Nesbitt Bags Hobbit Role

The Ballymena-born actor leads the charge on Lonely Mountain

Northern Ireland’s answer to Orlando Bloom - that's right, you heard it here first - James Nesbitt has sensationally joined the cast of Peter Jackson’s forthcoming film, The Hobbit. Nesbitt will play a dwarf named Bofur in the two-part adaptation of JRR Tolkien's classic children's story.

In announcing Nesbitt's involvement with the multi-million dollar project - which will be filmed in Jackson's native New Zealand - the director claimed the Ballymena-born actor's 'charm, warmth and wit are legendary as is his range as an actor in both comedic and dramatic roles'. Fittingly, Nesbitt's character in The Hobbit is a quick-witted dwarf who is handy with an axe.

In Tolkien's book Bofur is a dwarf who wears a yellow hood and plays the clarinet. He is also an integral member of the 13-strong band of Companions who travel across Middle Earth in a bid to reclaim Lonely Mountain from the grip of the dastardly dragon Smaug.

Although he has shone in previous film roles, starring opposite Liam Neeson in 2009’s Five Minutes of Heaven for instance, this MGM picture is surely the biggest Nesbitt has ever been involved with and, if the fall out from The Lord of the Rings is anything to go by, could make him - will make him - a worldwide star of the silver screen.

The Hobbit was written in 1937 to great critical acclaim, winning several literary prizes and subsequently spawned a trilogy of sequels in The Lord of the Rings, which were finished in 1949 and greatly influenced by Tolkien's observance of World War II. Both books gained cult status with the hippy fraternity in the 1960s. Rock legends Led Zeppelin even referred to Tolkien's stories in songs like 'Ramble on' and 'Misty Mountain Hop'.

Jackson's epic cinematic adaptation of The Lord of the Rings (2001's The Fellowship of the Ring, 2002's The Two Towers and 2003's The Return of the King) introduced Tolkien's imaginary world to a new generation of cinemagoers and readers at a time when JK Rowling's Harry Potter series had again made fantasy fashionable. The three films were produced back to back - as is expected to happen with Jackson's prequel movies -, were produced with a world record budget of $285m and made almost £3bn worldwide.

To say that The Hobbit project has had some teething problems would be an understatement. Jackson was originally to be credited as producer and co-writer on the project, with Pan's Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro at the helm. But wrangles over production rights and funding eventually led to del Toro pulling out of the project.

A disagreement with the New Zealand actors' union brought pre-production to a standstill, and almost forced Jackson and MGM not to film in New Zealand (with Northern Ireland, amongst other countries, cited as a possible relocation). When the New Zealand government offered to increase subsidies, however, all bodies agreed to take the project forward, to the relief of Tolkien fans the world over.

With the first of the films set for release in late 2011, news came thick and fast from the Jackson camp. First it was announced that Jackson would also direct the project, followed by the news that Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving and hopefully Ian McKellen would reprise their roles of Gollum, Elrond and Gandalf respectively in the new movies.

Martin Freeman of The Office was subsequently confirmed to play the films' protagonist, Bilbo Baggins, with Richard Armitage of Spooks fame cast as leader of the Companions, Thorin Oakenshield. Nesbitt is the latest big-name cast member to be announced.