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Searching for Gimli

My search for John Rhys-Davies began two months ago with several emails to his publicist. Failing to receive a response to my requests for an interview, I began to think that this interview would never happen. I was a little discouraged. Then I received a ray of light in the mail.

What I received in the mail was the program booklet for the upcoming Toronto FanExpo. Each summer, my friends and I usually plan to attend the Toronto Fan Expo, but we had not planned on attending this year. As I flipped through the program, I came across someone on the guest list that would change my decision to attend the FanExpo. John Rhys-Davies would be among the special guests attending in August. Plans upon plans started to spin in my head. This was my chance to interview Gimli!

It was now the day of the convention. My camera operator friend and I, armed with digital camera, tripod, microphone and my many questions and research, started on the road to Toronto. Making great time on the way and only stopping once for a mandatory coffee, we arrived at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in downtown Toronto.

Fan Expo Canada began as the Canadian National Comic Book Expo in 1995. Growing from one genre with 1500 fans to a multifaceted show connecting over 80,000 fans, Fan Expo Canada is currently the third largest pop culture event in North America. Now entering its 18th year, Fan Expo Canada showcases over 700 exhibitors and sprawls over 400,000 square feet of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. – Source

As with any popular event like the FanExpo or San Diego ComicCon, when first entering you are confronted by an enormous crowd lined up to enter the main floor. Although intimidating in appearance, with the amazing direction and planning of the Expo staff, the lines moved very quickly. After a few short minutes, I was on the main floor. The adventure began and I was quickly off to the “autograph” section to find my favourite Dwarf.

The autograph section was located on the other side of the main floor. Although packed full of fellow nerds, fans, cosplayers and vendors, the well-planned out arrangement of walkways and booths made my travel easy and fast. As I reached the section, I immediately spotted the table I was looking for. There before me was John Rhys-Davies cheerfully signing autographs for adoring fans! Now, how to get close?

I spotted a FanExpo volunteer and told my story and of my hopes to meet Mr. Rhys-Davies face-to-face for an interview. The volunteer suggested that I speak to the “handler” for Rhys-Davies seated beside him at the autograph table.

After talking to her about the site, recent news, and how the convention was shaping up, I explained to Sharon, also known as “Freddy”, that I was hoping to give a short interview to John, and wondered if she could suggest how I could do this?

“Come see me at 6:30 tonight, and I will see what I can do and if John has time.” she instructed. I was beside myself with anticipation and thanked her for this help. I was as giddy as a twelve year old girl about to meet Robert Pattinson!

As I walked away to update my adventure on Twitter, I was stopped by two of the models working at the LG Electronics display.

It’s hard work being a reporter!

“Middle-earth? Is that like Lord of the Rings?” one said. “It sure is! I am writing for legendariummedia.com’s news site and I am trying to interview John Rhys-Davies,” I explained.

“Who is John Rhys-Davies? All I know in the movie is the hot guy.” she said to me again, laughing.

Her friend told me that she assumed she meant Orlando Bloom. We then went on to talk more about Lord of the Rings and Legendarium MEdia. I am sure my “nerd ramblings” weren’t impressive, but they posed for a picture that I was going to post and they promised to follow me on Twitter.

From there, to cover all my bases, I purchased a ticket to get a professional photo taken with Rhys-Davies. Perhaps I could ask for an interview face-to-face? While I waited for the time of the “photo-op”, I decided to look around the convention at the many displays, vendors, artists, and fans.

Gandalf and Bilbo in Lego

Although there was a diverse array of costumes and themes, the clear theme this year for cosplay was all things Game of Thrones, especially the character Daenerys Targaryen. Lord of the Rings was represented well at the event with cosplay, the new Lego Video game, and the Lord of the Rings Lego sets. I had a chance to test the Lego video game but as I tried to take a photo, was immediately stopped with a bellowing, “NO PICTURES!” The Lego section had two amazing Lego statues of Gandalf and Bilbo.

I then started down my favourite area in the expo, “Artist Alley”. Artist Alley consists of hundreds of tables containing artists and their work from superhero artist to sci-fi/fantasy. After searching through the many aisles and not seeing any fantasy genre being represented, I was about to give up when I spotted a display filled with some amazing fantasy pictures. These pictures included such subjects as Game of Thrones and The Hobbit. The artist, Danielle Storey (who will be in a future artist feature interview), talked about the fantasy genre and her art. I purchased several prints, exchanged contact information, and then made my way through the other vendors and tables while counting down to the time of my photo-op with Rhys-Davies.

