On Friday, news broke that acclaimed English actor Ian Holm had passed at 88. Holm was a prolific thespian, winner of many awards and a nominee for 1981’s Chariots of Fire, with a diverse résumé that includes everything from the heartbreaking grief drama The Sweet Hereafter to the wacky futuristic saga The Fifth Element. But for most viewers he’s perhaps best remembered as the older Bilbo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Jackson was quick to honor Holm. As noted by ComicBook.com, the filmmaker took to Facebook, where he penned a lengthy tribute to an actor whose screentime was brief but indelible, leaving an impression with only a handful of total minutes.
“I’m feeling very sad at the passing of Sir Ian Holm,” Jackson began. “Ian was such a delightful, generous man. Quiet, but cheeky, with a lovely twinkle in his eye.”
The filmmaker — who up till then had mostly made genre movies, as well as the more serious (though f/x-heavy) Heavenly Creatures, starring no less than Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey — admitted he felt “nervous about working with such an esteemed actor,” but that Holm “immediately put me at ease.”
Holm later put in cameos in two of Jackson’s Hobbit films, but that almost didn’t happen.
Fran [Walsh, Jackson’s collaborator and partner] and I had dinner with Ian and his wife Sophie in London, and he told us that he was very sorry, but he couldn’t do it. Adding to our shock, he confided that he’d been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and could no longer remember lines. He had difficulty walking, and certainly couldn’t travel to New Zealand. Always a private man, he told us that he’d basically retired, but wasn’t announcing it.
This was a blow because we had worked out a nice way to hand the role over from Ian as Old Bilbo, to Martin Freeman as Young Bilbo. I described this to him, and he liked it. I also told him how my mother and an uncle had both endured Parkinson’s for years, and I was very familiar with the effects of the disease.
Jackson quickly devised a Plan B: He wouldn’t make Holm come to New Zealand but rather shoot his scenes independently of the rest of the production, near his home in London. “By the end of the dinner he nodded slowly, and said, ‘Yes, I think I could do that,’” Jackson recalled. “But I knew he was only doing it as a favour to me, and I held his hands and thanked him with tears in my eyes.”
You can read Jackson’s full tribute over here.