Robert Aramayo had no idea when he first auditioned for “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” that the role he was vying for was Elrond, one of the most revered and crucial characters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic saga of Middle-earth. Hugo Weaving played Elrond in Peter Jackson’s trilogies of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” and as a kid, Aramayo had been captivated by the films. So when “The Rings of Power” co-showrunner J.D. Payne told him that he’d been cast to play Elrond as a (relatively) young man, the now 29-year-old actor couldn’t believe it.
“I had one of those moments where everything in your body feels like you’re on electricity,” he tells Variety. “I was shocked and surprised and felt really, really honored that they will consider me for him.”
It isn’t Aramayo’s first experience playing the younger version of a beloved fantasy character. In Season 6 of “Game of Thrones,” he played young Ned Stark in a series of crucial flashbacks that revealed no less than the true parentage of Jon Snow. Since then, Aramayo’s kept busy, with roles in feature films “Antebellum” and “The King’s Man” and Netflix series “Mindhunter” and “Behind Her Eyes.”
But starring in “The Rings of Power” — set thousands of years before the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, in the Second Age of Middle-earth — is a “dream come true” for Aramayo. At the behest of Payne and fellow showrunner Patrick McKay (whom Aramayo affectionately calls “the boys”), the actor plunged head first into Elrond’s history and studied the wealth of supplemental material written by Tolkien, like “The Silmarillion” and “The History of Middle-earth” — collectively known as Tolkien’s legendarium.
“Now, it’s genuinely pretty much all I read,” Aramayo says with a self-effacing laugh. “The First Age stories are written very differently to the Third Age and to ‘The Hobbit.’ They’re very mythological. I just absolutely fell in love with it.”
Aramayo discusses what most struck him in his deep dive into Middle-earth lore and the differences between working on “Game of Thrones” and “The Rings of Power.”
On “Game of Thrones,” you shot the scene that revealed Jon Snow’s parentage. So you have some experience in keeping big secrets.
Yes. Oh yes. Yes, yes, yes.
Was that challenging for you back then?
Yeah, it was. It was Season 6, and there was so much zeitgeist around the show. So even that I was in it was a big secret. And then, obviously, what it revealed, I could never ever talk about.
There was a sizable gap between your first episode in Season 6 and what Ned discovers in the finale of that season — that Jon Snow was the son of his sister Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryen. How how did you navigate people asking you questions about the show?
With great difficulty, actually. If I remember rightly, I think I had a job in between the first appearance and the second one. I usually just disappear when I work anywhere, so I just managed to avoid it as much as I could.
Have you been applying anything you learned working on “Thrones” to “The Rings of Power”?
In terms of the secrecy, I don’t have any social media, and I try my best to stay away from stuff. They’re very, very different shows. My job on that and my job on this were very different. There, I was recreating the young Ned that we all knew and saw. That was the job. Whereas here, it’s way more important to the boys — and this is what I love about them — for me to study First Age stuff, and bring the legendarium to the table in this interpretation.
You were one of many members of the cast and crew who had to remain in New Zealand during the pandemic lockdown because if you left, it wasn’t clear when you’d be able to return to the country. So how did you pass the time?
I read a lot. I also took some time and went around New Zealand. Hitchhiked and took buses. I worked on some farms met some really interesting cool people.
You worked on farms? What did you do?
Everything, really. Whatever they needed. Carried hay stacks, dug holes. Stuff I’ve just not really done much of. But it’s a sweet deal. They give you a bed and some food and you give them work. It was a great thing to do.
Did they know that you were an actor on “The Rings of Power” who was sort of stuck in the country?
No, I don’t think so. It was just something really, really fun that I really wanted to do.
As someone who has studied Tolkien and Middle-earth, what would you say to other hardcore Tolkien fans who are wondering how faithful “The Rings of Power” will be?
Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it? I mean, it’s a very sparse age. You have sort of certain plots on the graph, and it’s the boys’ and our job to navigate one plot point to another. As a fan of Tolkien, I like to imagine when I’m reading how a character may have felt in that moment, why a character did a certain thing, how a character ended up over there when we don’t know when they left here. We get to make choices like that. I hope they enjoy our choices. I’ve had so many conversations with the boys where they always listen to anything that I feel passionate about with the legendarium. We’ll talk about choices that he’s going to make, and this route he’s going to take, and how that historical event may have affected this. As much as we can, at the base of it all, is [Tolkien’s] spirit, the essence of him, hopefully.
What most struck you in all the research you did into Elrond and his past in the First Age?
Well, I think Tolkien has a great relationship to nature. When you read his work, you realize that characters try to get ahead a lot, to supersede the natural process. We do that all the time. It’s a very human thing to do. And whenever it happens in Tolkien’s work, it usually ends in disaster. I thought that was a really great lesson. I was also surprised by how treacherous, how complicated the elves of the First Age are. They betray each other. They’re not truthful with each other. They’re not angels all the time. Also, as it pertains to Elrond, how much his family are involved in in that age.
Will Elrond be exploring that personal history in the first season?
It’s with him, and there’s moments hopefully where you see it affecting him. It’s a really deep, deep thing in him. He’s got complicated relationship with with his dad, with what he achieved. His dad saved the world, his mum saved the world, his brother created Númenor. It’s a lot of pressure on young Elrond.
Amazon and the showrunners have been clear they envision this as a 50-episode series. That’s a lot of your life to dedicate to the show. Did you ever weigh that kind of commitment when you were considering taking the role?
My manager said to me once that I’d said that if “Lord of the Rings” ever was a TV show, I’d love to do it. When I heard about the show, I sent an email to my agent, saying, “Please, can I get an audition for this?” A combination of my deep, deep, deep love for his work and for Elrond just makes me feel really honored and really gifted to play him and be a part of it. So as long as I can play him, I’m just excited about that prospect. I feel very, very, very lucky to be here.
This interview has been edited and condensed.