Covid-19 has disrupted my life, but it has not yet felt personal. Yes, I am grappling with trying to work from home during a pandemic, yes, I have lost significant income, and yes, aspects of my lifestyle have become exceedingly uncomfortable. But as of this writing, Covid-19 is a virus that seems like an unseen threat in the distance and has not affected anyone in my life directly. To put it simply, no one I know has become infected, seriously ill, or passed away because of this novel virus.
That seemed to change this week, when long-time dialect coach Andrew Jack died two days after he was diagnosed with the disease. He worked with hundreds of actors and actresses on dozens of films and series, including the Bond franchise, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Last of the Mohicans, Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock films, Cold Mountain, Captain America, and Mansfield Park. His crowning achievement, however, was his work as the supervising dialect director of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and how he taught the cast how to speak all the various languages.
Anyone who knows me is more than aware of my absolute adoration of Tolkien, but without people like Andrew Jack I would likely not harbor such uncompromising feelings. There are many reasons why Tolkien has affected me so much, but among them is because he invented languages for his story. Such rich detail is why a fantastical setting like Middle Earth is so enduring to this day, and Andrew Jack took an immensely complicated detail of that world and brought it to life. When fans go back to the films for the umpteenth time and see Orlando Bloom speak as Legolas, the One Ring terrify with the Black Speech of Mordor, Elijah Wood and Viggo Mortenson speaking flawless Elvish, it truly is real.
I currently teach Spanish to elementary and high schoolers, and of course, I am trying to do that from my desk at home in a strange cyber environment. I’ve spent time recording videos so that students have an extra resource, and therefore I’ve done a lot of watching myself talk. It is a bizarre thing, but it has helped me understand what my students see and hear when I teach. Live, I do not realize how fast I can talk or how strong my accent can be. The dialect and methods of my speech are inescapable, the intricacies are clear.
The process of this kind of teaching has been authentic and intimate, despite the lack of person-to-person contact. Let me be clear, I am not in the same room as my students, and that is jarring. But I am communicating with them in a foreign language through a screen, much like Cate Blanchett as Galadriel is to the audience in her opening monologue in Fellowship of the Ring. Storytelling is how I teach Spanish, because detail recollection directly correlates with communicative functions and helps retention. The idea that my dialect of Spanish through this medium is still as effective as in a classroom is not just a relief, it is a revelation.
Andrew Jack most recently acted in a minor role in the recent Star Wars films, and he was working on the most recent Batman film before his untimely death due to Covid-19 complications. We communicate with language, and how we do that is more important now than ever. His death makes this pandemic more real, uncertain, and all the more personal. It also reminds of the power of storytelling, the comfort of escape, the relevance of collaboration, and the catharsis of art. Andrew Jack helped make fantasy a reality, and that is a good thing.
Andrew Jack is the dialect coach to the stars who’s worked on everything from The Lord of the Rings to Batman. 👏 #TMS7 pic.twitter.com/9VawdTknhz
— The Morning Show (@morningshowon7) August 29, 2019
(I amar prestar aen.) The world is changed. (Han matho ne nen.) I feel it in the water. (Han mathon ned cae.) I feel it in the earth. (A han noston ned gwilith.) I smell it in the air.