Ismael Cruz Córdova explains how he helped shape Elven combat in ‘Rings of Power’


Of all the new characters introduced in power rings So far, Arondir has the story that is by far the trickiest. As pointed out shortly after his introduction, humans and elves have only had romantic relationships together twice at this point in history, and it hasn’t gone very well each time. JRR Tolkien wrote powerful and heartbreaking stories of these relationships and presented them to readers as cautionary tales for the rest of the world to observe and respect.

And yet, here is Rounder, with smoldering eyes and chiseled cheekbones, very clearly in love with Bronwyn, the town’s mortal most associated with loyalty to the greatest enemy Middle-earth has yet known. These scenes are intense, and at least so far, they’re filled with warnings that these two would-be lovers do their best to ignore. It’s a fascinating position as an actor, and Ismael Cruz Córdova doesn’t hesitate at all to share how he got to this emotional state.

We also talk about other aspects of the character he plays – if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Bronwyn and Arondir are sitting near a well under a tree.

Bronwyn and Arondir steal a moment at the well.

Amazon Prime Video

Q: In Tolkien’s works, a romantic relationship between an elf and a human is very important. How did that impact how you approached what we see between Roundir and Bronwyn in the first two episodes?
Córdova: Even though these characters are fantastic and larger than life, and in many ways so far removed from our reality, as an actor all I can do is reflect on them in the most essential way , ask me what are their true desires and desires and motivations. And through that, you can pull from your own life and start there. There’s a lot of division in our real world, things you’re told you’re not supposed to do or things you’re told aren’t for you. Adding that to this landscape was something very useful for me.

But I would say what helped me the most was going back to that moment that almost everyone goes through, when you first date someone and realize you miss them. I remember a long time ago I was brushing my teeth and it suddenly hit me like “Oh shit, I miss them.” I wanted to know everything about them – close wasn’t close enough. There was this intense curiosity, an intense desire to just be close. For Rounding you need to add this, like a thin layer of glass with an electric charge between them.

We have all this energy, but we cannot touch. Cannot be seen together. Impossible to talk about. I put all this concentrated energy into showing this relationship.

This spectacle is massive on a scale difficult to describe, in a universe with cultural impacts dating back decades. What goes into the decision to accept a role like this?
I had a pretty tough journey to get this role. My desire to be part of Tolkien’s world started when I was 14, and I really wanted to be an elf. I got hit, people were saying things like “elves don’t look like you” and that kind of stuff, so that was something I pursued quite aggressively. When the casting calls came out, I knew it was something I had to do. I had a few rejections in the process; they said the role wouldn’t go my way. But I kept fighting and fighting and fighting, something like six or seven months of auditions. And I finally made it to the final screen test, where they flew me to New Zealand with six other guys, and I got the part.

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When I got the part, I let this big sigh of relief come over me, but also this incredible sense of responsibility. Bringing new faces to Middle-earth, opening the doors of fantasy to new people, and more, bringing a new sensibility to elves as well. The diversity of the elven world — not to mention the human diversity here, there are different colors but it’s so much more complex than that. Arondir is a modest elf, he is by no means an exceptional elf. He’s a frontline trench soldier. All of this compounded made me feel like “game”.

I knew full well that my casting was going to have a backlash. Some people tried to tell me “it’s 2019, people are fine”, but there was this huge wave of backlash after the announcement. But I had planned it, and that was part of the reason I wanted this role. We touch a sensitive chord, necessary for disruption and necessary for change. I prepared for this reaction, and now that the series is finally starting to come out, I feel the same preparation.

As an actor, it was a treat and a huge challenge. It was hard AF, but worth it for everything I learned.

You actually helped build the fighting style that the Wood Elves use in this series, didn’t you? Can you talk about how that came together?
I love visual storytelling, I grew up not speaking much English but I loved movies. A lot of what I took away from those films early on was stuff that got to me physically, you know? A beautiful sequence without words, watching how an actor moves, things like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon mesmerized me. This beauty in their movement, the lyricism and the drama that it carries, moved me. It’s another great example of forbidden love, I learned a lot from that film, and I wanted to bring some of that to Arondir.

Read more: ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’: Everything you need to know before watching

I wanted to have a say in how Arondir fought, and I wanted to be part of building that style of fighting, and they let me. Wood elves are based in the woods, so they must have taken inspiration from nature for how to fight. Being eternal beings, they see how nature goes up and down, a kind of grounded style of movement. This led me and the amazing stunt team to build a roster of experts to teach kung fu, tae kwon do, a bit of tai chi, and I also wanted to bring some of my heritage, with the brazilian martial art of capoeira. It’s a very animalistic, close to the ground fighting style that you can see a Wood Elf moving around. We took all of those things, and a few other flavors, and built Roundir’s fighting style.

How difficult was it to integrate these fighting styles into the Silvan armor?
Oh, man! It was a lot. We had to rethink some things for the fight sequences, but I also had to bring my movement to work with what we had. It was a lot of adjustment, but what helps is that elves are quite angular and balanced, so the armor helped me maintain that posture and think differently about how to move my body.

But it was an incredible challenge. I was bruised, scratched, and on wires. I did most of the thread work you see on the show, I was tested and approved to do it because that’s not often the job of actors, and yes it was hard. Just talking about it, I get a little tripped up, a little breathless about some of those moments.

If you could take home one thing you touched while in Middle-earth, what would it be?
My sword. It was so beautiful. I could even have done with the dagger, which is really a mini version of it. But my sword was so magnificent.

Let me tell you something – I tried. I tried. They were staring at me like hawks. They knew how much I wanted that sword, it was almost like there was a tracker on it.


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