By Curt Wagner
6:21 PM CDT, June 20, 2012
Elijah Wood doesn't think he's much like Ryan, the character he plays on the FX comedy "Wilfred"--at least he hopes not.
"Ryan's really struggling most of the time and is constantly questioning himself and the world around him and is not always in the most comfortable of places," he said Monday, "so hopefully none of that has rubbed off on me."
"Wilfred" officially begins its second season at 9 p.m. June 28, but at 9:30 p.m. Thursday FX will air a special preview episode called "Progress" that has been available online for a week.
Ryan seems to have made little progress from the crazy Season 1 cliffhanger. For the entire first season he took life lessons--and bong hits--from his neighbor's dog, Wilfred (Jason Gann). The problem was that while everyone else saw Wilfred as Jenna's (Fiona Gubelmann) lovable mutt, Ryan saw him as a hard-partying man in a dog suit who constantly got Ryan into trouble.
Then the finale turned the entire premise on its head, something Wood loved about the first season.
"We became very multi-layered toward the end of the first season, which allowed us to make that kind of finale work," he said during a call with reporters. "I think we do a similar thing this season as well, where from Episode 7 on things get a little bit more complex in the storytelling, and those are some of my favorite episodes."
So was Wilfred real or imagined? As "Progress" begins, our hapless human hero still is trying to answer that question while "resting" at a special clinic under the care of Dr. Eddy (guest star Robin Williams). Or is that imagined? In the weird world of "Wilfred," you never can tell, and Wood appreciates that part of showrunner David Zuckerman's storytelling.
"My favorite elements ... are when the show gets really trippy, and you don't quite know what's real and what isn't," he said.
One trippy part of the show I happen to love is Bear, the gigantic stuffed animal with which Wilfred enjoys a chaotic romantic relationship. Wood promises that Bear will come into its own this season.
"We're kind of obsessed with Bear," Wood said of the cast and writers. "Bear is to Wilfred as Wilfred is to Ryan in a way. It's clearly something that is internally happening with Wilfred. We definitely explore that a little more this season. It's very funny."
Wood talked more about where Ryan's head is at this season, new guest cast members and if Bear is a "he" or a "she."
They wrote you guys into a corner at the end of Season 1, or a closet, I guess. How pleased were you with the way that they wrote you out of it?
[Laughs.] I love what they came up with. It was definitely a challenge, I think, in writing that. It was an exciting end to our first season and something that David [Zuckerman] had told us about, about a month or so before it was written, so we knew where it was going. But to leave people on a bit of a cliffhanger in such an extreme way was really exciting, and then trying to figure out how best to come out of that was an interesting challenge, I think, for David.
I love the way that he ultimately did. We have an interesting finale this season as well that I'm very excited about, and I think what I'm proud of with the show ... is where it goes in that first season, and I think we have a similar trajectory this season.
The first season Wilfred helped Ryan stand up for himself a little more, and I was wondering, how does Ryan's newfound ballsiness change the dynamic in Season 2?
There's a little bit more of a push and pull now. As I was saying earlier, I think Ryan's a little bit more aware of the ability for Wilfred to trick him, so I think he's constantly trying to look ahead to any of the things that Wilfred's suggesting as possibly being a trick or a manipulation. So there is a bit more of a fight between them, a struggle between the two of them this time around. The dynamic is that Ryan's a little bit less passive. I think he's a lot more active in trying to almost stay ahead of Wilfred. He's not always successful, but he has his eye out. He's keen on where Wilfred can potentially be taking him this time around.
Not to sound like a fetishist or anything, but I noticed that sometimes Wilfred calls Bear "he" and sometimes Wilfred calls Bear "she," and I was wondering if that's going to remain a mystery?
Bear's gender will never be defined, I'll say that. We've actually, I think, taken to calling Bear "it," I'm pretty sure I'm correct in saying that, so Bear doesn't actually have a gender. It's a totally ambiguous gender. It's funny, I suppose he probably has called him "he" I need to check back on the first season. I can't really remember. But Bear is an undefined gender.
Bear features a lot this season. Bear really comes into its own. I love that character.
Are you going to play kickball again at Lollapalooza this year?
Oh man, I wish I could. I'm not going to be in town. I'm going to be away in Spain shooting a film, so unfortunately I'm not going to be able to make it. But I'd love to. I had a blast last season. It was fun.
