By Curt Wagner
8:52 PM CDT, June 30, 2011
Elijah Wood can add "comic actor" to his Renaissance man resume.
The "The Lord of the Rings" actor has dug up a hit with his first foray into series TV with "Wilfred," which attracted 3.8 million viewers for its debut June 23 on FX. In the show, which airs at 9 p.m. Thursdays, Wood plays Ryan, a depressed lawyer who sees his neighbor's dog, Wilfred (Jason Gann), as a trouble-making bloke in a dog suit.
It's a far cry from the drama of Middle Earth, which Wood worked on from ages 18 to 23. But the now 30-year-old, who I recently chatted with by phone from L.A., is always up for new challenges.
Among the big studio and indie movies he's made, he's lent his voice to video games and animated TV shows. Outside of acting, he turned his lifelong love of music into his own record label, called Simian Records (currently on the back burner, he says), and even deejays on weekends at L.A. clubs.
The former child star credits his family for his well-rounded life. They moved to L.A. when he was 7 years old from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, so that he could pursue acting. He never jumped into that L.A. scene that has gobbled up young actors and led to more than a few implosions.
"There were moments" when he showed signs of an inflated ego or feeling entitled, he said, but "I can't recall any of them because I never was allowed to go any further with it. ... If any of my behavior smacked of that my family was on it so fast so I kind of never explored it, thankfully."
Now, he's just grateful for his career and for all the opportunities he's had both professionally and personally.
"Not only could I not have had the career that I've had, but also I wouldn't be the person that I am, which is far more important," he said. "It's one thing to have the support of your family to help you in your sort of life decisions and I can reflect on that in regards to where I am with my career."
And that just happens to be working with a man wearing a dog suit. In this second part of our interview, Wood and I talk about "Wilfred," Wood's family, career, his love of music and "The Hobbit." (Read Part 1 of the interview here.)
First off, I love the show.
Oh, that's awesome; that's so nice to hear. I think working on something as unique as "Wilfred," we love it and we're extremely passionate about it. It's also something that we're definitely aware of how different it is and how strange it is, and that's all the things that I love about it. At the same time it's interesting, I don't think I've ever felt so curious to see what people's reaction will be of anything that I've worked on, so it's really exciting.
What did you think of Jason Gann when you first met him?
Jason's great. [He has] a wry sense of humor. I'm definitely familiar with the sort of Australian characteristics. I met him in the context of reading for the role, so we were professionally put together in the context of having to read opposite one another. And he was just wonderful. I think there was an immediate sense of comfortability between the two of us and how we were playing off one another that continued throughout the show. I think we got on extremely well right away and saw eye-to-eye as to what that relationship [between Ryan and Wilfred] was supposed to be. Working with him was extremely easy, which was a blessing because most of the show is the two of us every day and we really could rely on each other. There was that great secondhand between the two of us. It was really wonderful. He's great…
A lot of the comedy that he comes up with, even though it's heightened and he's a man in a dog shoot, it does come from a place of honesty and there's something real happening there too. It's great; it's a lot of fun to watch.
He told meet filming was a lot of fun and that off-camera, you crack him up a lot.
I guess so. I definitely have made him laugh. I don't quite know what I've done to make him laugh, but that's a lovely compliment.
We make each other laugh. You know what's interesting I think going into it, I think it was David actually who said wow, you know, this is ten weeks, ten straight weeks. It's going to be grueling, you know, your first time on television; the schedule is going to be really intense. And that's when I like I don't know, I've definitely endured intense schedules before. And I have to say, as intense as our schedule was and we were doing an average of eight to 10 pages a day, sometimes 35, 40 setups a day, it never really felt that intense. And I think some of that's due to the working relationships and to the fun that we were having. Every day it was such a pleasure to come to work and not only to work on the material but to work with everyone involved. It was a really great creative team.
Wilfred and Ryan smoke a lot of weed together.
Yes, they do.
Was that acting based on personal experience or all acting?
[Laughs.] It was all acting. My relationship with pot is relatively minimal, not for lack of trying, but I'm not a huge pothead. I don't do it nearly as much as my character or Wilfred does.
I wanted to get your take on the bodily function jokes.
I think it's a really multi-layered show and I think there's always a lot going on in Ryan's head within his conflicts with Wilfred. And I think a lot of the comedy, as much as it can come out of sort of body humor and humor about smoking weed and the fact that there's a man and a dog suit, like all of those elements are just sort of there. But I feel like there's a lot of comedy that's coming out of real-life things that Ryan's going through. I think the scripts are incredibly intelligent. I was really impressed.
