Cate Blanchett returns even though Galadriel WASN'T in The Hobbit

A familiar face is returning to Middle-earth in the upcoming two-part adaptation of The Hobbit—even though her character doesn't actually appear in the book.

According to HitFix, Warner Bros. Pictures and MGM Studios have announced that Cate Blanchett has joined the cast of the films as Galadriel, the Lady of Lothlorien, who also showed up in all three of the Lord of the Rings movies. Director Peter Jackson said in a statement, "Cate is one of my favorite actors to work with and I couldn't be more thrilled to have her reprise the role she so beautifully brought to life in the earlier films."

Blanchett's return for The Hobbit, however, is a little bit of a surprise, since Galadriel doesn't actually appear in the novel (she does appear in both Tolkien's The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales). It seems evident that Jackson and his co-writers Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro have taken certain liberties with Tolkien's material to expand it to two movies.

Also announced are new cast members Ken Stott as Dwarf Lord Balin, Sylvester McCoy—who played the Seventh Doctor on Doctor Who—as the wizard Radagast the Brown, Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt as Beorn and British actor Ryan Gage as Drodo Baggins. Also confirmed were New Zealand actors Jed Brophy and William Kirchner as dwarves Nori and Bifur.

The new batch of names joins Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and a number of others, although it's been pointed out that Ian McKellen has yet to be officially confirmed to return as Gandalf.

The Hobbit is expected to begin shooting in February in New Zealand, with tentative release dates of December 2012 and 2013.

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