Elijah Wood is a jack of all trades, yet a master of them all: Actor, producer, DJ, humanitarian, business owner…the list goes on.
For most of you reading this, we grew up with him. From his bit part in Back to the Future: Part II to North to The Faculty to (of course!) The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Elijah Jordan Wood has been a ubiquitous part of our media consumption for as long as we’ve been alive.
So, I guess it goes without saying how ecstatic I was when I was presented with the opportunity to interview Elijah, the guy whose career I have followed — admittedly, sometimes obsessively — from a very, very young age.
Courtesy of the FX Network, Geeks Are Sexy, along with numerous other online media outlets, were recently granted a conference call with Elijah to discuss the fourth and final season of Wilfred (and more!).
Wilfred airs on FXX Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. The series finale is August 13.
(NOTE: The first four questions were asked by yours truly. All questions after that were ones I wanted to ask, but other media outlets asked them first. Plus, time was also limited to 60 minutes for the whole conference call.)
Hi, Elijah! I’m Lauren with GeeksAreSexy.net.
What an amazing name for a website! [laughs]
Aw, thank you! I wish I could take credit for it! [laughs] Thanks so much for doing this. So, did you have an imaginary friend growing up and if YOU were someone ELSE’S imaginary friend, what would you do or make THEM do?
Oh, man. No, I didn’t have an imaginary friend. I was always fascinated by people who did and kind of fascinated by the notion, because it is sort of a phenomena. A lot of kids, it seems, between the age of 3 and 6, tend to have a friend that they communicate with ,and I’ve always found that kind of amazing, but no, I didn’t have that experience.
And if I were someone else’s imaginary friend — I don’t know — I would be far less manipulative than Wilfred. I would really try and look out for the well-being of the individual, I think. I would be a kinder imaginary friend.
Great! Is there anything that you would want to do, since you were imaginary, that you could get away with?
Oh, man. No. I mean, I suppose if you were imaginary, you could sort of do anything, right? I don’t know…time travel, travel through time would be the first thing I would want to do, if there was absolutely any possibility.
Even though it’s now over, how much of Wilfred was scripted versus improv and were there any scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor that you loved?
Oh, good question! I would say 99 percent of the show is scripted, probably, for a couple of reasons. One of them is that we kind of didn’t have enough time to play around too much. Everything is relatively specific, so, yeah, there wasn’t a lot of improv. I can’t even really think about specific lines that may have been improv’d.
We were doing 6 to 8 pages a day, so it was tough. It was tough to actually find the time to sort of play around, because we were moving at such a pace, but yeah, every episode has a number of things that ended up on the cutting room floor. A lot of what ends up going, because we only have 20-some-odd minutes of actual show time…are actually jokes most of the time, because each episode is encapsulating some kind of dramatic or story element, and so each episode has to be in the service of that first before the jokes can work or exist.
In a way, it would be kind of amazing to see all of that, because there were some really great ideas and some great moments that ultimately didn’t make it because of having to have, just sort of the screen time for the story. So there’s plenty. I feel like every episode has a few moments here and there that are really funny that just didn’t work for the story.
For everyone to know, there’s, like, I think, maybe 20 scripts for Couch Beats that we never filmed, which kind of breaks my heart a little bit, because we loved shooting those Couch Beats and they’re some of my favorite moments in the show — where you kind of just sit with Ryan and Wilfred and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do or pertain to anything in regards to the story of each individual episode. They’re just sort of these standalone Ryan-and-Wilfred-getting-high moments that are sort of some of my favorite. And I was told this season that there were up to 15 to 20 scripts that had been written for these kind of moments that we just couldn’t get to, which is kind of a shame.
So, Wilfred walks a fine line, and I was curious as to if you did any research within the mental health industry. The show is a black comedy, but it also is super-serious at times, but there are people who suffer with Ryan’s condition or affliction, by varying degrees, and I was wondering how sensitive – for example, was there a thought given to that and did you do any research about how to maybe play someone who sees creatures that are imaginary?
Well, I think we were always aware that various symptoms that we were expressing were potentially real and linked to quite real mental afflictions, but it was always really important that it be undefined. So, I never did any research and part of that was because we are not actually seeing Ryan from the perspective of an outsider to see how crazy he actually is.