Here are questions from other writers on Monday’s call, arranged by topics.
WILFRED SEASON 2
Why do you think Ryan continues to stay with him despite all the schemes and lies?
The scheming and the lying, that’s a good question. I think that as much as Wilfred cannot entirely be trusted I also think that almost entirely those sorts of schemes and those lies end up in Ryan learning something and Ryan continuing to grow and advance as a person despite the method for getting him there. I think deep down Ryan has a sense that Wilfred does have his best interest at heart, even though his methods aren’t exactly to be trusted. I think he’s aware of the fact that he’s on a path of self-discovery and a journey to bettering himself , and it’s his friend, it’s the person that knows him the best, it’s the person that understands him the best, again, despite the difficulties present in their relationship sometimes. It’s the person that he can actually rely on and that can truly understand what makes Ryan who he is.
In the Season 1 finale we saw a different side of Ryan that even made Wilfred cringe. What was it like to unleash Ryan’s dark side, and will we be seeing him again this season?
It was a lot of fun. It provided a color to the character that was very different from the character we were introduced to. We’ve only kind of ever alluded to that side of him in the first season until we saw it at the end, so it was great fun to play. It provided another layer and sort of insight into the darkness that lies within him that ultimately led him to the place that we found him in at the beginning of the first season. We won’t necessarily see that darkness again. He allowed himself to get to the precipice a little bit, and in doing that he almost lost everything that was holding him together, Wilfred included, and so we see him now having come out of that space, and I don’t think it’s likely that he’ll return there any time soon. But we now are aware of the fact that that exists, and to a certain degree I guess more importantly that is ultimately what led to his initial downfall, it was that sort of selfish activity and doing things that he knew was wrong despite the fact that he knew them that put him in the place that made Wilfred come into his life in the first place, I think.
At the end of the preview episode there’s a great moment where Ryan’s told to keep digging and then the next couple of episodes though it’s a little bit more of the general humorous antics with Wilfred and a little less of that introspection. Can you talk a little bit about how and when Ryan will start to dig again?
Yes, a very fine observation on your part. Yes, it’s true. The first few episodes back we find ourselves in a familiar Wilfred [place] in terms of the comedy and the construct of the show. But as the season progresses some of those existential questions and complications start to arise again, and we’ll see more of that, of the digging, I suppose, and of his self-discovery and growth, or lack of growth, as the season progresses. Like I said earlier, I think from episode 7 on it starts to become a little bit more like that, which represents, again, an element of the show that I think I’m most in love with. I love the first episode. I love this preview episode. It is totally emblematic of when I think the show is at its best. I love the comedy too, and I love those episodes, and we’ve got some very, very funny, ridiculous episodes this season, but we will definitely be getting back to more of what you’ve seen in this first preview episode as well.
Is there something specific that you’d like to see happen in the future on the show that hasn’t yet, if you could write it the way you want it?
There’s a lot of ideas that get thrown around. I would love to see Ryan as Wilfred at some point, in some kind of strange existential dream. I’ve always thought that that visually would be really weird. ... I have an idea of how I’d like the show to end, which I’d probably rather not say in case it lets the cat out of the bag in regards to something that we might actually do. ... I think there’s a lot we can explore with symbolism and fever dreams, which I think give insight into what is psychologically happening with the character. I’d like to see more of that, where we can put our audience in a place of not quite knowing where they are and what’s really going on, so I’d like to see more of that.
Can you tell us about the biotech company where Ryan is working and the mystery of it? Is it an escape from Wilfred and to make new connections?
It certainly is. It’s the first time that we see Ryan in the workplace interacting with other people, having responsibility, accepting being a lawyer again, getting out of his house, really, literally, and getting [to] interact with other people and grow. [It’s] not so much to stay away from Wilfred, but to grow as a human being, to psychologically be healthy enough to be in a workplace with other people. It was the most logical place for us to go, I think.
WILFRED FILMING AND REACTIONS
How hard is it for you to keep a straight face with Jason Gann in that costume?
I was actually talking about this on set the other day, but the first season I rarely broke. It was actually funny, we were about a day or two before we were finished on the first season and Wilfred had this line; it was a nebulous line, it didn’t seem particularly funny or outlandish. ... I think Wilfred’s line was, “I wasn’t finished yet, Ryan,” or something, I had interrupted him, but I clearly hadn’t ... I didn’t break all season for some reason, even though everything we were doing was hilarious and Jason was constantly funny, but I never broke until that line. It was the weirdest thing to break in.
