The Joy of Billy Boyd
Boyd talks Outlander, music & of course, Lord of the Rings
Story By: Emma Kalka
Photos By: Daniel Kim
There is an effervescent joy that seems to exude from Billy Boyd. Whether he’s on-stage answering questions from fans, or taking selfies, or even joking around in a noisy green room before an interview, there’s a warm friendliness about him that can put even the most nervous of fans at ease - myself included.
To say I’ve been a long-time fan would be an apt description. My introduction to him as an actor came by way of wandering into “The Fellowship of the Ring” one Saturday afternoon in 2001 with my best friend, having heard of the books but having absolutely no clue what it was about. We walked out instant fans and ran off to purchase the entire Lord of the Rings series - and then read them all over the following month.
While at the time we both were in love with Orlando Bloom as Legolas, I always held a soft spot for the hobbits - let’s face it, were I to ever live in Middle Earth, I’m certainly not graceful enough to ever be an elf. No, I’d undoubtedly be a hobbit. I related to Pippin knocking over the body and armor, alerting an army of orcs to the Fellowship’s whereabouts. I can’t even make it through my own living room without knocking something over or running into my sofa or coffee table.
So, having the opportunity to sit down with Billy Boyd (aka Pippin) while he was here for Comic Con Seoul in August was pretty much a high-school dream come true. I spent nearly the entire day before the interview freaking out (my friends will confirm this), but managed to calm myself down somewhat before walking in to meet him. His friendly and bright attitude helped me relax even more as we launched into a nearly 45-minute conversation that included just as much joking around as it did heartfelt and thoughtful answers to questions.
Life as an actor
While most famous for his turn as Pippin, Boyd has appeared in a variety of projects over the years, starting with a production at a rec theater in St. Andrew’s - a golf town in Scotland. Since then he’s appeared on stage and in TV shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy”, on top of films “On a Clear Day” and “Midsummer Dream,” where he voiced the character of Puck.
Though he’s quick to say that he prefers different mediums at different times.
“Sometimes it’s nice to pop into a film and do a week or two and pop back out,” he said. He then went on to say that while he’ll always love theater, it’s a massive commitment, which can be rough when you’re balancing work and family life.
“And then, being part of a TV show is great because you kind of pop in and out. And you never really know where your character is going to go, so that’s kind of interesting.”
Boyd said that he also enjoys the random surprise projects. Sometimes they come with the opportunity to try something new. One of which was voicing the son (or daughter - he admits that we’re not really sure which) of Chucky in the horror film “Seed of Chucky.” He’s not really into horror films, admitting that he doesn’t get them most of the time, but the project was one that came “out of thin air” and was really cool.
“When I did read it, it was a sort of cross-gender thing. There were interesting things in it that I thought, this is really interesting, you know? So, that has to be fun,” he said.
One of his other favorite roles was that of Barrett Bonden in “Master and Commander: Far Side of the World.”
“It was great. Just being on boats… Climbing the rigging and setting sail and learning how to fire a cannon,” he said. Though he added that while fun, cannons were stressful, with a team of five needed to work in perfect timing for it go right. ‘
Probably most recently, fans have seen him in the fourth season of Starz hit show “Outlander,” playing Mr. Forbes, one of Brianna Randall’s (played by Sophie Skelton) many suitors. While he was mum on details about the upcoming season five, he did confirm that he’s been on set filming.
“I’m not allowed to tell you anything,” he joked, though quickly expressed his disappointment that Brianna ultimately did not choose Mr. Forbes, leading to a rather long back and forth extolling the qualities of Forbes over that of Brianna’s choice - John Grey (played by David Berry).
“He’s not that interesting, I don’t think,” he quipped. “I think that little guy was more interesting.”
“I know. I mean, seriously, what was she thinking?” I replied in jest.
“I still ask her every time I see her on set. What were you thinking?” he said while chuckling. Even though the season ended with Brianna ultimately reuniting with her true love, Boyd still holds hope.
“You should sing on Outlander,” I suggested. “You could still keep it in character.”
“That could be what puts Brianna over the edge… ‘Yea, I’ve written a song for you,’” he mused.
On a more serious note, Boyd said that it’s been lovely filming the series, which is currently set in the Amercian colonies just before the Revolutionary War, though is filmed mostly in Scotland, a beautiful, yet temperamental place to film thanks to the weather.
“That time in history is so interesting. You know... how this British culture and Scottish, and then going to America. All these things clash. And… Native Americans, slavery. And then, England’s just taken over Scotland,” he said. “There’s a real weird energy going on. So it’s really fun to be a part of.”
