If you’ve seen The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, you might remember some nefarious characters who were ready to jump Thorin Oakenshield before he was joined by Gandalf at The Prancing Pony. If you’ve watched the behind the scenes extras from the Extended Edition, you’ll know these two characters as Bill Ferny Sr. and The Squint.
Bill Ferny Sr. was played by Dallas Barnett, a New Zealand-based American actor, and I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know him over the past month. Dallas sat down to answer my questions about his character, filming on The Hobbit, his acting career (past, present, and future), and his geeky passions, including fantasy and Middle-earth!
As a bonus, we will be doing a contest; the winners will be one grand prize winner and one runner up! Read to the end of the interview for contest details and leave a comment to enter.
Middle-earth News: Let’s start at the beginning for anyone who doesn’t know: What was your casting process like and when did you know you’d been chosen for the role of Bill Ferny Sr. in The Hobbit? Do you remember where you were when you found out?
Dallas Barnett: I originally auditioned for the role of Azog, the Pale Orc back before Principal Photography on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey began. Being a lifelong High Fantasy fan, and a unapologetic PJ / Tolkien Fanboy, I really wanted to be a part of this in any way I could, but when I didn’t hear back, I knew I had missed out on it, as they were filming the entire trilogy in one go.
I was gutted, but that’s the way the industry works; you win some you lose some. Two years later, my agent Gail rings me and asked if I was sitting down…she said Wingnut had contacted her, saw my original audition and my showreels and wanted me to come down to play Bill Sr. for Pickups and could I be free next week?
A 350 pound hard looking guy in an Iron Maiden T-shirt and a fistful of skull rings sobbing in a Mexican Restaurant? Yeah…that happened.
(I’ve since lost over 100 pounds, by the way, since then…I still eat Burritos.)
Middle-earth News: We’ve heard director Peter Jackson likes to do lots of takes! Care to spill the beans and tell us how many takes you had to do for your shots?
Dallas Barnett: Gosh…over and over and over. The scene that made the theatrical cut took a full day to shoot, but the time I spent watching PJ, Sir Ian and RA work wasn’t long enough in my opinion. I would have been happy to do that one scene for a week, just to learn from these masters. Being in the same room as my favorite director and my all time favorite actor and having the honor of watching the scene develop through the takes is something I will never forget.
There was a scene that didn’t make the release that involved a pursuit through the streets of Bree. At that time, I was suffering a shattered foot. I had just spent nearly a year in a moon-boot and was in considerable pain. Running through the slick, muddy streets of Bree in a driving rain with The Squint (Matt Smith), chasing Thorin’s Scale Double (Mark Atkin) all day was exhausting. I went back to my room that night, took a long hot bath, ate pain meds, and just collapsed.
Middle-earth News: Did you have a “headcanon” for your character that wasn’t in the script or in PJ’s notes?
Dallas Barnett: I wasn’t really given ‘notes’ per se, but I am fairly familiar with Tolkien’s works and the people of the area as written. Sir Peter gave me a quick brief, and I knew Bill Jr. from the books.
Bill Sr. is a bandit, sell-sword, mercenary, all around nasty piece of work with few morals and even less conscience. A real ‘puppy-kicker’. Much worse than his idiot failure of a son.
I decided to get into his head and just have fun with him. It was really cathartic to be honest.
Middle-earth News: What was your favorite part of your costume?
Dallas Barnett: Bill was a last minute addition to the film, so there was really no ready costume and it was pretty simple: a pair of dirty woolen pants, big leather boots, a heavy leather coat and a leather hooded cape. I think my favorite part of the costume was really standing in the costuming room with Sir Peter, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens watching and making suggestions as the wardrobe people manufactured it around me on the spot for shooting in 2 days.
My LEAST favorite part was after a day of filming in the rain and mud and feeling 45 pounds of leather turn into 85 pounds of WET leather…
Middle-earth News: Were you secretly hoping to have an epic beard or some other bit of fun makeup?
Dallas Barnett: Not at all. The original brief was for Bill to have these huge muttonchops, but I showed up in Wellington with 2 weeks worth of scraggly beard growth and Fran Walsh said, “Oh gosh, he looks like a wild boar!! Perfect!”
They shaved my eyebrows though. That was weird…My makeup artist Georgia was a doll!!
They also highlighted some scarring that I have around the right side of my face a bit. I’m actually glad that I got face-time with no SFX or prosthetics.
I have had several people ask if Bill had Orcish heritage, haha.
Middle-earth News: Did you know you were going to be featured in the behind-the-scenes of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Extended Edition or were you pleasantly surprised to find yourself?
Dallas Barnett: NZ is a bit behind on release dates for the DVD’s and such, so I didn’t know anything about it, or wasn’t informed until a fan of mine, Grace, messaged me and dropped the news. I was blown away to be honest…quite an honor to be singled out like that.
Middle-earth News: How would you feel if there was ever a toy made of your character, Bill Ferny Sr.?
Dallas Barnett: Hmmm… “I’m Available???” Haha, I would be thrilled to have a Bill Sr. Pop-Vinyl or a Lego Minifig.
