Former Northwestern University funnyman and campus superstar Tim McGovern, 22, got some unexpected attention on YouTube this week after uploading a four-part One Man Lord Of The Rings video shot during his sophomore year at NU. The video, in which McGovern plays all the characters of the LOTR trilogy, got more than 20,000 hits in the first two days and inspired comments such as, “If I ever met this guy…my panties will instantly just fall….” McGovern, who studied theater and creative writing at NU, graduated in June 2010 and has been living in Los Angeles working on his career as an actor and writer.
The A.V. Club caught up with McGovern to find out what it’s like to be on the brink of making it big as a YouTube sensation, how it feels to be living without a winter coat, and, most importantly, why not One Man Harry Potter?
The A.V. Club: What prompted you to want to put together a one-man Lord Of The Rings show?
Tim McGovern: Well, first off, hundreds of hours of wasted time in high school. Every Sunday I would watch one of the three [Lord Of The Rings] films, without fail. And, after a while, I began to notice that I could do a lot of the impressions and I had all these portions of the script memorized. And then I saw this guy named Charlie Ross do One Man Star Wars, and thought, “I really could do this with Lord Of The Rings.”
AVC: What kind of preparation went into putting the show together?
TM: I pitched it to [student theater group] Vertigo, and after that I spent about two months essentially by myself, writing it and rehearsing it in a room in Kresge [Hall, Evanston campus]. It was a very lonely existence. [Laughs.]
I would rehearse for 30 minutes, basically just talking to myself, and then I would take a break, and then do another 30 minutes, and then I would lie down on the floor, and occasionally a person would open the door and be really confused about what was going on. So I did that for about two months, and it got down to the wire. But when I finally performed it, it went over really, really well.
AVC: Why did you pick Lord Of The Rings?
TM: I love Lord Of The Rings. Of all the fantasy trilogies, and there are hundreds of them, there are only about 10 that are good—and I think Lord Of The Rings is the best. It is so immersive. It’s an immersive experience into a completely different world, to the point where it has different languages that have been fully thought out and created. There is just an element of lore and history, and I was really taken by that, especially as a nerdy, middle-school teenager.
AVC: Your accents and mannerisms for all the characters were spot-on. Which character is your favorite to play?
TM: I’d have to say Gandalf. You know, getting to have Ian McKellen’s cadence every performance is a lot of fun. And Gandalf is also kind of curmudgeonly at times, and I tried to bring that out a bit, so he was by far the funnest to play. And he had the great speech on the Bridge Of Khazad-dûm, when he is telling off the Balrog. I had to cut a lot from the films to make it a cohesive story, but there were certain moments that I just couldn’t cut at all, and that was one of them. Another was the Smeagol-Gollum repartee, when Smeagol tells off Gollum; that was just a great moment, too.
AVC: Within the first two or three days of being uploaded to YouTube, One Man LOTR had more than 20,000 views. What do you think of the reaction that it has been getting so far?
TM: I’m flabbergasted that so many people have watched something that I’m in, you know. I can’t even fathom that. It is really beyond my comprehension that more than, like, 1,000 people have seen it. I had no expectations that it would hit it off as well as it has. Now I’m thinking of doing the show here in Los Angeles. That wasn’t the plan when I put it up, but now I’m remembering how fun it was to perform it in front of a live audience, mostly of fellow nerds. That kind of gratification is something that I would love to have again.
AVC: This video was recorded at Northwestern during your sophomore year, which was more than two years ago. Why did you decide to put it up on YouTube now?
TM: I had a DVD of the show, but I never had the software to format it for YouTube. One of my close friends, Travis Curley, who is doing Groundlings with me, he knew how to translate it into a format that YouTube could handle, so many thanks go out to him.
AVC: You mentioned that you also did a two-man Star Wars show [with friend Jack Novak] while you were at NU. Are there any other series that you want to do something like this with?
TM: I’m totally thinking about tackling the Potter septology.
AVC: It seems like most popular YouTube videos are only a minute or two long. So how do you keep an audience’s attention for 40 minutes?
TM: I’m hoping that the really big characters and the pace of the show will keep people engaged. But what you have to realize is that the first segment has 30,000 views, but after that, the other three segments drop off considerably. So I guess that is where you separate the wheat from the chaff, the die-hard fans and the ones who are just experimenting in nerd-dom.
AVC: What is the hardest part about doing a one-man show?
TM: The focus. I mean, it was very nerve-racking. Before performances I would have to be in the zone for a little bit and go through everything in my head. Just matching what I was saying and the physical indicator of the character, whether it’s Gandalf holding the staff, or Frodo playfully pawing the ring, or Samwise holding his backpack, I wanted to make it crystal clear in the performance when I was switching characters. That was the difficult part: just being able to instantly switch voice, physicality, stance, everything.
AVC: So you graduated in June and moved to Los Angeles in September. What made you choose L.A. over the improv scene in Chicago?
TM: There are just a lot more entertainment opportunities out here in L.A. I get the sense that everyone out here wants to collaborate, and that is really an invaluable quality. Plus it’s 80 degrees out here right now, so I can’t complain about that. You could probably use that as my whole reasoning, right there.
AVC: Ideally, what do you see yourself doing 10 years from now?
TM: I have no idea. Anything performance-related that has improv, sketch, comedy, you know—all of the above. I just want to make people laugh; that is what I want to do for the rest of my life.