So, to a certain degree, what he is experiencing for us, because we’re only seeing his perspective , we’re seeing it as real and believe me, every absurd scenario that he would get himself involved in with Wilfred, we would say to him, “If you could actually see what is actually happening right now, it would be really disturbing.”
It was always on our minds and it was always on my mind, but I was never playing mentally disturbed, because he was just experiencing Wilfred, so the reality that he’s in is that reality. The only way I think I would have had to play him slightly mentally handicapped would be if we were to break from that reality and actually see Ryan for what he really is, which is smoking a bong with a dog on a couch or sitting in a closet somewhere, do you know what I mean? Because we never actually showed that, I was to play it as what he’s really experiencing with us (and) only afterwards questioning the reality of the world that he’s in and questioning his own sanity as a sort of observational afterthought, I think.
We were keenly aware, and I think it was also important for us — and I’m sure David (Zuckerman, the show’s writer and executive producer) would speak to this, as well — that, you know, we’re not necessarily poking fun at mental illness, and I think for that, we were also never trying to get at all specific with what that could be. We were really working within our own reality and a certain level of generalities as it pertains to what those symptoms were, because we were never trying to make something accurate in regards to mental illness.
I mean, also, at the end of the day, it is a comedy, so as dark as the show gets and certainly, as some of those symptoms are reflective of real mental illnesses, I think it was also important for us not to get too accurate or to poke fun too much, I think.
On paper, I can see how actors would look at the concept of Wilfred as involving a man and guy in a dog costume and think, ‘Oh this isn’t for me.’ What is it that first attracted you to the role?
Well, I think the pilot is the first thing I read. There was only the pilot, and it was the strangest thing I’d ever read and also the funniest. But I’d certainly never seen anything like it or read anything like it, so that in and of itself was a real appeal.
But it also reminded me of Harvey a little bit. I’m a real fan of Harvey and Jimmy Stewart’s performance and the sort of notion of what film is about that it’s sort of up for interpretation what “Harvey” is. And I kind of felt the same way about Wilfred. It could be about a man’s break from reality by choice. As it pertains to Harvey, you could say that Jimmy Stewart’s character was an alcoholic. There are so many different ways that you could interpret it and that was something that really fascinated me.
And I also just, on a very simple kind of level, the idea of the absurdity of a man in a cheap dog suit talking to another man whilst everyone else sees a dog was just something that really appealed to me. So, I just totally fell in love with it and then ultimately, consequently, having conversations with (Wilfred writer-producer) David Zuckerman about where he wanted the show to go excited me even further.
There are so many interesting supporting characters in Wilfred, I’m wondering if there was a story line with one particular character you wish would have been explored more throughout the seasons.
Oh, man. I don’t know if there’s anything that we didn’t explore enough of…I think the roommate from last season, played by Kristen Schaal, just because I absolutely adore Kristen Schaal. I really wanted her to come back this season, and I thought what she did with that character was so brilliant and so funny and it was an absolute joy for all of us to work with her. … As far as the other, I mean, I love the “Bruce” character. I love how, you know, if you kind of take a step away, if you think about the fact that all of this might be manifest in Ryan’s mind, the fact that Ryan would manifest a sort of villainous character that is an antagonist to Wilfred is so absurd and so strange and kind of wonderful.
So, a number of people have described where we are with TV today as a kind of “golden age,” particularly around cable, and I’m wondering if you agree with that and if so, if there are any particular shows that you like to watch.
Yeah, I do. I think it’s important to indicate that [“golden age”] is for cable, because I think there was a golden age of network television a very long time ago, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case for network television [now]. Although, I think the beautiful thing about the expansion of great storytelling and the embracing of great storytelling on cable has inspired network television, and I think we’re seeing really exciting things come out on network television, as well. But I do agree. I have never been so aware of television in my life. HBO really set the standard for quality many, many years ago with The Sopranos and Six Feet Under and I think that’s when I really started paying attention to television was with those particular shows.
And then consequently, we have seen AMC and other networks follow suit with incredible television, as well. And yeah, it’s almost overwhelming now. There is so much good content and so many wonderful actors and writers and directors are coming to television that it’s actually kind of hard to keep up at this point, because there are so many good shows and spread out over so many different networks.