And this season has been the total opposite. I laughed so much this season and broke in so much more. I don’t really know why that is. I don’t know if it’s because the material is funnier this season or if, I don’t know, if I’m more comfortable with what we’re doing and what we’re creating that I’m laughing more, but Jason has made me laugh a lot this season. It’s been hilarious. And I can’t quite put my finger on it. ...
[Jason] changed one word and that one word change made the line so ridiculously funny that I broke and then every time we tried to do it again I knew it was coming, so we literally had to walk off set and clear the air, because he was laughing as well. It was great. It’s been a really fun season. It’s sort of ridiculous how much fun it is to come to work. It’s just one of those jobs where every day I look forward to seeing everyone, every day I look forward to the material that we get a chance to make come to life. It’s really a blessing. It’s awesome.
What do you feel it is about Wilfred that resonates well with viewers?
I don’t know. The thing I love about the show, and I don’t know if this is why people respond to it so much, but what I love most about the show is that it can be enjoyed on multiple levels. ... I love that there are some episodes that aren’t as reliant on comedy, that are actually about characters and internally what’s going on. There’s this underlying theme of the cerebral to the show that I love, and yet it can also be enjoyed on this level of just being hilarious, that a guy is talking to another guy in a dog suit. ... At the end of the day it’s a guy and another guy in a dog suit sitting around smoking pot, so that’s intrinsically funny.
Some of the funniest moments on the show are the banter between you and Jason Gann at the end of each episode. Will we be seeing more of that this season, and can you talk a little bit about the improvisation?
Well, actually none of those moments are improvised. The scripts are very finely tuned. We don’t actually have a lot of time for improvisation. We’re doing four-day episodes, we’re running somewhere between six and nine pages a day of dialogue, so we’re moving relatively quickly. The pace is fast, so it’s difficult to get time for that kind of thing. And those beats, those couch moments of them sitting together and hanging out and smoking weed at the end of the episodes are also kind of finely tuned little character moments. But, yes, you will be seeing more of them now that we’ve established that the basement does in fact still exist, which we can now reveal since people have seen the episode. Yes, we will see them hanging out in that space more for sure.
Can you tell us a little bit about working with Robin Williams?
Oh, it was a joy, it was such a treat for all of us. We’re all massive fans of his. And I’ve had the pleasure of working with Robin a number of times in the two “Happy Feet” films doing voice work. He’s just a delightful human being, so incredibly humble and so hilarious, and obviously an icon, and to get a chance to bring him in to our world on “Wilfred” was a total joy. And it was funny, we were sitting across from each other doing a scene and we realized that, and he said it, that this is the first time that we actually got to play a scene together in the flesh, like in front of each other and on film, and he was saying how enjoyable that was, which was wonderful. It was great to actually have a tangible space to work in as actors. ... I think he had a wonderful time. He worked with us for a few days and I think he loved our crew, and he regaled people with stories and he spent almost all of his time hanging out on set. It was wonderful. It elevated our episode as well. It was a real treat for us.
Will we be seeing Mary Steenburgen again this year as Ryan’s mom?
You will be seeing Mary again. And we particularly love working with her, she’s amazing. The one shame about doing these small episodes is that we only get our guests in for a short amount of time. Sometimes a character will feature literally for an episode only and so we only get them for a couple of days, or three days. And that was the case obviously last year with Mary because she was only in that one episode, but it felt like working with her, she left and we missed her. It felt like she was with us the entire time. She just has this beautiful presence to her and such warmth and kindness and ... incredible in the role. She has the right amount of madness and sweetness in the character and I think she gave great insight as to where Ryan comes from. We were so excited to see her again and to work with her again this season. She’s wonderful.
What can you say about Allison Mack’s character, Amanda, and how she may challenge Ryan? It seems she’ll get his mind off Jenna a little bit, but it also seems like she’s more aware of Wilfred than everybody else.
Yes, that whole arc is a very interesting one for Ryan. There’s not much I can really speak to beyond the fact that initially what she represents for Ryan is a sense of normalcy, a connection with someone outside of the immediate world around him, and a way for him to really connect with someone that isn’t Wilfred, that isn’t Jenna, that does not represent the immediate world around them. It represents a major step forward for him. But also being in the work space, it gets him out of being in this house smoking pot with the dog and allows him to grow and to connect with people, and I think it’s a very interesting arc that we’ll see over the course of the season.