Actually, a great friend of mine in Spain has promised to crochet a Bill Sr. doll for me. I’d rather have the fan-made art, to be honest; it holds more meaning than a mass produced action figure for me personally.
Middle-earth News: It’s a classic question, but I’ve gotta ask: If you could live anywhere in Middle-earth, where would you choose?
Dallas Barnett: Bree, naturally because of the Prancing Pony, but I’d like a vacation home in Mordor. 😉
Actually, I live in Auckland, New Zealand, and we are a few hours away from the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata, Mount Doom, Mordor and a few other movie locations, a day drive from Rivendell in Upper Hutt, Wellington, and a short flight to the glorious South Island and the Southern Alps, so really…I DO live in Middle Earth
Middle-earth News: What Middle-earth character do you most identify with?
Dallas Barnett: Several…Boromir most of all, I think. He had honor beyond the call of duty. I think I would have made a decent Rider of Rohan in real life. Gandalf because of the sheer wisdom and sense of humor he always shows, even in the face of danger, and of course Bill, but he is non-canon. 😉
Middle-earth News: It seems like you often play “tough guys” on screen. Is there a type of role you would like to take on that doesn’t fit that description? Do you mind being “type-cast”?
Dallas Barnett: I have done several comic roles over the last few years and I really enjoy them. I like the physicality of the bad guys, though. I realized when I first got into acting that I was no Brad Pitt, and would probably never be a leading man, but I certainly don’t mind beating the leading man up a bit. I have always had an affinity for the classic ‘Reluctant-Hero’/Antihero trope. John McClane from Die Hard, anything Samuel Jackson, Jason Statham, or Danny Trejo have always been favorites of mine.
I don’t mind being typecast at all. At least I’m cast!
Middle-earth News: Do you remember the moment you decided you wanted to be an actor?
Dallas Barnett: I have always really been keen on it to be honest. I was active in my high school Thespian Society and had parts in many plays and such, and I have a background in radio after that as a DJ/ Presenter on-air, and I have been a voice actor for years prior to catching a break on screen. My first “Acting ‘ job was doing a voice-over for a wonderfully heartbreaking short called “Something Special” by an amazing new director named Kristi Simkins. It was part of a New Zealand 100% Pure competition that was judged by Sir Peter.
Three voice actors were sitting in the big studio at Park Road Post in Wellington and doing the dialogue and it got to a climax where the three of us were playing off each other.
My heart was racing. I was sweating and I was getting choked up. Right there, I knew this was what I needed to be doing with my life, and I haven’t looked back since. Right now, I’m one of a handful of NZ actors that is privileged to do this full-time, on screen and in the voice studio.
Middle-earth News: Lots of people really “geek out” about Tolkien and Middle-earth! What do you geek out about?
Dallas Barnett: Oh, gosh…I’m a total geek!! I spent the majority of my youth buried behind a stack of AD&D books, dice and metal dragons. I have read everything by Tolkien, Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Terry Pratchett (RIP Sir Terry ), Asminov, Weiss and Hickman. I’m also an Astronomy nerd, music nerd, petrol-head, computer geek and I’m a sucker for crap-tastic old sci-fi movies.
Middle-earth News: What current projects are you involved in and are there any we can look forward to in the future?
Dallas Barnett: I am presently involved in a webseries called AFK- The Webseries that we are filming right now with cast from The Hobbit, Spartacus, Xena, and many more NZ-filmed TV and movie cast and crew.
It involves a group of MMORPG players who find themselves transported into the game world with no real skills to speak of and inhabiting their avatar’s bodies. My character is a huge Orc with the mind of a mischievous, cheeky, and ultimately frightened 8 year old boy. We have sold the series to a NZ Cable network, and are in negotiations with some international interests right now. Come check us out on Facebook!
I am also hoping to be a part of Terry Brooks’ Shanarra TV series, the new Evil Dead series with Bruce Campbell, the Avatar sequels, Blade Runner 2, and ultimately be a part of the DC and/or Marvel universes (Arrow, Flash, Gotham, Daredevil, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., etc.) Need a really good bad guy????
I REALLY want a shot at playing Kraven the Hunter in the Sinister Six film…just putting it out there. 😉
My management team is in negotiations with a few conventions as we speak, and I look forward to attending as many as I can to meet and shake hands with as many people as possible should I have the opportunity.
Middle-earth News: The fanbases for lots of celebrities have names like “The Armitage Army” or “The Adam Brownies”; what name would you like your fans to use?
Dallas Barnett: I would hope I’d never be so arrogant as to pick my own fanclub name, if I ever actually have one. Lets let your readers make some suggestions and give away a special prize for the best one, shall we?
Fans are the reason I and others like me get to live this incredible life, and I will always strive to remember that. I am living my dream because of folks like you…much gratitude.
You heard him, fans! Let’s come up with the best name for the Dallas Barnett fanbase! Leave your ideas in the comments of this article, and we’ll choose our top two favorites. The Grand Prize winner will get an autographed photo of Dallas plus a secret BONUS prize. The runner-up will receive an autographed photo of Dallas.
Contest ends at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday, March 22 and is open to all participants worldwide.