Q&A: Elijah Wood Talks ‘Wilfred’, His Career and ‘The Hobbit’
FX’s Wilfred is back for it’s second season and if you are in love with this series like I am, then you’ll agree that it didn’t come fast enough.
Elijah Wood plays Ryan, Wilfred’s (Jason Gann) friend and frequent victim on the show and in this Q & A, he chats about the show, keeping his career as diverse as he can and a little film you may have heard of, The Hobbit.
There’s a lot of great nuggets of info in here; he talks about the intricacies of working on a show, his career and more. Check it out!
Wilfred airs on Thursdays at 10pm on FX
Wilfred is manipulative and like the anti-Jiminy Cricket. Why do you think that “Ryan” continues to stay with him despite all the schemes and all the lies?
Elijah Wood: 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.
Some of the funniest moments on the show have been the improve in-character 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?
Elijah Wood: 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.
In the season finale we saw a different side of “Ryan,” a side that even made “Wilfred” cringe, so what was it like to unleash “Ryan’s” dark side, and will we be seeing him again this season?
Elijah Wood: It was a lot of fun. It provided a color to the character that was very different from the character we were introduced to and that 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.
Did the filming of The Hobbit get in the way of Wilfred, or was it timed where you didn’t have to worry about jumping from one place to the next?
Elijah Wood: Oh, it was all done prior to the second season – they’ve been filming The Hobbit for about a year and I jumped on to it in July, a little bit in July last year and a little bit in October, so it was all done prior to starting on the second season.
What’s it like, the differences for you, television versus film?
Elijah Wood: 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. And 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.
Can you tell us a little bit about working with Robin Williams?
Elijah Wood: 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, and 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. It was great. 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.
Is “Ryan” a difficult character for you to get into, or can you relate to him easily?
Elijah Wood: “Ryan” is constantly at odds with himself and the world around him, and I don’t necessarily relate to that. I think (audio cuts in and out) hugely informed by Jason. A lot of the time “Ryan” is reacting to the world around him and reacting to the scenarios that “Wilfred’s” putting him in and trying to hold things together and to hold on to his own sense of …, and … , and what helps me as an actor is working with Jason. He provides me with a wealth of things to react to and different versions of his character that makes my job so much easier and helps to establish the character as well.
Speaking of Jason, how hard is it for you to keep a straight face with him in that costume when he’s doing things like humping “Bear”?
Elijah Wood: Oh man, yes, I must say it’s really funny. 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 but he just said something that, I think “Wilfred’s” line was “I wasn’t finished yet, Ryan,” or something, I had interrupted him, but I clearly hadn’t, and it was that line, 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. I literally was talking about this the other day, it’s like what the … is it about this season, why am I suddenly laughing at everything. And we’ve had a couple of moments, like doing some of those couch … at the end, where there was one thing, he changed a line of dialogue in one of the couch … and you’ll see it in the season, he 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.
Your body of work as an actor has always been so diverse, from indie films, blockbuster films, to TV like Wilfred. How important is it for you to keep that diversity in your resume as an actor?
Elijah Wood: It’s important. I think it’s always been important to me. I think there’s probably a few reasons why I think, first and foremost, it’s just about my own interest in the art form, and I’m interested in all kinds of genres and all kinds of storytelling mediums, so I’m interested in new challenges and new experiences and different kinds of storytelling. But also as an actor that kind of diversity provides a constant challenge for me, this being a very good example, I’ve never done comedy, I’ve never done television before, so it was a brand new experience, and I think I’m always looking for new experiences. But I also love actors who have a diverse catalogue and have a diverse career, you can’t really peg them. I never would want to be in that position where it’s anticipated the kinds of things that I will be part of or that I’ll do. Constantly doing different things frees me up as an actor to continue to do different things and do things that people wouldn’t necessarily expect.
What’s been your favorite role you’ve done and your most challenging?
Elijah Wood: 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, and 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.
Can you talk about what it’s like making the transition from being a child actor to an adult actor?
Elijah Wood: To be honest, it’s not even something that I was that aware of until I was already into my adulthood. There’s no real equation there. There isn’t a way for me to answer that that can be quantified in specifics. Thinking about it, I was very lucky at a young age to never work on anything that made me a recognizable name really quickly, really early on. I think that had a lot to do with it. I had the gradual growth in terms of people being familiar with who I am. I never really worked on films that were specifically made for families and kids, and I think that helped as well, so I was never typecast as a young person. I think I was only interested, and I became increasingly as I grew into an adult, in being a part of different kinds of films and playing different kinds of roles, and I think that really helped. And also on a personal level humility was drilled into me from a young age from my family, I had a really strong family dynamic at home and a major sense of normalcy, so as a person I was always very grounded and had a relatively realistic perspective as to what I was doing in the world around me, so that helped.
But I don’t know that there’s any way to really say. I’ve also just been simply lucky. I’ve had great opportunities to work with wonderful filmmakers and to work on a relatively diverse group of films, and I always thought as I became an adult, well, as long as I can continue to work and to work on different things I’ll hopefully still have the opportunity to continue.
I’m 31 now, which I can’t really believe, and I’m still working. I was actually just in Baton Rouge and I did two days on a film called Pawn Shop Chronicles that’s going to be … amazing, I think, the film. It’s a big ensemble piece. I was working with Matt Dillon for two days, which was a joy, and Wayne Kramer, who directed The Cooler and Running Scared directed it, and I just had these two days, it was an absolute joy and we did some ridiculous things that I think are going to be really exciting. It just reminded me what a gift it is that I get to do what I do. I’m very lucky to still be working and I never take that for granted. Transition, I suppose I have made that transition, but I don’t really think about it. I just think about the here and now and what I’m doing and hopefully what I’ll get to be doing in the future.
What aspects of your own personality, or your own idiosyncrasies, did you bring this season to “Ryan”?
Elijah Wood: I don’t know. That’s a good question. … maybe some of me in there, maybe some of my more awkward quirkinesses that lie in there somewhere gets applied to the character in some of the funnier moments. I also don’t know that there is that much of me in there. “Ryan” inherently is somebody who’s trying to do good and is trying to be the best person that he can be, and those are things I can relate to, so I suppose that part of me. There’s a lot of heart to “Ryan” and I think that it’s an element of him that I relate to.
Was it easy or hard to get back into the role of “Frodo”? What was that like coming back?
Elijah Wood: 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 Bag End 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.
Was it a conscious effort to try to get big stars on your show for the second season?
Elijah Wood: I don’t think we’re ever looking for just simply big stars on the show. I think we have a distinct disinterest in … . I think we’re always looking for people that feel right for the characters, and we’re certainly interested in actors who are familiar to people, and we’re excited to get a chance to work with people that we’re fans of, but at the end of the day I think our casting decisions really come from a place of wanting to fill out these characters with the best possible people that can make them come to life in the way that they’ve been written, and this season is no exception to that. Rob Riggle was absolutely wonderful. He plays a co-worker. We have a few returning characters from last season. I don’t know if that’s been announced, I can’t really say, but there’s a really wonderful guest performance from an actor, who I’ve actually worked with before, who you’ll see later on this season, and that’s really exciting.
It’s really a fun show to cast, because the characters that do come in to interact with “Ryan” and “Wilfred” are extremely well written and really funny, and some of them are quite bizarre, so they’re always really fun to cast, and it’s a joy for us to bring in people that we love, that we’re a fan of, and more often than not these wonderful actors tend to elevate the work that we’re doing, which is great.