New Line confirms thesp for Peter Jackson pics

Andy Serkis is returning to Middle Earth to star as Smeagol/Gollum in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit,” currently in pre-production in New Zealand.

New Line confirmed Monday that Serkis, who starred in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, had signed for the back-to-back “Hobbit” films. Jackson’s set to start shooting next month.

The character, originated by J.R.R. Tolkien in “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” became a slave to his pursuit of the titular One Ring after losing it to Bilbo Baggins. Serkis’ voice, body language, and facial expressions were used in the “Rings” trilogy to create the CGI character.

“Hobbit” cast includes Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Cate Blanchett reprising her role from “Lord of The Rings” trilogy as Galadriel. Jackson, Fran Walsh and Carolynne Cunningham are producing the films with co-writer Philippa Boyens serving as co-producer and Ken Kamins and Zane Weiner as exec producers.

“The Lord of the Rings” trilogy was also produced by Jackson, Walsh and Cunningham.

Signing of Serkis comes on the heels of Elijah Wood agreeing to reprise his role as Frodo Baggins, who inherits the ring from Bilbo Baggins. Warner Bros. and MGM announced last week that Warners will handle worldwide distribution on “The Hobbit,” taking over the international distribution and home video on the films from MGM in exchange for funding MGM’s half of the production costs.

The “Hobbit” films will be released in December 2012 and December 2013.

Serkis will be seen next in “Rise of the Apes” and “Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn.”

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