An accomplished Shakespearean actor, John Rhys-Davies was cajoled by his agent into devoting years of his life to playing Gimli, a belligerent dwarf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Soon after arriving on the New Zealand set, however, this grumbling cynic became LOTR's biggest cheerleader.

"I didn't want to do a mediocre film that'd go direct to video, and spend that much of my life doing it," admits Rhys-Davies — who's best known as Indy's sidekick, Sallah, from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Hence, he inspected the 2,500-person cast and crew, just itching for an excuse to bow out of the production. "Within two weeks, [director Peter Jackson] turned me from saying, 'Let's find the way out of this!' to saying, 'Guys, make no mistake. We're making a masterpiece!'"

Did Jackson use the ring's persuasive powers on him? We'll never know, but somehow he got a reluctant Rhys-Davies to play an extra thankless role in The Two Towers: The voice of Treebeard, a CGI character. "The idea of a walking, talking tree, after all the cartoons we've seen, is inherently risible," he says, "and you can lose the entire tension of the film if you don't get it right."

He laughingly refers to Treebeard as an emblem of his character-acting career. "Isn't it sad?" he grins. "Rhys-Davies, whose entire career can be described as chewing the scenery, has finally become the scenery. Thirty years of trying to be recognized, and I end up in a full prosthetic in three major movies and I end up playing a tree... My career is over now, you realize. All I'm going to get offered now is dwarves in German pornos."