“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” star Ismael Cruz Córdova is opening up about the cast and crew’s mental health while shooting the Amazon Prime Video series.
During an appearance on this week’s “Just for Variety” podcast, the actor tells me that an on-set therapist was on hand to offer help after the show received racist backlash against its inclusive and diverse casting. “You need support when this happens because the voices are so loud and they’re coming at you from so many places,” Córdova says.
Córdova, who was shooting Season 2 in the U.K. when we spoke, says the therapist’s presence alone was beneficial. “I loved seeing her there, even if we didn’t speak,” he said. “I knew there was someone there seeing me completely. It wasn’t just as an actor.”
The therapist was brought on board when production resumed shooting after pausing during the pandemic. Córdova’s character Arondir is the first person of color to play an elf onscreen in the “LOTR” universe. “It hurt,” Córdova says of the backlash. “It had a psychological and mental health impact. That’s something that I’m very, very open about so that people understand that what they do and say online really hurts people, really has an impact on us.”
It wasn’t just attacks on social media. “My phone got hacked,” Córdova recalls. “I had bank account attempts of being hacked. My PayPal got hacked. My friends got messages. I got death threats. I got things mailed to me. People found out my address. It was a lot of that.”
But then he says with a big smile, “We’re still here.”
Córdova has also been open about how badly he wanted to be on the show — so much so that when he wasn’t originally cast, he convinced producers to reconsider. “I grew up with that rejection all around me. And that’s something that’s driven me,” he explains. “I was not going to take a ‘no’ for an answer because I knew what this role would entail. I knew what it would do in the scope of fantasy. I knew that I wanted to be part of something historic, especially with the elves. The elves have been historically portrayed as white and Aryan. I wanted to be an elf. I was a mountain boy [who grew up in Puerto Rico]. I was in love with nature, and I knew it would change things.”
After starring in the “LOTR” universe, the Marvel Cinematic Universe may also be in Córdova’s future. He says Marvel Studios have reached out to him about different projects: “I have very good relationship with the Marvel casting directors.”
Most recently he says he was in the running to play Adam Warlock in “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” but the role went to Will Poulter: “I really wanted that one, but Will Poulter looks amazing doing it so I’m not mad. But that was a hard one because I love that whole storyline.”
But the rejection inspires him. “I always think that I haven’t gotten those roles because they’re keeping me open for the one that I want to do,” Córdova explains.
In fact, when we met for the first time at the Emmys in September, Córdova revealed his dream Marvel project is Hector Ayala, aka White Tiger. “I think that’s just another character that’s just fantastic,” he now says. “I love characters that are improbable heroes that are people that have got the worst deck dealt. That is my story. And I find that is many of our stories. And life is not just this little journey of redemption. How many of us were bullied? How many of us were poor? How many of us cast away? How many of our identities were something that you couldn’t be. A lot of us got cards that were a bad deck.”
You can listen to the full interview with Córdova on “Just for Variety” above or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.