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Ismael Cruz Córdova Explains How He Helped Shape Elven Combat in 'Rings of Power'

Arondir and his kind aren't exactly like the elves you've met before, and this interview explains how that happened.

Russell Holly
Russell Holly is a Managing Editor on the Commerce team at CNET. He works with all of CNET to assemble top recommendations as well as helping everyone find the best way to buy anything at the best price. When not writing for CNET you can find him riding a bike, running around in Jedi robes, or contributing to WOSU public radio's Tech Tuesday segment.
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Russell Holly
6 min read
Ismael Cruz Córdova in a black, plunging V-neck shirt that shows off his pecs. There's a Ring of Power banner in the background.

Ismael Cruz Córdova at the afterparty for the Rings of Power world premiere, last month at the British Museum.

Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

Out of all the new characters introduced in The Rings of Power so far, Arondir has the story that's by far the most delicate. As highlighted shortly after he's introduced, humans and elves have had romantic relationships together only twice at this point in history, and it didn't go super well either time. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote powerful, heartbreaking stories of these relationships and presented them to readers as cautionary tales for the rest of the world to observe and respect. 

And yet here's Arondir, smoldering eyes and chiseled cheekbones, very clearly infatuated with Bronwyn, the mortal woman from the town most associated with being loyal to the greatest enemy Middle-earth has known to date. These scenes are intense, and at least so far, they're filled with warnings that these two would-be lovers are doing their best to ignore. It's a fascinating position to be in as an actor, and Ismael Cruz Córdova isn't at all shy about sharing how he arrived at that emotional state. 

We also talk about other aspects of the character he plays -- should you be interested in that sort of thing.

Bronwyn and Arondir sit near a well under a tree.

Bronwyn and Arondir steal a moment at the well.

Amazon Prime Video

Q: In Tolkien's works, a romantic relationship between an elf and human is a big deal. How did that impact the way you approached what we see between Arondir and Bronwyn in the first two episodes?
Córdova: Even though these characters are fantastical and larger than life, and in many ways so removed from our reality, as an actor all I can do is reflect on them in their most essential ways, asking myself what are their true wants and desires and motivations. And through that you can pull from your own life and start there. There's a lot of divisions in our real world, stuff you're told you're not supposed to do or you're told isn't for you. Adding that onto this landscape was something very helpful for me. 

But I would say what helped me most was looking back to that moment that almost everyone goes through, when you're first going out with someone and you realize you miss them. I remember there was this one time a long time ago when I was brushing my teeth and it suddenly hit me like ,"Oh shit, I miss them." I wanted to know everything about them -- close was not close enough. There was this intense curiosity, an intense desire to just be close. For Arondir, you have to add this, like, thin layer of glass with an electric charge between them. 

We have all of that energy, but we cannot touch. Cannot be seen together. Cannot speak about it. I put all of that concentrated energy into showing that relationship. 

This show is massive on a scale that's difficult to describe, in a universe with cultural impacts going back decades. What goes into the decision to accept a role like this?
I had quite the harrowing journey to get this role. My desire to be part of the Tolkien world started when I was 14, and I definitely wanted to be an elf. I was struck down, people saying things like, "Elves don't look like you" and that kind of thing, so it was something I pursued pretty aggressively. When the casting calls came out, I knew it was something I must do. I had a couple of rejections in the process; they said the role wasn't going to go in my direction. But I kept fighting and fighting and fighting, something like six or seven months of auditions. And I finally made it to the final screen test, where they flew me to New Zealand with six other guys, and I got the part. 

Read more: Morfydd Clark Watches Your 'Rings of Power' TikToks

When I got the part I let this big sigh of relief wash over me, but also this incredible sense of responsibility. Bringing new faces to Middle-earth, opening the doors of fantasy to new people, and more than that, bringing a new sensibility to elves as well. The diversity of the elven world -- not talking about human diversity here, there are different colors but it's so much more intricate than that. Arondir is a lowly elf, he's by no means an exceptional elf. He's a frontline soldier from the trenches. All of that compounded made me feel like, "Game on."

I knew for a fact my casting was going to come with backlash. Some folks tried to tell me "it's 2019, people are fine," but there was this massive wave of backlash from the announcement. But I foresaw it, and that was part of the reason I wanted this role. We hit a nerve, which is necessary for disruption and necessary for change. I made myself ready for that reaction, and now that the show is finally starting to release I feel that same readiness.
As an actor this has been a treat, and a massive challenge. It's been difficult AF, but worth it for everything I've learned.

You actually helped build the fighting style that silvan elves use in this series, right? Can you talk about how that came together?
I love visual storytelling, grew up not speaking much English but I loved movies. A lot of what I got out of those movies early on was things that impacted me physically, you know? A beautiful sequence with no words, observing how an actor moves, things like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon mesmerized me. That beauty in their movement, the lyricism and drama it carries, moved me. That's another great example of forbidden love, I learned a lot from that movie, and I wanted to bring some of that to Arondir. 

Read more: 'The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power': Everything You Need to Know Before Watching

I wanted to have a say in how Arondir fought, and I wanted to be a part of building that fighting style, and they let me. Silvan elves are woodland based, so they must have taken cues from nature on how to fight. Being eternal beings, they see how nature rises and falls, a very sort of grounded movement style. That led myself and the great stunt team to put together a roster of experts to teach kung fu, tae kwon do, some tai chi, and I wanted to bring part of my heritage as well, with the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. It's a very animalistic, close-to-the-ground fighting style that you could see an elf of the woods moving it. We took all of those things, and some other flavors, and built Arondir's fighting style. 

How challenging was it to incorporate those fighting styles in the Silvan armor?
Ah, man! That was a lot. We had to redesign certain things for the fighting sequences, but I also had to bring my movement to work with what we had. It was a lot of adjustment, but what helps is elves are quite angular and poised, so the armor helped me keep that posture and think differently about how to move my body. 

But it was an incredible challenge. I was bruised up, scraped up, on top of being on wires. I did most of the wire work you see in the show, I got tested and approved to do it because it's not often work that actors do, and yeah it was tough. Just in talking about it I'm getting a little triggered, a little breathless about some of those moments.

If you could bring home any one thing you touched during your time in Middle-earth, what would it be?
My sword. It was so beautiful. I could have even done with the dagger, which is really like a mini version of it. But my sword was so gorgeous.

Let me tell you something -- I tried. I did try. They had their eyes on me, like hawks. They knew how much I wanted that sword, it was almost like there was a tracker on it.