By Curt Wagner
7:33 AM CDT, June 22, 2011
We all deal with certain amounts of stress in our lives. How we cope, though, sets us apart.
"I probably smoke too many cigarettes, which isn’t a very good thing," said Elijah Wood, best known for playing Frodo Baggins in "The Lord of the Rings" movies. "I don't have any extraordinary sort of coping mechanism. I certainly don't talk to a dog."
That's exactly what his character does in "Wilfred," the unapologetically bizarre FX comedy that premieres at 9 p.m. June 23. Wood plays Ryan, a suicidal guy who strikes up a relationship with his neighbor’s dog, Wilfred. Except while everyone else sees Wilfred as an actual mutt, Ryan sees a foul-mouthed, weed-smoking Australian man in a mangy dog suit who goads Ryan into stepping out of his funk in many adventurous ways.
“It was just the funniest thing I’ve ever read,” Wood said during an exclusive interview with RedEye. “I’ve never read anything like it. I’ve certainly never seen anything like it on television and I just thought the pilot script was so hilarious.”
The show is an American remake of a cult Aussie comedy created by Jason Gann, who reprises his role as Wilfred, and as co-executive producer and writer, in the FX version.
If the word “remake” gives you pause, relax. As Wood explains, having Gann onboard was a selling point in his decision to accept the role. “I knew that the integrity of the original show would be upheld and the original vision and that was really exciting to me,” he said.
Also exciting was the chance to do two things the 30-year-old hadn’t done before: a TV series, and comedy.
“As an actor I think I’m always looking for roles that are very different from anything I’ve done and in an interest to continue to challenge myself and keep myself interested, and also just to sort of explore new territory,” said Wood, who will return to Middle Earth for Peter Jackson’s “LOTR” prequel, “The Hobbit.”
Being a fan of TV—Wood counts AMC’s “Mad Men,” “The Killing” and “Breaking Bad,” along with HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “True Blood,” as some of his current favorites—he had no qualms about moving to the smaller screen. In fact, some of the TV scripts he’d been shown were “leaps and bounds better” than the film screenplays he’d seen, he said. And “Wilfred” was the alpha of the litter.
“A lot of the comedy that [Gann] comes up with, even though it’s heightened and he’s a man in a dog suit, it does come from a place of honesty and there’s something real happening there, too,” Wood said. “It’s great; it’s a lot of fun to watch.”
The comedy shifts from jokes about Wilfred’s bodily functions to “dogisms”—the things that dogs do are lot funnier when a guy in a dog suit does them—and also the hard lessons that Wilfred tries to teach Ryan.
“I think the scripts are really layered,” Wood said. “I think that the show will be enjoyed on repeat watches of it because there are a lot of things going on that you could miss.”
One thing Wood’s fans won't miss in "Wilfred" is seeing that he can do comedy. Gann says that before the two met when Wood auditioned for "Wilfred," he remembered Wood from to non-comedy roles, in “The Good Son” and “Sin City."
“Before he came in I was like, ‘I hope this guy’s good, ’cause he’s Elijah Wood, like that would be really cool having him in the show,’” Gann said. “And we read together and he was just head and shoulders above the rest.”
Wood nailed the part of Ryan, Gann said, who is essentially the straight man to Wilfred’s comic.
“He’s Dean Martin to Wilfred’s Jerry Lewis at times, but everyone knows Dean Martin was an amazing comic in his own right,” he said. “To be a good straight man, you need to be a fantastic comic. And when he needs to do that, Elijah does that great and it’s really great to watch him in the moments where Ryan gets to be really funny.”
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