Q & A: Elijah Wood on ‘Wilfred’, Ryan’s Paranoia, Choosing His Roles and More
After four seasons of insanity, FX’s Wilfred is coming to an end and we’ll finally learn the real truth to the story of Ryan (Elijah Wood) and his best friend Wilfred (Jason Gann), a guy in a dog suit. I’ve watched since season one and I’m looking forward to see how everything is wrapped up.
Series star Elijah Wood and FX recently had a conference call where he talked about Ryan’s paranoia, the end of the show, how he chooses his roles, what’s next and more!
Wilfred airs on Wednesdays at 10pm on FXX
The first episode this season was really, really crazy, but in the best way. Can you kind of just talk about that and also “Ryan’s” paranoia? And then, when you first started this episode, before you had read through the whole script, what did you think was going on, just your own opinion?
Elijah Wood: Oh, my God. Well, reading the script, it was honestly I think my favorite script that I’ve read, maybe in the entire show. It was so exciting. I read the season kind of in order and I read like one through three and then I read four and it just totally blew my mind.
And it’s honestly representative of some of my favorite elements of the show. When the show can get as surreal and twisted sort of psychologically as this episode gets it’s sort of my favorite areas for exploration, especially when it allows for a visual way to explore sort of psychological things visually.
So, it’s one of my favorite episodes and I’m so glad that we were able to not only do it, but also one of the things, and I don’t know if this was clear, but we ended up shooting, once you get to really trippy we actually shot primarily all of that with anamorphic lenses, which was a real treat for us because typically we’re shooting on times with our DSLRs and to be able to utilize the anamorphic wide screen was really exciting on a nerdy level for all of us.
And it was kind of cool, actually, we got these amazing anamorphic lenses and then apparently when we were finished using them they ended up going off to Star Wars, which is kind of awesome. Yeah, it’s totally awesome. But I don’t know if I have an answer for what I think “Ryan” is thinking.
You know, the thing that kind of blew my mind about the particular episode is that we actually delve into so many things that I think we as viewers, and to a certain degree “Ryan,” is concerned with, which is like seeing “Wilfred” step out of his suit. Basically, articulating all these things that are sort of deep in “Ryan’s” psyche, seeing them actually play out and to be able to come back from that as just something that he imagined in the hallucination is totally incredible.
And I think ultimately what it is it’s a manifestation of his own psychological concerns and fears more than anything. It plays to his paranoia about what “Wilfred” is in its deepest sense really and allows us because it’s a mind trip, it’s a hallucination that allows us the ability to really delve into that and play with it, which was a blast.
What do you think five, six years down the road the legacy of Wilfred will be and do you think that’s contingent on how the series finale is received?
Elijah Wood: Ooh, good question, man. Honestly, I’ve not given much thought to that, but yeah, I think to a certain degree, I think Wilfred is a show that in some ways was always designed to be enjoyed as individual episodic television so that each piece could be enjoyed into itself or unto itself, whilst a deeper enjoyment can be gleaned from the whole, if you will. So, I still hear from people that go back and watch the first two or three seasons and enjoy them just in terms of the relationship between “Wilfred” and “Ryan,” which I think is at the core of the show.
But then there are also people that watch it because they want answers and I think they enjoy watching the process of ultimately the development of “Ryan’s” character, as it pertains to “Wilfred.” So, I think, to a certain degree once it’s fully contextualized at the end, perhaps that will have some bearing on it as a whole.
I’m really pleased with how it ultimately comes to an end and I think without revealing anything I think it has a sense of being definitive whilst still plays with ambiguity, which I think is really important. I think, to a certain degree, answering, to me in some ways it’s not even about answering questions.
It’s really interesting how that has become a focal point for a lot of people and, obviously, it is for “Ryan,” too, to understand what “Wilfred” is to have a better understanding of himself. But in some ways, the answers are sort of irrelevant. It’s about one’s own development and also about the beauty of what that relationship is, regardless of what the manifestation is or what “Wilfred” is.
I think, at the end of the day, at least I feel this way and I’m happy with it, regardless of what “Wilfred” is, it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is the relationship and I think “Ryan’s” own personal journey. So, yeah, to extrapolate, that was a long answer. But I think will it have bearing? Maybe not, maybe not. And I think five, six years down the road I’ve honestly not thought about it, but I think it is a show that people seem to enjoy watching again, episodes again.
Like I said, I feel like as much as we are concerned about the whole in regards to a development of character and a story that we’re trying to tell, I also think that the show is enjoyable as individual pieces and I think, hopefully, people will like to come back to that. I certainly love that relationship and I would be interested in watching it again. So, I’m curious. I don’t know, time will tell I suppose.