A life of music
On top of acting, Boyd has long been a musician, starting his first band when he was 14. He says that there’s only been about five years of his adult life when he hasn’t been involved in a band. There is a cliche where he grew up in a housing estate in Glasgow, he commented, that there are only two ways out - playing football or starting a band. While there are more than those two ways to get out, he said those are the ways that stick out. So he started a band.
There’s always been a crowd around him making music, he said, and as an actor, he had a lot of downtime during which he always turned to music. His band, Beecake, is currently finishing up its fourth album which is slated to drop before the end of the year.
“I’m always telling young actors… don’t make it everything in your life. Because it can be such a disappointment. So if you have other things that you do - music, photography, art, whatever else - it’s good,” he said. “And music’s always been my thing in the background. And then sometimes they intertwine and you do musicals or put a song on a TV show or something.”
Different things at different times influence him both as an actor and a musician. Someone once told him that all artists are basically trying to tell one thing that is their “sort of seed.”
“You basically write all these albums and do all these things to get this one thing through. I’ve not worked out what that one thing is yet, but I think being positive is a major thing,” he said. “I think being negative and cynical is an easier route. So trying to put out positive art, joyful things is more difficult.”
“I always try to put out not hope, but a sort of joy in these things.”
And while he says that most of the time he doesn’t usually have fan moments, he did have one when he got to meet musician Prince - someone he calls the musician of a generation.
“People are just people - good actors, good musicians. Whatever. But I think his music just got me at the right time when I was growing up. It was so important to me,” he said. “I was lucky enough to go to his house and he played a concert to 30 people or something. It was amazing.”
And while a fan of Prince, if he could do a concert with any musician - living or dead - he’s not so sure that he would choose the artist, saying that Prince would be so far above him as a musician that he’d feel out of place. Yet another saying once told to him that has stuck in his head is that when you start a band, it doesn’t matter how good you are as long as everyone is on the same level.
“That’s not bringing down who else I would say, but I would say maybe John Lennon would be great to play with,” he said. “Just the truth of all his music and how connected he was to it - brilliant.”
Lord of the Rings
But of course, an interview with Billy Boyd wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the series that launched his career - The Lord of the Rings. He can’t quite pinpoint any exact memories from the films that are his favorites - he says it was a long part of his life and it would be like asking someone their favorite memory from their last four years.
Though he did say that if Middle Earth were a real place, he would be a hobbit.
“I’d love to say an elf, but I don’t think I’m that elfy. I think I’d rather sit with a pint, eat good food,” he commented.
Not to mention, the hair alone would be too much management. Boyd said when he first saw Orlando Bloom in his wig without any styling during costume checks in the beginning of the project, he thought it was a joke.
“Orlando walked in in this… and I was like, ‘That’s… is that… What? Is that a joke or something?’ And he was like, ‘No.’ I just couldn’t get it out of my head what it was supposed to be,” he admitted. “And then when the whole look is finished and you’re like, ‘Oh my god.’ They were visionary how they put all that together. The wigs were incredible.”
The movies have led to some of Boyd’s most memorable fan experiences, however. He recalls a young woman who wrote to him, saying that she hadn’t been out of the house in a year or so, but after watching the movies and seeing the heroics of the hobbits, she found the courage to go back out in the world.
“Things like that are cool,” he said. “And I love how people meet up doing things like this - the conventions… that’s the stuff that really touches you.”
Lord of the Rings also gave Boyd the opportunity to combine his job with one of his loves - music. He wrote and sang “The Edge of Night” for “The Return of the King” which was then used for the trailer of the last installment in The Hobbit series, “The Battle of the Five Armies.” As such, director Peter Jackson then approached him about writing and singing the ending credit song for the movie - “The Last Goodbye.” Boyd said the song became about more than just the movie; it was the end of a journey. Well… sort of.
“It was a really great experience being there and watching the movie. And it became a song about more than the movie as I was going to cafes where we used to hang out,” he said. “And whether it’s there, I mean, you could say that it is the end, but here we are in Korea. Talking about it.”
What’s more, Amazon is set to release a new Lord of the Rings series set in the Second Age, which Boyd commented was a good time to tell the stories, though he doesn’t know anything about the series itself.
“I just hope they keep close to the source material. I think that’s one of the reasons Pete Jackson’s films did so well. That and also, Pete was so passionate about it and got the right people involved,” he said. “As long as they don’t feel like they have to try and fit into another mold of whatever’s successful at that time. Just tell the story as it’s meant to be told, and I’m sure it’ll be amazing.”
And while, in a way, he does consider his time with Lord of the Rings over, he says that he’s open to being involved with the new series.
“I wouldn’t mind doing the music for that one,” he said. “Put that out there. ‘Yea, Amazon… I’ve thought of somebody who knows a little about Middle Earth…’”