Based on J.R.R. Tolkien's classic novel, The Lord of the Rings, director Peter Jackson's big-budget epic, The Fellowship of the Ring — which hits theaters in December — has a legion of impatient bookworms squirming to see their fave fantasy brought to life. Have their high expectations worried leading lad Elijah Wood, who plays mythic Hobbit Frodo Baggins?

"I definitely felt the pressure," Wood concedes. "I wanted to live up to all of the expectations. But when I got into costume and worked with the others, I just didn't think about it anymore." The blue-eyed actor nods in agreement with Sean Astin, who joined him on the film's 15-month location shoot in far-flung New Zealand. Deadpans Astin: "We just became Hobbits. We felt it."

And Jackson swears he dared cast none other than Liv Tyler to play the immortal Elf Arwen. "She had to depict the most perfect woman in the world," he winks. "You couldn't really look past Liv."

Tyler's take on her role is a bit humbler. "It wasn't until I came back home after such a long time away that I realized how much hype there was about this," she marvels. "I get to play someone 3,000 years old. I'm 23, so that's quite an acting challenge." Adds the actress with a smile: "What attracted me [to the script] was a girl kind of thing. To me, this is a dream, like Romeo and Juliet. I know this legend means so much to so many people, but I'm a hopeless romantic, so I see it as a love story."

For Jackson, making Fellowship — which is only the first in a planned trilogy of Hobbit films — was the high point of his career. "This is a giant undertaking," he explains, "but I consider this a personal film. It's my film of a lifetime. I read the book when I was 18 years old and thought then, 'I can't wait till the movie comes out.' Twenty years later, no one had done it — so I got impatient."