On paper I can see how actors would look at the concept for 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?
Elijah Wood: Gosh, you guys are killing me with your questions! Good questions. Well, I think the pilot is the first thing that 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 that 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 David Zuckerman about where he wanted the show to go excited me even further.
What do you think has made it so endearing, that this worked out so well, as it has over the season?
Elijah Wood: Well, I think central to the story and to the show is that relationship and I think that that has connected with people. And a large part of that is what Jason [Gann] does and what the characterization of “Wilfred” and what he brings to that is always so extraordinary and as the actor who works opposite him I’m constantly challenged and surprised by what he brings to the table and I think that that relationship is sort of core.
I think it’s also, the scope of the show is beyond simply being about focusing on the absurdity of a man in a dog suit and this guy and I think that appeals to people, too, I would imagine. That there’s depth to it. I think what I’m most proud of the show and where I feel like the show is at its best is when it’s balancing the absurd comedy with real drama and kind of a pathos and doing that really deftly.
There are so many episodes throughout each season that I think really achieve that in a beautiful way that doesn’t feel that the scales are tipped too much in either direction and I think, I would hope that people love that. It’s certainly what I love most about the show.
There’s 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.
Elijah Wood: Oh, man. I don’t know if there’s anything that we didn’t explore enough of. I mean, I love, that’s a good question. I think the roommate from last season played by Kristin Schaal, that was, just because I absolutely adore Kristin 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.
She was actually an actress starting from season one I would tell the writers and David and everyone else who would listen that we need to get Kristin Schaal on the show just because I think she’s wonderful. So, to finally have cast her and get her on the show was really wonderful.
And I thought the dynamic that she brought was really exciting. So, that just for personal reasons because I think she’s wonderful, I kind of wanted her to come back because I would love to have seen that character more. And 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.
When you look back on your experience over the years with the show, what do you think you’ll remember the most behind the scenes?
Elijah Wood: Honestly, it would be the family that we created or that was created as a result of making the show on set. I think in a way the hardest thing to let go of when it all came to an end was the crew and the family that had been created over the years, because it was really the same group of people for the most part for the majority of the episodes over the course of four years.
So, when I think about the show, I really think about that. I think about Randall Einhorn directing every episode, except for I think two in the first season and that’s kind of out of the norm, it’s not common, and certainly not for a comedy for a single director to direct every single episode. And so in that we were really fortunate and he had an incredible vision for the show.
And everything kind of descended from him. Our direct family and the sort of atmosphere on the set really changed from Randall. As it often does it comes from the top. And that’s really the kind of resounding memory I have. We got to go to work every day and have a laugh and what a gift that was, to work with people that you love, to work with material that was constantly hilarious. It was genuinely something I would look forward to every year, that for three months I got to go to work with these great people and have a laugh. And I’ll definitely miss that.
A number of people have described where we are with TV today as kind of a golden age, particular 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.
Elijah Wood: Yeah, I do. I think it’s important to indicate that that 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. 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 suite 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, the True Detective I thought was extraordinary. I watched all of Fargo as well. I’m excited about The Killing coming back, yeah, there’s a lot that I watch.
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 there’s, the major studios to a certain degree aren’t really making movies per se as much as they’re making, kind of taking pre-existing kind of [indiscernible] 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 either the actors and the directors and the writers are 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.
Now that the show is ending is there anything that either you were given or you asked for to take from the set?
Elijah Wood: Yes. I have “Bear” in my possession. And I have the Gatorade bong. There’s one of two, I think Jason has the other one. And actually a good friend of mine has a good portion of the basement. I was most sad to see the basement go. I think all of us felt a really strong connection to the space.
We spent, obviously, a lot of time over the years in that set and I kind of was trying to advocate that someone literally take the whole set and build it on their property. But no one did. I was trying to get Randall to do it because he’s got a bit of land.
But a friend of mine actually took a lot of the furniture and it’s a replicate in the basement in his house, which is pretty awesome. So, I can actually go to my friend’s house and sit in the basement. But I think that’s it. I don’t think I have anything else.
But “Bear,” I was actually really scared to take “Bear” home. I was primarily worried about where “Bear” was going to go and I didn’t want it to fall in the wrong hands or to be sold or anything, so I felt like I had to save it. And I drove “Bear” home and put him in my house and sat him in a chair and it just felt so right. I was sitting there on my couch looking over at “Bear.”
Do you have anything else planned, like any new roles coming up that you want to talk a bit about?
Elijah Wood: 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’s 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.
And 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. That’s pretty much it. 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.
It’s an Iranian Vampire Western in black and white that comes out in October. And I’m really excited about people getting a chance to see that.