I was so impressed with how layered they are and how complex the scripts are, and how each story is telling something real whilst also having reliance on some of the kind of humor, but then there's other humor coming from different places as well. I think they're incredibly intelligent scripts. And like I said, I think you can definitely enjoy the show on a sort of a visceral surface level. I think it can be enjoyed on others as well.
Ryan's sister is demanding and bossy. Can you relate to that with anyone in your family?
No, no, thankfully. That's an important relationship because that also, it's sort of, it's an indication of why Ryan's in the place that he's in. It's one of the members of his family that has a strong influence on him that doesn't allow him to be who he wants to be. ... His sister is a real reminder of that in a pretty contentious relationship.
Have you found that you could not have had your career without the support of your family?
Oh, there's no question; yeah, no question. Not only could I not have had the career that I've had, but also I wouldn't be the person that I am which is far more important. It's one thing to have the support of your family to help you in your sort of life decisions and, you know, I can reflect on that in regards to where I am with my career. But I also wouldn't be the person that I am had it not been for my mother and the support of my family in a very real way to help me navigate being an actor in this industry which obviously has its pitfalls and of its sense of surreality, and I always had such a strong sense of reality and groundedness outside of the context that I was doing as an actor. So that's had a massive influence on me.
You were a child actor, but you've never had that child-actor implosion thing, which I say, good for you.
Thank you, extremely fortunate, yeah. I credit my mother and my family for that. But also, with the career that I've had, I've been lucky to have a path that has never stuck me in one place. I kind of gradually became recognizable. As a young child I was never in one film that catapulted me immediately from obscurity to being recognizable very quickly. So that was a blessing because I was able to kind of gradually deal with what it meant to be recognizable over a period of time. It's not necessarily an enviable position to not be recognizable and then suddenly being known around the world very quickly.
I wouldn't really wish that on anyone. It's just difficult. When it happens that quickly, and unless you're prepared for it you don't necessarily have a built-in system of tools to know how to handle that. Some people do; it's not impossible. But I was really lucky. I kind of had a very gradual growth so that when something like "Lord of the Rings" occurred, I had some sense of how to deal with it, at least on a smaller scale.
Right. And then after that you sort of stepped back and did indie stuff?
Smaller things, yeah.
Even though you're very well-known for that mega-franchise, people still see you as sort of a low-profile actor. Is that something you cultivated?
I think there was something conscious about it, but it was also just responding to material too. It just so happened that a lot of the material that I loved and pursued kind of took me on a smaller scale. I think after "Lord of the Rings" my initial gut instinct was to do something really small, which wasn't so much because of not wanting to be a part of something that would be equally as successful insomuch as it was about just not wanting to be on a 16-month massive opus. I was just wanting to do something small that had less responsibility to it.
After that, I think after that my focus was really just on good material, and it just so happened that a lot of the material that I found that I loved was on a smaller independent scale. It's not easy to find great material in the context of major studio productions. They're made every year, there's definitely a handful of excellent, larger budgeted, more sort of widespread productions, but they're harder to find for sure.
Now, what is your favorite animal or animal-like co-star: Wilfred, Flipper or Gollum?
[Laughs.] I don't know. Wilfred has proved to be one of the more interesting relationships on screen. I'd say Wilfred.
Can we talk about your love for music? How's the record label going?
It's good. It's small. I kind of put it on the back burner a little bit last year. I had found myself distracted by other things and couldn't really pay the kind of attention to it that I wanted to. I'm sort of in the process of reconfiguring it. It's still a part of my life, and music is a huge part of my life. I want to just sort of pause and reflect on how best to go about it. The music industry is really different and in some ways more exciting than it's ever been, particularly in that people are exposed to kinds of music and to bands that they never would have been exposed to before, largely due to the various channels that people are now communicating through and being exposed to culture through.
And music distribution, with digital distribution, it's really opened up that channel as well, and how things are marketed can be very creative and interesting nowadays. It's actually kind of a fascinating time to be involved. It's not exactly the best time to start a business but that was never my intent. My intent really was to start a little label to release music that I believed in as a hobby, not to make money off of it. So yeah, I'm still plugging away at it and, hopefully, in the next year or so it will expand and become something a little bit more.
