Q & A: Elijah Wood talks ‘Wilfred’, Why He Formed His Own Production Company and How He’s Grown as an Actor

Elijah: "I don’t know if I’ve ever even analyzed my approach [to acting]"

elijah-wood-wilfredElijah Wood‘s Wilfred is deep into it’s third season and the show is as funny and dark as ever.

In case you’re out of the loop, the show centers around Ryan (Wood) and Wilfred (Jason Gann). Wilfred is his neighbors dog but to Ryan, he’s a crude Australian guy in a dog suit. The show is one of my favorites and if you haven’t seen it yet, definitely check it out.

I talked to Elijah recently during a conference call where he talked about the show, how he approaches a role and why he started his own production company.

Wilfred airs on Thursdays at 10pm on FX

Do you sometimes have a hard time just holding it together and keeping a straight face when you film this because it’s so crazy sometimes?

Elijah Wood: Oh yeah.  Yeah and I would say even more this season oddly enough than other seasons.  For some reason I sort of busted up more this season because of what Jason [Gann] was doing than ever before.  I’m so used to seeing him in the dog suit and to a certain degree the context of a lot of the situations I’m very used to but it’s still definitely serves to make me laugh.  It’s a wonderful environment to work in.  It’s something that all of us as a crew are kind of constantly laughing so pretty wonderful thing to go in to work to that every day.

Do you think Wilfred should have a fixed ending point or can it just continue on indefinitely?

Elijah Wood: That’s a very good question. I think that the structure of the show that’s been created is such that it’s about a guy who is essentially in recovery, and trying to figure out what his path in life is.  This manifestation of ‘Wilfred’ has provided essentially a push for him to kind of figure that out.  I think that can only really last for so long to believe that we are dealing with a man who is kind of struggling for answers to these questions and in this sort of existential question period of his life and in recovery.  I don’t know that we can believe that for ten seasons. 

I think to a certain degree there has to be a resolve or a move in a certain direction, so I don’t know.  I think…to the fairness of the construct of the show I think it can only survive for so long.  I would hate to make the show kind of carry on for too long and it not necessarily support what we’ve created, if that makes sense.

In your opinion about the future of comedy, are gimmicks and situational comedy going to win over highbrow intellectual comedy?

Elijah Wood: Man the future of comedy, I don’t know if I have much of an opinion on it.  I think what’s interesting about—I mean on a sort of broad level for films I think that there are exciting things happening.  I think where some of the best comedy is coming out is probably online.  You know there are so many distribution models now and people are doing some of the more interesting things potentially in smaller avenues.  I suppose that’s where some of the most exciting things are happening. 

I mean cable provides that conduit as well.  A show like Louie for instance couldn’t exist if it weren’t for a network that were sort of brave enough to just let it be what it’s supposed to be, and that, I think, hopefully that inspires similar avenues of expression for comedy.  I think Louie is probably one of the more inspiring things on television because it’s allowed to sort of exist and be whatever it is without it having to be strictly funny all the time, and I think that’s really exciting.

When you play ‘Ryan’ in your mind do you have an answer to why he sees ‘Wilfred’ to like help you play him?

Elijah Wood: I do yeah.  I have an idea.  I’ve kind of made up my mind as to what I think ‘Wilfred’ is.  I don’t know that that’s reflective of what the character has decided though, and to a certain degree I think ‘Ryan’—when ‘Ryan’ meets ‘Wilfred’ in the first season it’s really within an episode in a way that he sort of accepts ‘Wilfred’s’ existence.  I think from there on out even though there are these questions and he does question what ‘Wilfred’ is—I think there’s a deeper level of acceptance and recognizing that ‘Wilfred’s’ purpose albeit uncertain as to where he’s manifesting from and what it means—his purpose is ultimately positive and that is helping him.  I don’t know what ‘Ryan’ has decided because I think ‘Ryan’ is clearly questioning, but I have an idea.  I think that perspective probably does help me in playing the character, but I think overall there’s just a sense of general acceptance for ‘Ryan.’

jason-gann-elijah-wood-wilfred interview

What is it that drew you to this character and what is it that keeps your approach to continuing to make this character fresh and grow at the same time?

Elijah Wood: Well, upon reading the pilot script I kind of fell in love with the whole idea of the show, both the character and the structure of what this show was being so unique and so unlike anything I’ve seen or read before.  I also found it deeply funny.

As far as the character is concerned I think the idea of playing someone who has effectively hit a wall in his life and is trying to rebuild himself and help himself it definitely provides a lot to work with.  There is a sense of growth over the course of now the three seasons and I think that keeps … excited, but it’s also fun to work in the context of what we’ve created and always exciting to work with Jason.  Aside from the characters in development, I find it inspiring and always exciting as an actor to be working opposite him for everything that he comes up with it sort of inspires me.

Was there anything about ‘Ryan’ that wasn’t originally scripted for you that you added to the character?

Elijah Wood: That’s a good question.  I don’t think so.  No I don’t think so.  Beyond what I interpret in terms of what’s written to how it’s played I don’t know if there was anything specifically that I’ve added or suggested to be added to the character.  But I think I bring myself in to the character as much as possible and kind of bring him to life in as a unique a way as I can that’s it.

And are you anyway like him at all?

Elijah Wood: No not really.  I think I can related to elements of the character but no I’m relatively well-adjusted and mentally sound so I’m not entirely like ‘Ryan.’

I’m going back a little bit but what perhaps sticks out most in your mind about filming your first Wilfred episode, and what maybe were some of the initial acting challenges you found stepping in to the role?

Elijah Wood: Well, it was completely new territory for me.  I’ve never really worked on a television show before.  I mean I’d kind of done guest appearance and things but I’d never made a show from scratch so it was a brand new experience.  Working on a comedy I found it deeply exciting because it was something that I really believed in and it was exciting to work on something that felt really unique and really different. 