How do you feel about the “Ryan” we met in the premiere versus the “Ryan” we’re seeing now as his journey is coming to a close?
Elijah Wood: Well, I think the “Ryan” we met initially was kind of, in general, he had really kind of hit an impasse in his life where he didn’t know where to go and he was sort of ready to end it and the character that he is now I think has developed a sense of strength and an understanding of what he needs to be happy and in some ways that it’s not about being happy, which I think is probably the greatest thing that he can learn.
He also, in the earlier seasons, the way that he interacts with “Wilfred” is really to be easily manipulated and the sort of wool being pulled over his eyes quite simply. And now I think he’s far wiser to “Wilfred’s” methods. And I think, ultimately, when you see the resolution of the show I think he really comes to an understanding of his place in the world and who he is and, more importantly, I think to be okay with not knowing.
I think that’s probably one of the greatest lessons of the show and for him in his life is that you can’t necessarily have all the answers. The sort of seeking for happiness and the pursuit of that and the pursuit of sort of clarity is ultimately futile. That is, it’s kind of about progressing through life and not knowing and the unknown being really good.
And I think that’s ultimately where he will come to and I think that’s important.
You’re an actor, you’re a DJ, you do voiceover work, the recording label, the charity work that you do is amazing. Who is Elijah Wood to you?
Elijah Wood: Wow, that’s intense.
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 listen to music. Or I go to record stores and I buy records. So, if anything, DJing is almost a more direct, clear expression of who I am. But I don’t know, I believe that life is a multi-faceted 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 of 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. So, it’s so weird to self-define. I don’t know how to encapsulate that, but I suppose I’m just a human being who loves to try a lot of different things. And I want to constantly grow as a person and as an artist and constantly be challenged and sort of have new experiences.
So, if that defines me, then I guess that’s what it is. But I don’t know. I think it’s easier to look back and sort of define yourself after a period of time. I don’t know if that answers your question.
How much of the show was scripted versus improve and were there any scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor every time?
Elijah Wood: Oh, good question. Well, almost all of it, I would say 99% 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 improve. I can’t even really think about specific lines that may have been improved.
We were doing six to eight pages of dialogue 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, a lot of what ends up going are actually jokes most of the time because the story is, 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.
So, a lot of what ends up going are jokes and 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 stand-alone “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.
What artistically do you kind of take from Wilfred? Whether it be considering your next TV role or maybe putting your own TV show or next production together of your own, whether it’s behind the scenes or maybe some of the elements that you think were standouts within Wilfred?
Elijah Wood: Man, right. I don’t know if doing the show, if I immediately; look, it’s been really gratifying and prior to doing Wilfred I had never done television and so it was a completely new experience for me and it was filled with new challenges, the pace, working within the context of comedy was very new to me and challenging and exciting.
And I will certainly take all of those experiences with me and I think I’ve certainly grown as a human being and, hopefully, as an actor as a result of the experience because it’s so different from anything I’ve done before. I don’t know that it’s my immediate response to having the four year is to siphon it into another television show right away.
If anything, I think I have this feeling of wanting to create a sense of a little bit of distance just because we’ve sort of accomplished this thing and I think it’s something that we’re all really proud of and I’m keen to sort of have the horizon be a little bit open from now on and excited about what that will bring.
But I definitely would be open to doing television again. It was an experience that I loved and I think that we were all very lucky to have the group of people that we have working with us. So, yeah, I think there are definitely ideas I have for television, probably more in the non-fiction rather than the fiction. And I’m curious about exploring some of those ideas. But I think for now my feeling is to sort of step away from television to a certain degree and leave the future and that horizon a little bit open. And I’m sort of open to anything I suppose.
Is there a specific type of role or a 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?
Elijah Wood: Yeah, 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.
And 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 or from a character perspective. Examples of that would be like, you know, Grand Piano, for instance, was something that came into my life. That happened to be that I knew the filmmaker and I was really excited about the kind of movie he wanted to make.
And I wanted to be a part of facilitating that, this sort of idea of making a really cinematic thriller utilizing the language of cinema in a way that I hadn’t seen in a long time. Like that gets me going. I really sort of on a gut level really respond to that. So, 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.
Look, there are so many roles that I’ve never played. I’ve never sort of been a romantic lead, there’s all kinds of things. But I feel like I’m always just drawn to a project on a gut level. And I supposed that can be any variety of elements that come together to make me respond to something. And so I’m kind of constantly running on heart and instinct I suppose, but always I guess with a mind to do something I’ve never done before and to have new experiences and new challenges and that can manifest in so many different ways I guess.