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Figwit (short for “Frodo Is Great… Who Is That?”) is a nickname given to the New Zealander actor / musician Bret McKenzie, who appeared as an extra in the 2001 epic fantasy film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring prior to earning his celebrity status. Despite his short screen time, McKenzie’s unnamed elf character received widespread attention from the fanbase mainly due to his apparently handsome face.
The name “Figwit” was first conceived in early 2002, when an Israeli college student named Iris Hadad noticed McKenzie in the background of the Council of Elrond scene. She described him as “perfect, pouty and gorgeous” and dubbed him Figwit, a made-up acronym for “Frodo Is Grea… Who Is THAT?!” which is meant to convey the swoons of viewers upon seeing his face in the film.
When Frodo says “I will take it!”, we are so impressed we start to think “Frodo is great!" But before we finish, the camera pans and we see Figwit, smoldering enigmatically in the background. All other thoughts are whisked away by that elf – who is THAT?! He’s gorgeous!
In March 2002, Hadad and her friend Sherry de Andres launched the fan site FigwitLives for McKenzie’s character, which featured a variety of fanart and songs about the mysterious elf character.
In August 2002, New Zealander magazine NZ Dominion published a feature article introducing the online phenomenon of Figwit as well as Brett McKenzie. Months later on December 13, 2002, UK newspaper Telegraph published an article titled “Elf who launched a thousand hits,” which explained the growing fandom surrounding the elf character and Hadad’s website. The article also noted that a Google search query for “Figwit” yielded more than 1,310 results, including other chatrooms and fan sites like “The Adventures of Figwit” and “The Secret Diary of Figwit.” The story was also picked up by the UK daily Guardian and New Zealand’s 3 News channel.
The Figwit fandom continued to grow as more fans of Lord of the Rings saga began noticing the handsome, dark-haired elf and a similar fan site Fans of Figwit was launched that same year. In 2004, a documentary about the phenomenon titled “Frodo Is Great… Who Is That?!!” was released with footage of Bret McKenzie and his bandmate Jermaine Clement meeting his fans at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, as well as interview clips with the director Peter Jackson and other cast members from the trilogy.
In addition to the Figwit nickname, people have also called him “Melpomaen”, the Elvish word-to-word and very loose translation from Fig (Melpo) and Wit (Maen). This variation of his name is widely used in Lord of the Rings slash fan fictions.
Reprisal in The Return of the King
In 2003, McKenzie reappeared in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, this time credited as “Elven Escort.” In this film, he was given two speaking lines and only a few more seconds of screen time. The film director Peter Jackson later stated in the DVD commentary for The Return of the King that McKenzie was called back and given dialogue in the third film “just for fun for the fans” because “so much fuss has been made about him over the last couple of years”.
After looking up his names in the credits, fans eventually identified Figwit as New Zealander actor and musician Bret Mckenzie. The actor eventually reached the celebrity status in 2005 as one half of the comedic folk-rap duo Flight of the Conchords, most notable for their HBO stand-up program and an HBO comedy series with the same name. Mckenzie, who only became aware of his Lord of the Rings fandom following his commercial success, said it was “pretty weird, but I’m flattered.”
Flight of the Conchords Tributes
Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement created a tribute song to The Lord of the Ring titled “Frodo’s Song” which they occasionally performed while on tour. In June 2007, Flight of the Conchords was adapted into an HBO comedy series, incidentally bringing back to life the Figwit phenomenon with it. Both “The Frodo’s Song” (shown left) and “Frodo Don’t Wear The Ring” (shown right) were also reused in a bit of Season 1, Episode 11 of Flight of the Conchords. As a joke, among other characters played by Bret can be seen Legolas, an elvish reminiscent of his Figwit fame.
Reprisal Role in The Hobbit
On March 31st, 2011, various movie blogs and news sites reported that Sir Peter Jackson, the film director best known for his work in The Lord of the Rings saga, was in the process of recruiting Bret McKenzie to reprise his role as an elf in his upcoming prequel to the LOTR films, The Hobbit.
The news was initially picked up by Australian and New Zealand news sites like Stuff, ABC Australia and Sydney Morning Herald, and quickly spread across cinema blogs like Slash Film as well as LOTR fansites like TheOneRing. On April 4th, it was formally announced that McKenzie has joined the cast of The Hobbit as Lindir, the elf from Rivendell. As you can see in Google Insights, there is a notable spike in search interest of the keyword “Figwit."