On another day, Jackson worked on the close-ups of the battle of Pelennor Fields, the epic war scene of the trilogy.
It was a little before noon, and he had been up for more than six hours already.
There was a careful choreography of warriors cloaked in good and evil, but strangely, there was no clang of steel — the sound effects were to be added later.
Still, it was gritty, physical, labor. Mortensen, as Aragorn, bounded into the breach more than a dozen times.
But there were also moments of complete boredom only an orc might fully appreciate.
In the films, orcs are ferocious, ugly creatures spawned by the evil wizards to battle on their behalf. But on the set, in between takes, the orcs horsed around, played practical jokes on one another, and ate candy. One even played the air guitar while singing the Muppets' "Rainbow Connection."
After the carnage on set, the orcs and the other extras settled down — still in costume — to eat a lunch of barbecued chicken, Caesar salad, and an assortment of pastries. One moment, the orcs were trying to kill their human foes, the next they were playing cards with them.
"We kill them on set, then we play cards in the mess," joked an orc. A human retorted, "Orcs cheat."
Mortensen, still in full costume, wanted to duck out for a noon-time errand.
But there was a strict rule against going "off-campus" in costume. To keep the myth of Middle Earth alive, kings and hobbits were not to be seen in the real world. So the reluctant king reluctantly wrapped himself up in a bathrobe before going out.
Meanwhile, Jackson hadn't stopped for lunch. He was scouting a location a few miles from the studio for a scene between Frodo, Sam and Gollum in the third movie — but the scene never made it into the final cut.
A Learning Experience
The last days of shooting on the set were bittersweet, since a real fellowship developed among the actors as it had on screen.
Elijah Wood, playing the gentle hobbit Frodo, the ring-bearer, was only 17 when shooting began. "This became our lives," he told Primetime.
On one hobbits' night out, full of British accents and New Zealand beer, it was obvious these friendships would last long after shooting ended.
"It's defined my social group. It's created a new social group for me," said Dominic Monaghan, who plays the hobbit Merry.
McKellen said of the experience: "It's about doing something that really matters, which is doing your best against the most amazing odds."
Liv Tyler, the immortal elf princess Arwen, learned a new language for the role — and now speaks Elvish.
Orlando Bloom, another elf, with a bow and arrow that never miss and long blond tresses never out of place, said: "I couldn't really get into the costume and have the blond wig on and not, sort of, stand to attention!"
And Mortensen, who got the part of Aragorn when another actor was fired after only one day of shooting, pulled off a role that may define his career.
The movie strikes such a deep chord in the public because the heroes in it are not your typical Hollywood hero, he said.
"Everybody has their flawed moments, and everybody at some point needs the support of the others," he said. "Just like life, where there isn't always an easy answer … but you have to continue."