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WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Stephen Fry has been cast as a mayor in the "Hobbit" movies being made in New Zealand by Peter Jackson -- a move widely cheered by fans of the English comedian, actor and writer.
Filming began in March on the two long-awaited movies after the project narrowly avoided being moved out of New Zealand, with Jackson, a New Zealand native who made the hit Oscar-winning "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, directing.
Fry will play the Master of Laketown, Jackson said on his Facebook page. The character is said to be smart, but greedy and deceptive.
"In addition to his writing skills, he's a terrific actor and will create a very memorable Master for us," Jackson added.
Jackson also announced that Ryan Gage will play the mayor's servant, Alfrid, after being originally cast in a more minor role. Conan Stevens from the American medieval fantasy television program "Game of Thrones," who stands 2.13 meters (7 feet) tall, will play an Orc called Azog.
More than 3,000 people on Facebook said they "liked" the announcement, with many especially cheering the choice of Fry.
"Genius. The Hobbit is going to be filled with people you love and admire, hello Stephen Fry!" wrote one.
The cast also includes Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom, Ken Stott, and Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins.
Jackson said the cast and some of the film crew will soon be taking a break on the filming of the two movies, which started in late March.
"As we near the end of our first shooting block we are looking at characters featuring in sequences that take place a little later in the story," he added.
The first of the two movies will be released in December 2012 and the second is expected a year later.
"The Hobbit" is based on the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who lives in the land of Middle-earth and goes on a quest to find treasure guarded by a dragon.
The book, first published in 1937, is the precursor to the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, which also takes place in Middle-earth and Jackson turned into a hit Oscar-winning series.
The Hobbit movies have been beset by a succession of problems, most notably the threat last year by Warner Bros movie studio to move production overseas because of fears labor unions would impose a boycott to back demands for a collective contract.
Fry and Jackson are also co-operating on a script for a remake of the classic British war movie, "Dam Busters", about air raids on German dams in World War II, Jackson said.
Writing by Gyles Beckford, editing by Elaine Lies