(USA TODAY) -- There are plenty of new faces - many obscured by beards - to be found in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of three films based on J.R.R. Tolkien's popular fantasy-adventurewhich opened Friday. But three actors who first traveled to Middle-earth - and New Zealand, where the movies were shot - for The Lord of Rings trilogy in 2001 have reunited with director Peter Jackson for a repeat trip to the land of wizards, goblins and elves. USA TODAY's Susan Wloszczyna catches up with Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis.
Elijah Wood, 31, as Frodo
His role in The Hobbit: As the movie opens, a carefree Frodo visits Bilbo (Ian Holm) as his uncle is writing the story of his adventures on the road 60 years before with a band of dwarves. Says Jackson, "We wanted Ian and Elijah in the beginning so that kids who have seen The Lord of the Rings on TV but never read The Hobbit would have a visual way to see how the stories were related."
Q: Frodo is not included in the book of The Hobbit. Did you ever think you would wear those big furry feet again?
A: When we were done with The Return of the King (the final Rings installment) in 2003, that was the end for all of us. There was a sense that The Hobbit would get made at some stage, but I didn't think I would have any involvement. But when I got the call, I didn't hesitate for a second. The idea of going back to New Zealand felt like a family reunion in a way.
Q: How did it feel to see yourself as Frodo again?
A: I remember when I got into costume, with the hair and the ears, for the first time, looking at myself in the mirror - it's like seeing the character. And the character has become its own sort of thing now. It was lovely to see Frodo on-screen again - and this time in 3-D.
Q: It looks as if they upgraded those feet.
A: They have. When we made Rings,they were basically just foot prosthetics that would go below the ankle. They had to be glued on every morning. Now they are slip-ons that go up just below the knee. So the whole leg is also silicon with hair. You can put them on in five minutes.
Q: After all Frodo endured because of a ring, do you ever wear any?
A: I have a silver ring that I wear that has an inscription in Hebrew, not Elvish. It does bear a resemblance, funny enough. It looks like runes. It says, "If not now, when?"
Q: Will you show up in the next two Hobbit films?
A: I don't think so, but Warner Bros. said I should say I don't know because they don't know. So anything can happen. Right now, all the stuff I shot is supposed to be for the first.
Ian McKellen, 73, as Gandalf
His role in The Hobbit: As The Lord of the Rings concluded in 2003, Gandalf had been reborn as a lofty supreme being known as a white wizard and was focused on saving Middle-earth. In The Hobbit, set 60 years earlier, he is back to being the more fun-loving Gandalf the Grey. Despite McKellen's claim that he was reluctant to come back, Jackson says, "I think Ian was happy to play Gandalf. He would rather see himself as Gandalf on-screen than John Hurt. Whenever he was tired or grumpy, I used to joke with him that John Hurt is in a hotel down the road and can be called on set anytime."
Q: You were initially reluctant to wear Gandalf's pointy hat once more, a decision complicated by matters that led to a delay in filming The Hobbit for years. What persuaded you to do it?
A: In the end, it was an actor friend. She said, "Ian, the fans aren't going to be interested in your problems. They don't mind that you are going to live away from home. They don't mind if you have no back-end (deal) or whatever is puzzling you. They just want the story to continue." Honestly, I thought this is one of the few occasions when the audience absolutely comes first.
Q: How was it to leave London behind and live in New Zealand again for 18 months?
A: It's a dreadful journey, but once you get there ... The canard about New Zealand is it is like England in the 1950s. But it was the first country in the world to give women the vote. Socially, they have been advancing gay rights. There are state brothels. Those people really know how to live. There are only 4.5 million of them. There is still a divide between the Maori and European stock, but at least they admit there is something to be sorted out. So you're living in a society that is evolving.
Q: You get to revisit Gandalf in The Hobbit before matters grow more dire in The Lord of the Rings. What was that like?
A: The wizard that Tolkien created in The Hobbit is a grandfatherly figure who you could have fun with. He could also be quite stern, but he would look after you. That is my favorite. There is a bit more variety to play, and when people think of Gandalf, that is the one you want to be with. You'd rather spend an evening with him than Gandalf the White, who would be talking about battle plans."
Q: You were already an esteemed actor on stage and screen before The Lord of the Rings. Did the trilogy have any effect on your life and career?
A: A friend who lives in Hollywood before the first film opened said, "Ian, your life is about to change forever in terms of fame." And it really has. I can get in an elevator in a strange city, and a guy from the States sees me and says, "Can I take your photograph?" I don't quite relate to that person. All it means is that he has seen The Lord of the Rings, or maybe X-Men (he's the older Magneto in the comic-book franchise). What is nice about being a little bit famous is that I can go into a strange situation, even a party, and enough people will know me so I can relax.
Q: What ultimately is the basic difference between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings?
A: The hero in The Lord of the Rings doesn't make it back home, as many heroes don't. But Bilbo gets back. This is an adventure story, not a tragedy to save the world.
Andy Serkis, 48, as Gollum
His role in The Hobbit: The slithery, loincloth-draped creature who was linked to Frodo by being a fellow ring-bearer still has split-personality issues as he engages Bilbo in a game of riddles in a cave. If Bilbo wins, he will go free. If Gollum wins, he will feast on the juicy hobbit. "No one does these performance-capture characters like Andy," says Jackson. "I also wanted Andy as the second-unit director. They often can be a bit safe and just shoot what they think the director needs. But Andy is far from safe. He has an adventurous and courageous spirit."
Q: Was there any question whether you would return for The Hobbit?
A: We all assumed I would. The character has never really gone away. He is still lurking and gurgling. I'm reminded of him on a daily basis.
Q: How is this Gollum different than the one in The Lord of the Rings?
A: Gollum has been on his own in the Misty Mountains for 500 years, and so now, he has someone to talk to and play riddles with. He has distant memories of those games. Of course, there is the pragmatic, visceral Gollum side, which is saying to Bilbo, "You're dinner." He has a few more teeth and no scars. He is more combative and playful. He's not been tortured. And he is not driven by revenge for most of the scene, since he doesn't know that Bilbo has taken the ring. If he did, he would go crazy.
Q: How was playing opposite Martin Freeman as Bilbo?
A: Martin and I have been circling each other as actors for a long time. I admired everything he has done. We've bumped into each other in Soho in London a number of times and said, "God, we've got to work with each other one day." I knew there was a possibility of him doing Bilbo, and we just hit it off great. The riddles in the dark was the first scene shot on the movie, and we played it out each time we did it. It's a 12-minute scene, so watching Martin develop his character during this fantastic battle of wills was really good fun.
Q: You also acquire an extra duty on all three films as a second-unit director.
A: Pete knew I had wanted to direct for years. When we were doing The Lord of the Rings, I started to write and shoot short films and direct performance-capture for video games and theater. All the time I was moving toward forming my own performance-capture studio at Ealing Studios in London. I did a whole smorgasbord of scenes, including the dwarves throwing plates and singing a song at Bag End. Pete wanted me to do it because I had been through Middle-earth before.
Q: Will Gollum show up in the other Hobbit films, due in 2013 and 2014?
A: Gollum is not a huge part of the book. The dragon Smaug is more of the thing. How much more Gollum are we getting? I always say "never say never" with Peter Jackson. You know it is expanding now into a third movie, so who knows?