Actor Dominic Monaghan played cheeky rabble-rousers in British theater and television long before he was cast as a comical hobbit in New Line Cinema's epic The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Born in Berlin, Germany, on December 8, 1976, Monaghan is the younger of two boys. His schoolteacher father and nurse mother spoke English at home and, when Monaghan was 12 years old, moved the family back to their native Manchester. Growing up, Monaghan worked several odd jobs -- as a mail sorter, a stock boy, a sauté chef -- but he always wanted to be an actor. He enrolled at Aquinas College, a Catholic sixth form school in England, where he studied English literature, drama, and geography. By his second year, Monaghan was a regular fixture in school plays. He performed in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, played the Artful Dodger in Dickens' Oliver Twist, and even portrayed American gangster Bugsy Malone. Monaghan soon started acting outside of school and joined the Manchester Youth Theatre. His work with the troupe caught the attention of a talent agent, who sent him to an open casting call for the television show Hetty Wainthrop Investigates, starring veteran actress Patricia Routledge. Monaghan, then only 18, made his television debut as amateur detective Routledge's underage sidekick, Geoffrey Shawcross. The actor appeared on Hetty Wainthrop Investigates for four seasons, building a fan base and honing his craft. In the next few years, Monaghan made his feature-film debut as a Russian sailor in Hostile Waters with Rutger Hauer and taped the docudrama This Is Personal: The Hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper, in which he portrays the boyfriend of a girl attacked by the Ripper. He also recorded his first BBC radio show, "Stockport...So Good They Named It Once," a family sitcom that features Monaghan as a witty, lovelorn 15 year old. Monaghan was performing in a play in London when casting directors scouted him for The Lord of the Rings. As a child, he had read all three volumes of J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy; the books were his father's favorite. After a formal audition for The Lord of the Rings, Monaghan left England to film the WWII miniseries Monsignor Renard (1999) in France, in which he plays a droll layabout whose life dramatically changes during the German occupation. Six months into shooting, Monaghan's agent warned him to be prepared to immediately leave for Los Angeles or New Zealand to meet with Peter Jackson, The Lord of the Rings' director. The actor packed, but the meeting never occurred: Within days, he was called with an offer to play hobbit Meriadoc "Merry" Brandybuck, a major character in all three films. The Lord of the Rings' three installments -- The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002), and The Return of the King (2003) -- were taped simultaneously in New Zealand and kept Monaghan occupied for almost two years. Their yearly releases ensured Monaghan's continuing popularity, and their popularity brought him hoards of jobs offers. After returning to England, besides sifting through piles of potential scripts, Monaghan also completed his own comedy screenplay with fellow hobbit Billy Boyd.