I watch a lot. Again, I’ve never watched so much TV in my life, between Game of Thrones — obviously, I was a huge Breaking Bad fan — True Detective I thought was extraordinary. I watched all of Fargo, as well. I’m excited about The Killing coming back…the only thing that I fear is ultimately that there are so many platforms now, between Hulu doing original content and Netflix doing original content and now Amazon, in addition to actual cable networks, I feel like it has to reach a breaking point in terms of how anyone can digest that much television. There are so many channels now, so it’s really hard to keep up, but it’s certainly never been more exciting, and I think, in some ways, it’s also kind of an answer to what’s happening with the film industry.
I feel like the major studios, to a certain degree, aren’t really making movies, per se, as much of they’re making, taking pre-existing kind of [media] that people already have a connection to or they’re making remakes or they’re doing sequels. So, I think what’s happening with television, to a large degree, is an answer to that, where it’s the actors and the directors and the writers moving to television, because that’s where they’re being allowed to tell the kind of story they want to tell.
I think it’s fascinating. It’s sort of a sea change, and I’m curious to see where it’s going to go, and I’ll remain an avid watcher for sure.
Do you have anything else planned? Any new roles coming up that you want to talk a bit about?
Sure! There’s a film that I did earlier this year that just played the Edinburgh Film Festival called Set Fire to the Stars, which is a movie about Dylan Thomas’ first trip to the U.S. and the poet professor that brought him over to the U.S. that should be coming out sometime before the end of the year.
Then there’s a film called Cooties my production company produced that played at Sundance. That should be coming out also, hopefully, before the end of the year that Lionsgate is going to distribute. … There’s also something we produced called A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which I’m extremely proud of. It’s written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, who is an extraordinary filmmaker. It’s her directorial debut as a feature film[maker]. It’s an Iranian vampire Western flick in black and white that comes out in October, and I’m really excited about people getting to see that.
In a related question: You have an amazing body of work and I’m wondering if there is a specific type of role or genre that you’ve wanted to play but haven’t had the chance to yet? And can you explain a little bit of your process for choosing roles?
It’s pretty organic. I don’t have ideas in my head about specifically what I want to do nor do I look ahead and think about what I want to fill the next five years with. It really is far more organic than that. It’s as simple, in some ways, as reading things that I respond to on a gut level and jump at the chance to participate and that can be anything.
There are genres that I love, but there’s sort of no genre that I love more than any other, for the most part. And I think, in some ways, what attracts me most to projects more often than not are filmmakers and their vision for the given film and wanting to be a part of that, wanting to be a part of that creative process. That can be with a significant role or even sometimes something really small, just so I can be a part of something that I really believe in and am excited by. So, more often than not, I think I don’t necessarily always think from an acting perspective of from a character perspective…I don’t really think about roles that I haven’t played so much. Moreover, I think I look to new challenges and new experiences.
You’re an actor, you’re a DJ, you do voiceover work, then there’s the recording label, the charity work you do is amazing…Who is Elijah Wood to you? So often we place a name like “Frodo” onto you and we project that that’s who you are to us, and so, I’m curious: What is all that to you?
Thank you. Well, I don’t behoove people from drawing those very easy, quick kind of comparisons of labels because those elements, particularly something like Frodo, is very predominant in people’s minds, so to a certain degree, I will always be that character; even that character will always be linked to me.
But what am I? Well, look, I’m a human being who has a lot of interests. In some ways, the expressions that I get when I DJ is as much a major definition of who I am as any of the roles I’ve played, because it’s an extension of something I’m deeply passionate about and something that I love, and in some ways, is almost more personal, because it’s what I do when I go home. … I believe that life is a multifaceted experience and I’ve always been fascinated by so many different vocations and so many different arts and I’ve always believed that it’s important to pursue kind of all those things.
I don’t know that I could simply be satisfied or happy as just an actor. I think that’s why I’ve done the production company, because I love filmmaking and I particularly love genre filmmaking, and I wanted to be a part of producing films that I really believe in and supporting filmmakers that I really believe in, so that’s also a huge extension of who I am.