendous secret, it turned out.
[Editor’s note: This interview contains season 1 spoilers for The Rings of Power.]
Vickers was flippin’ Sauron the entire time!
By the end of The Rings of Power, the audience (and a few elves) have discovered Halbrand’s secret, allowing Vickers to function in a totally new mode in season 2. However, Amazon’s first season required the actor to acquire the soul of Morgoth’s No. 1 person while faking it as Halbrand until he made it to Mordor. So, what exactly is Sauron’s problem, which Vickers had to let boil beneath his skin for eight episodes?
We spoke with the actor over Zoom from London, where he’s now filming The Rings of Power, about his evil career and where it’s going next.
Polygon: How did you originally talk about Halbrand/Sauron as a character? What type of mindset were you in when portraying the role before the revelation and during Season 1?
Vickers, Charlie: When you go back to where he was at the start of this season, I believe he’s in this rebuilding phase. Tolkien describes him languishing in Middle-earth before slowly regaining strength and returning to power. And I believe we are witnessing him in that level of repentance. The question is whether or not the repentance is sincere. And I believe the season can be viewed in both ways, whether he’s maneuvering his way through and manipulating Galadriel in order to reclaim power, or if he’s actually seeking a different life and attempting to be a nice guy. What’s fascinating is that they’re not mutually exclusive.He may believe he is attempting to do good, but in order to do so, he cannot resist persuasion.
And I believe he is driven to heal Middle-earth. And in the previous episode, after Morgoth was destroyed, he says, “It was like a big clinched fist and loosened its clasp on my neck.” “And then I knew I had to undo all of the anguish I’d created,” or something along those lines. And I believe he is attempting to restore and restructure Middle-earth after its destruction during the First Age. While these things are the result of what happened in the First Age and subsequently what happened in the Second Age, I believe they were also built into his existence, his mentality. This yearning for excellence. It’s true workmanship.
The show’s creators, Patrick and J.D., likened Sauron to Walter White from Breaking Bad. Was it your starting point, or were you looking at other representations of ethically corrupt characters? Or even actual people?
I haven’t given much consideration to real-life instances. I’m quite interested in politics, and I recently saw a documentary about tyrants throughout history and how they established their authority. But that was more to unconsciously inform it. The parallel to Walter White is noteworthy because he is an antihero. He does awful things, yet we support him. And I believe there is an element of it in our narrative.
Watching other actors play villains provided me with a lot of inspiration as well. […] I was watching The Boys as we were working on this episode, and Antony Starr did an incredible job with Homelander. There was an aspect of things progressing with the character. And then, in the final moment with Galadriel, he has something terrifying lurking beneath the surface of what he’s doing. As a result, I was motivated. And he has the manipulation without being insane most of the time. That’s intriguing about Sauron because a lot of villains have this ability to be incredibly terrifying in the sense that something is out of control.Sauron, on the other hand, is all about power. And while there may be aspects of his personality where he loses control as a result of the conditions he’s encountered in the First Age, his manipulation comes via seduction and winning the trust of the individuals he meets. Because he’s not your typical villain like the Joker, striking that balance is pretty unusual.
Speaking of seduction, the appearance of Sauron was one of the Polygon team’s most anticipated moments in The Rings of Power, mostly because we knew from Tolkien’s writing that he was intended to be “super gorgeous.” First and foremost, congratulations. Second, did the character’s sex appeal come up? Was that discussed while determining how Halbrand would play off Galadriel?
[Vickers disintegrates into a puddle of shy goo before immediately regenerating] I believe that any difficulty in terms of chemistry and romance developed spontaneously, rather than as a result of a planned decision. I prefer to think of [Sauron and Galadriel’s] bond as something more than romance, but I think it’s fascinating that some people have read it that way. But I think it’s incredibly fantastic if that’s a result of what people take away from the show’s connection. Sexy Sauron… that’s the job of the makeup and wardrobe departments [laughs]. In actual life, I’m simply a regular-looking person.
Tolkien established so many elements of history that characterize Sauron — were there any particular “memories” that you kept with you from the start? What is Halbrand thinking about that we haven’t heard him acknowledge till the end?
Much of the subconscious labor was spent on giving Halbrand a human existence. I believe Sauron would need to have a rather detailed life plan in order to properly depict Halbrand and fool others. I assume all of my subconscious effort went in constructing it, as well as Sauron’s life and truly thinking about where he came from. There is a lot of reading, but there is also a lot of practical information. We were extremely fortunate to have the country in New Zealand.So I spent a long time hiking to design Sauron’s land. I visited Tongariro National Park, which served as Mount Doom in the original trilogy’s The Fellowship of the Ring. So the subconscious work was all over the place. And I hope that influenced the performance – I kept it in mind as we went.
You’re now in London filming Season 2, and although I know we can’t discuss it too much, what do you think of the chemistry between Adar and Sauron? Did it bother you in the first few episodes, and where is it going?
They have a complicated history. They had been at odds for quite some time. In the sixth episode, we see a hint of this. And I think it’s quite clear from watching the episode that there will be more of that connection. We’ll find out more about it. So I won’t say too much about it, but we discover more about that past very fast in the second season. But it’s complicated, and it has deep roots, which I believe will be revealed as the program progresses.
Finally, how did Sauron obtain his black robe? Is Mordor’s dress code enforced?
That’s an excellent question. Did he merely go across the hamlet and grab it from an inn? Or did he kill someone and steal their robe on his way inside Mordor? There are several possible outcomes. But you must wear a large robe!