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Ismael Cruz Córdova (‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’) on creating a new type of elf: ‘Everything about him felt like it was calling me’ [Exclusive Video Interview]

“I wanted to create an elf from where I stand in the world,” explains Ismael Cruz Córdova. The actor portrays Arondir on “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.” The elves depicted in Peter Jackson’s infamous films were all royals, but Arondir is the first one “from the bunch” as Córdova puts it. Not only is he a foot soldier, someone of more common status in elven hierarchy, but he also marks the first time an actor of color has played an elf on screen. “I took the chance of doing something new,” says the actor. Watch the exclusive video interview above.

If there’s one aspect of Arondir that Córdova sees in himself, it’s a sense of resilience. “I grew up in quite a poor community in the mountains of Puerto Rico,” he explains, continuing that it feels like “kind of an improbable journey” from his early life to a career in Hollywood. But the actor immediately felt connected to the role, and knew he could infuse his own real-life experiences into the character. “He’s an outsider. He’s been denied. He’s been abandoned. He’s been made voiceless,” describes Córdova, “everything about him felt like it was calling me to portray him.”

WATCH Owain Arthur interview: ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’

It’s lucky that the performer had such a drive to be a part of the world of J.R.R. Tolkien (he admits that “The Lord of the Rings” was an extremely influential force during his adolescence), because Córdova was rejected three times in the audition process before finally landing the role. The actor’s determination to overcome this reflection came partly from the desire to be a source of representation for others. He had always wanted to play an elf since falling in love with the world of Middle Earth, yet none looked like him. “I really wanted to be an elf and I was told that I couldn’t,” he explains, “So by the time that I got to audition to be an elf, I had been preparing for this role for 20 years. So, if you think that a few no’s were going to deter me by that point?”

For his final audition, Córdova was asked to prepare the scene in which Arondir is held captive by an army of orcs. After a failed escape attempt, the orcs force the elf to climb to the top of an embankment to chop down a tree which blocks the path of their tunnel system. It’s a quiet, emotional moment in a show that is often bursting with action. “For the elves, that’s like chopping your Mom’s arm,” reveals the actor, referring to the species’ respect for nature. He explains that it’s “extremely challenging” to emote while being an elf. “We’re so structured,” he explains, “So to break a little bit, and show that emotion as an actor, it’s a big one.”

SEE ‘The Rings of Power’: Morfydd Clark makes role originated by Cate Blanchett her own

Before the audition, Cordova took the sides to a local park and began to improvise the scene. There, he created a moment where Arondir places his hand on the tree to tearfully connect with its spirit before delivering the first blow of the ax. “The connection that he has with that tree, that shame and that guilt, was all I was thinking about,” describes the actor. His improvisation worked: he landed the part and recreated this moment on camera.

Córdova earned a Critics Choice nomination for his work on “The Rings of Power.” The honor arrived on the heels of racist backlash to his casting, which included bullying and death threats. While he wasn’t chasing awards with this part, he admits: “I felt like I was being seen…it felt like a fresh glass of water, during a long marathon under a scorching sun.” It’s an outcome that felt appropriate to the themes Tolkien originally established in his “Lord of the Rings” novels. “It’s an affirmation that the work that we’re doing is good,” states the actor, “and that the good guys win in the end.”

PREDICT the 2023 Emmy nominees through July 12

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