Look out “fake” Gimli!!

The time came for me to find the line up for the photo-op with Rhys-Davies. There was much confusion as to where the line was, but after a quick post to the Expo Twitter page, a staff member arrived immediately to help. Twitter has become a valuable tool for communication and is not used as much as it should. The recent events in Egypt should be a lesson in how valuable a tool this is. After a 30 minute wait in what seemed to be a 110 degree hallway, we entered into the photo area to finally see John Rhys-Davies. As I listened to John’s cheerful and friendly conversation with others in front of me, I became a little nervous. Thanks to the line, I was quite sweaty, and I tried to think “cool thoughts” in order to dry from my sweaty ordeal. It was now my turn. I entered the photo area.

Game of Thrones cosplay

“Hello sir, and welcome!” John said with outstretched hand, “It is a pleasure to meet you!” he said shaking my hand and smiling like we were old friends. I greeted and thanked him. John made me feel like we were old friends catching up.

As I got in place for the photo, John began to pinch and tickle my back, in an attempt to lighten the mood. “He is tickling me!” I said to all. With that, John burst out laughing which reminded me of the laugh “Sallah” had in Raiders of the Lost Ark. As the photo ended, he turned to me and again, thanked me for coming to meet him. Now was my chance!

I immediately introduced myself as a reporter from Legendarium Media and wondered if he would be willing to interview on camera with me after his second session of autographs.

“Of course! I would be delighted to, but only after the autograph session, please,” he said with a smile for all to hear. We shook hands again and I left, all while trying to keep my head contained from exploding from my neck! I was now renewed with energy!

Wonder Girl Katie! Guardian of the line

I spent the next hour in another hot line to pick up the photo that I had taken with John. Luckily I met some amazing people while in line, and our fun conversations made the time in the line seem much quicker. Much of my conversation happened with a Cosplayer dressed as Wonder Girl named “Katie” (who also photographed with John). Not only did we have a fun conversation, but she was also invaluable in chasing away the many people who tried to cut in line.

I now had several hours to wait until my meeting with John. In that time, I talked to several volunteers and learned of all the hard work and planning that they and expo coordinators have gone through to make this event a success every year. Although standing in line for a long time or pushing through crowds seems hard for patrons, imagine what it would be like to be a volunteer trying to coordinate it all. Imagine what it would be like at the event without them! At the next event you attend, be sure to thank the staff. Many are not paid, but volunteer out of the love for the event, fans, and genres.

It was now time to meet John for our interview. I arrived at his autograph table and got my camera equipment ready. “Freddy”, the expo handler approached me. She explained that the photo-op went over time and that the autograph session was now overtime. We talked more of what I had in mind. I settled for just asking him 2-3 questions quickly.

“Come with me!” she said and I rushed up to the table with my camera man friend and microphone in hand. We rushed up to the side of the table where John was autographing for adoring fans.

So close!

We were then approached by another coordinator who explained that she would not allow the interview due to time constraints. I tried to explain to her that I had made these arrangements with John himself and that we agreed to this time. This made no difference, and I was told firmly that it wouldn’t happen. “Freddy” apologized to me and felt bad at how close I came.

There I was, camera in hand, three feet away from Gimli, and I couldn’t even ask him one question… I had an idea. I stayed until the last of the autographs were signed. I waited close, hoping that John would see me, and he did. We both waved to each other. At that moment, he was surrounded by volunteers and escorted off the floor. As I stood crushed, I was surrounded by apologetic and very helpful volunteers. I recapped my day to them and as the lights started to dim down, we said our goodbyes.

On the drive home, I had time to reflect. Although I failed to get an interview with John Rhys-Davies, I did meet some amazing people, learned about the planning of the expo, and made some new friends.

Rifflo and Gimli finally together!

NEXT UP: ComicCon Survival Tips!

About Steve "Rifflo" Fitch

Steve, also known as “Rifflo”, is a University MBA Administrator in Ontario Canada where he lives with his wife, Lisa and two young daughters, Alexa and Ava. Steve has an extensive background in corporate sales. Steve also worked for ISAF: International Security Assistance Force and the Canadian Military as a recruiter in Human Resources for the operations in Bosnia and Afghanistan. When not immersed in Tolkien works,sci-fi, and film, you can find him training in Muay Thai, and Italian rapier.