Saoirse Ronan & Stuart Townsend land roles in Middle-Earth

The huge cast of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” has expanded further with the additions of Irish actress Saoirse Ronan and Irish “Lord of the Rings” drop out actor Stuart Townsend.

Townsend was originally cast as hero Aragorn in 1999 for “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. However he vacated the role due to personal reasons and was replaced by Viggo Mortensen.

In “The Hobbit” Stuart will star as the grim and heroric Bard. Bard is a skilled archer from the town of Dale, who finds himself holding the fate of his people on the string of his bow. “This is a great chance for Stuart to return to Middle-earth and bring his immeasurable talents to the production,” said casting director Thomas Williams.

Saiorse Ronan also joins the cast in the role of Itaril, a quick and lithe Silvan elf who is dedicated to protecting the Elf King of Mirkwood. Ms. Ronan was previously directed by Peter Jackson in 2009′s critically acclaimed “The Lovely Bones.”

“The Hobbit” follows the journey of title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, which was long ago conquered by the dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakensheild. Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Giant Spiders, Shapeshifters and Sorcerers.

Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever … Gollum.

Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of guile and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities … A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know.

“The Hobbit”, which will be split into two films, has now been filming in New Zealand since March 21st.

The two “Hobbit” films are expected for release in late 2012 and 2013 respectively.

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