What got you so into music?
I don't know if I can pinpoint it. Growing up my brother was always a huge fan of music and I've learned a lot from my brother. I listened to a lot of the music that he listened to growing up. He was a huge Prince fan and The Smiths, and various other sort of indie rock from the early '90s and ... a little electronic stuff from England.
Also I was traveling at a young age and was exposed to music from various people that I was working with. And it just hit me kind of early, I think around 8, 9, probably like 9 or 10, I started to prick up my ears to it and I was exposed to a lot of different kinds of music, more than I would have if I had just been in one place or just listening to the radio.
So I really credit sort of my initial tableau of the music that influenced me to traveling and to listening to anything exposed to me that I wouldn't have otherwise. And probably around the age of 15 or 16 is when I became kind of heavily interested and really sought it out. And my musical taste expanded beyond sort of the parameters that I had initially, and it just blew open as a teenager and I became kind of voracious.
At one point, Smashing Pumpkins was your favorite band, right?
Yeah, yeah. They were the first band I really followed. I think the first band that I fell in love with was probably The Beatles, but the first band that I really followed in a current timeframe was the Pumpkins. It was the first band that I saw live, the first concert back in '97. They were an exciting band to follow because all of the singles that they released had B sides. The B sides were just as interesting, if not more so, than their album tracks. And they were just a kind of an amazing--they had so much music from 1991 up until '99, '98. So it was just an exciting band to follow. That kind of exposed me to other things, just the notion of following music so intensely.
Have you heard any of Billy Corgan's recent stuff?
I have. I think what I'm most excited about, he's an incredible song writer, but he's just announced this plan to reissue a number of the classic albums remastered with bonus material, most of which he is saying is largely unreleased even on bootleg form. That's really exciting. Their back catalog is massive and their archive is huge. I'm really curious to see what will come out of that and I think it's a fun opportunity for him to kind of indicate this is the larger picture of where we were any given time making each record, and I think that's really exciting. So I'm psyched about that project; that'll be cool.
Do you have any current musical recommendations?
I've been having little record parties where people come over to my house and everybody brings vinyl and everybody gets a turn at playing music, which is a lot of fun.
A friend of mine brought a record by a band called Social Climbers that came out in 1980, I think it was, 1980-81. It's the coolest record I've heard in a long time. It's all drum machines, but then instruments on top of the drum machines. It has at times a Talking Heads sort of feel to it. It's got kind of a post-punk sound to it. There are male and female vocals. It's so cool. It sounds really modern in terms of what some bands play now. It sounds like if you released it today Pitchfork would be all over it. I managed to find it. My friends sent me a link to find it on vinyl because it's not an easy record to find and they never released it on CD. But I think it's actually being reissued next year. It's so good. Social Climbers is awesome.
When are you leaving to shoot "The Hobbit?"
I leave for New Zealand in October. They've been filming since March and I think they're actually on a hiatus right now. But yeah, I'm heading out there in October.
Are you excited?
I'm thrilled. It's 12 years this August since I traveled to New Zealand for the first time. It's just crazy to think that that much time has passed. But to be able to go back to New Zealand and work with largely the same crew and many of the same cast in that same world is just a trip. It's like a high school reunion and also a mix of time travel.
And to play that character again in that same context is going to be very surreal. It just feels like it'll be a wonderful reunion just to catch up with everyone. So I'm so excited. It's just a little part. I haven't read the scripts yet, but there are the tiny little pieces for Frodo, because obviously Frodo's not alive chronologically during the time of "The Hobbit." But I'm just looking forward to going back.
I'm going back for I think it's only a few days of work, but I'm going to stay for a month and just catch up with everyone and meet a lot of the new cast members and just sort of enjoy being back in New Zealand for a bit. I miss it.
That was such a huge part of your life. How long were you guys there? Three years?
Well, it was 16 months of principal photography, but the film remained over the course of four years. We started production in '99 and we wrapped in, I think it was October or November of 2003.
And all that travel to support it.
A lot, a lot, yeah. A huge, huge part of my life. I was 18 when I first traveled to New Zealand to start working on the films and I was 22, almost 23 when we finished. So it was a significant chunk of my life in terms of a significant time in one's life, when one is kind of being a teenager and growing into being a man. So it was a profound life experience. In some ways that trumps just the making of the film. It had such an impact on me just as a person. It'll be really gratifying to go back and revisit it a bit.
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