Gollum, one of the stars of movie director Peter Jackson's epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, has been dramatically sacked from the cast of The Hobbit.
With filming due to begin next month in New Zealand on the eagerly-awaited prequel, which centres on the adventures of hairy-footed hobbit Bilbo Baggins, cast and crew have been stunned by the dismissal which has also caused a massive rift in the Smeagol family.
Sources close to Jackson say Gollum has become untrustworthy and has made excessive contractual demands - and these have priced him out of a job.
And in it what has rubbed even more salt into Smeagol's wounds, his part is to be taken by an unemployed Scottish cousin, Gallus McSmeagol, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the star.
But that decision has infuriated Gollum who has now cut off all ties with his relatives in Scotland and launched legal action to protect his ‘intellectual copyright' on the JRR Tolkien character.
Voice coach Sefton Delmer is already working with McSmeagol in a bid to iron out the gutteral nasal twang of the Scot while an intense effort is being made to ensure the stand-in's mannerisms and movements are as close as possible to the audience's expectations from the first three blockbusters.
"Gallus is working hard and is determined to succeed," said Delmer. "Computer technology will ensure the character will remain familiar to his character's fans but, obviously, his personality is different and that will shine through.
"We don't see that being a major problem though as The Hobbit is set many years before the time of The Fellowship of the Ring when Gollum was much younger. Just as Bilbo will need to have different characteristics, then so will Smeagol, We are confident the audience will understand that."
McSmeagol was reluctant to comment on the family feud which has resulted from his taking over the part but did say: "This is Gallus' part, Gallus likes this part, Gollum took away Gallus' part but now it is mine."
Gollum was unavailable at his Los Angeles home yesterday but his agent, Thomas Covenant, confirmed that a civil action was being raised against Jackson and legal advice being taken on McSmeagol's intention to ‘mimic' his cousin's style.
"This is an unfortunate incident which has divided a very close family," he added. "Gollum will be taking every measure he can to ensure this reaches a satisfactory conclusion for all concerned - himself, the cast, the crew, the legacy of Tolkien and his cousin."