Chris Klein is becoming more of a regular presence and also a common villain now. Can you talk more about Chris’ role in Season 2?
Yes. Chris’ character represents what Ryan doesn’t have. There’s this infatuation with Jenna, his neighbor, and there is a battle in his head about Chris’ character, Drew, and what he gets and what he doesn’t get ... Chris is brilliant at playing that character.
What’s it like working with the incredible Steven Weber and Allison Mack?
They’re both wonderful. Steven does an incredible job playing my boss. He’s very funny and has some really funny moments. And Allison is fantastic as well. She’s a beautiful human being. She’s a very soulful individual and a very wise individual and I think imbues the character with that. As much as she’s also a hot co-worker, there’s real depth to Allison as a person that she brings to the role.
I don’t know that these [characters] are, they’re not really minor distractions, but they are ways for him to work these things out. I think with Allison’s character it’s much more realistic for him, the Jenna infatuation is an infatuation and I think Allison’s character represents the possibility of a real connection with someone who’s available and I think she might understand him and get him in a way that Jenna may not. I don’t know that he’s necessarily working out father issues with his boss. I suppose there’s a similar dynamic, but his father, which we’ve only ever heard of and at least spoken about, obviously has a major role to play in Ryan’s difficult psychology and the head space that he’s in, and also ... that he’s not proud of that led him to the place that he’s in, and the shadow of his father is felt a lot in this season as well. So it’s something that we’re constantly exploring.
What’s it like, the differences for you, television versus film?
The pace is more intense, we move at a much faster rate than films typically do. Like I said earlier, we’re doing about four day episodes, so it’s quite a lot of material in a short amount of time, so the pace is fast, I’m having to keep up. I have just about enough time to get home every night, go over the next day’s work, get some sleep, and go at it again. So that’s a marked difference.
I think the thing that was interesting for me, this is all relatively new being on a television show and being within a comedy, and what was so interesting last year is when it first aired the realization of the fact that it was in people’s living rooms every week, it was such an interesting experience. I never experienced that. I’m used to making something over “x” amount of time, releasing it on to the world in cinemas, and then it goes away. But we were in people’s living rooms for the course of the summer, which was so interesting, it was the thing that was kind of happening every week and that people were constantly reacting to, and it was an enjoyable experience and I’m looking forward to people seeing it again and reacting to more of what we’ve done.
Was it hard to get back into the role of Frodo for “The Hobbit?”
It was a joy. I actually watched “The Fellowship of the Ring” prior to working on “The Hobbit” again. I thought it would be a good idea to do a refresh, but it was actually easy, and I think what surprised me most about it, I expected it to be very strange and trippy in a way, and what was almost more surprising is how normal it felt. I remember I was on set in Baggin and I was looking around and I was in the feet and wig and ears and in my costume and I was looking around and it felt like no time had passed and we were just still working on “Lord of the Rings.” And I think in some ways that tripped me out more than anything, at just how, like, oh yes, here we are again, this is what we’ve been doing all this time.
What is your favorite role and your most challenging role?
Wow. I think one of my favorite experiences in my life was obviously doing “The Lord of the Rings” because there’s nothing really that compared to that. It was such a unique opportunity and a unique experience, and there will never be an experience quite like it in my life. So that was extremely special to me, for a variety of reasons. I was 18 at the time; I was 22 when it was all over. It was a huge growing period of my life, and living in New Zealand was an extraordinary experience. And playing the role was a unique challenge.
I think a turning point in my life as an actor was probably “The Ice Storm.” I was 15 when I did the film—15 or 16—and I had never had that kind of challenge as an actor before with that sort of material. All of the actors that worked on the film were given packets of information on the 1970s as research, and we each had a questionnaire for our characters to fill out. It was really immersive and a different approach to the craft than I’d ever had before and it felt like a massive growing experience. I always cite that.
And another favorite experience of mine was working on “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” I think the character was interesting and dark and a bit skeevy, but the joy of that film was just simply being a part of a piece of art that I was in love with. In some ways I remember getting the script and thinking I would just as almost happily be doing catering on the film. I just wanted to work with Michel Gondry and with Kaufman. I was such a huge fan. That was a particularly special experience for me.
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