I’d never really worked in comedy before so the idea of playing a character that does—you know there are sort of comedic elements to the performance and not having worked in that space before was definitely challenging.  I suppose I—I’m not really fearful but any time you sort of jump in to something that is a little less familiar it comes with it, you know that sort of exciting anxiety about pulling it off in the right way.  But I think I was also always comforted working with Jason because it always felt so comfortable even initially a working relationship.

As you get older how do you think you’ve grown as an actor and are you trying to move towards any specific career aspirations and are there any goals in your career right now?

Elijah Wood: Yeah.  Well, I feel like I continue to try and challenge myself to do things I’ve not done before.  It’s difficult for me to speak to how I’ve changed as an actor.  I think I’ve changed as a human being and I’ve grown as a human being, and I think that’s probably reflective of what I do as an actor.  Hopefully, I’ve learned and grown along the way.

As far as aspirations I think they sort of remain the same as they have for a long time, which is simply to continue to push forward my abilities and to grow and to do things that I’ve not done before, you know as it pertains to working as an actor.  To take roles that provide new experiences and new challenges.

You’re forming a production company to do horror films.  Is this evolution just natural for you? 

Elijah Wood: I don’t know…I think everything that I do is reflective of my different interests and the variety of things that I’m passionate about and enjoy.  As it pertains to the production company I, for a long time, wanted to develop films and product films from their inception point and be involved in film making from a different perspective.  As the idea sort of percolated and I ended up meeting my two producing partners.  We were working on an entirely different film that we were developing, and in that process we sort of realized we have a shared mutual love of the horror genre.  It really was just born out of that and wanting to, I don’t know, make horror films; the kind of horror films that we love that aren’t necessarily being as widely made.  But life is a varied experience and I have a lot of interests and I feel very fortunate actually to be allowed to explore those interests, and to be in a place in my life where I can do that.

You’re a big music fan. Do you have a play list you play or what sort of stuff do you listen to maybe to get in to character for this role?

Elijah Wood: Not really.  I mean I’m constantly listening to music and constantly inspired by music, but I don’t think I’ve ever really made a play list specific to a character in terms of getting in character.  I think that’s something that could actually be extremely effective depending on the role, but as it pertains to ‘Ryan’ I don’t really listen to anything specifically that would pertain to the performance or the mindset of the character.

When you approach a character as far as developing it, do you take a different approach as opposed to when you’re working on a film and episodic television?

Elijah Wood: Not really.  I mean the only real difference between television and film—I mean there are few I suppose, but predominantly it’s the pace to which you work.  But the development of the character or the process for playing the character isn’t necessarily different.  The other main difference between film and television is that you have the opportunity to flush out a character over a longer period of time whereas a film you’re confined to two hours, three hours, whatever it may be.  But really it’s very much the same approach that you would play a character in any medium I think.

What would you say makes a career in this industry rewarding for you so far?

Elijah Wood: Well, it’s rewarding to simply continue to work but I think a rewarding career is that of which allows you the freedom to try new things and to be accepted to try new things.  My favorite careers, the careers I admire the most are those that have a lot of variety and actors who are capable of a lot of different roles and are sort of seen in different things, those are the careers I admire.  To be 32 and still working and having the freedom to try a lot of different things is incredibly rewarding.

Is there still a specific type of dream role you have, something that you’d still love to do if you could?

Elijah Wood: I don’t know if I really think in terms of dream roles, but I haven’t really played sort of a romantic lead; that would be something that I would enjoy.  I guess when I look forward I don’t really think in terms of specific roles that I’m looking for beyond looking for things that I’ve never done before or new challenges.  Sometimes my interest in working on a film is not always dictated specifically by the character.  Sometimes it’s simply wanting to be a part of a vision that I love or a script that I love.  Thinking back years ago getting a chance to work with… in some ways I would have done anything to be a part of that move just simply because I loved his work.  Sometimes it’s not even looking for a role specifically as it is looking to be a part of a film and kind of a collective vision that I find exciting and gratifying.

Have you ever possibly out of morbid curiosity tried on the dog suit?

Elijah Wood: For the first time this year I did it.  It’s funny…I don’t know why I had never tried it on before, and I think I always was curious but there’s something a little bit sacred about the suit is how I felt.  Like maybe respecting Jason’s character and respecting that it’s Jason’s suit that I didn’t ever try it on or wasn’t moved to try it on before. 

We actually filmed a little behind the scenes kind of thing this year and Heath…behind the scenes footage, wanted me to put the suit on for a specific thing that we’re doing.  He asked Jason if it was okay and Jason was like, “Yeah it’s fine,” so I got the go ahead, and then that’s why I ultimately tried it on, and it was surreal to kind of see myself in that suit.

We talked about the idea actually of maybe doing a dream sequence.  I mean I love the idea of the tables being flipped a little bit and what if ‘Ryan’ sort of sees himself as—you know suddenly wakes up and he sees himself as ‘Wilfred,’ there’s something there in his sort of exploration of what ‘Wilfred’ is.  Potentially there’s a sort of melding of the two, I don’t know.

As an actor, do you have a uniform approach to playing a role or does it really change based on the project?

Elijah Wood: I suppose it changes depending on what’s required for the individual role.  Some roles even require one to have a specific you know—well, for instance I played a pianist last year and I had to learn how to play piano for the film so there are certain characters that do require research or learning something specific to the character.  But overall I think my approach has remained the same for the most part.  I think I’ve always taken—I don’t know if it’s naturalistic.  I don’t know if I’ve ever even analyzed my approach or put it in to words, but I think I try and understand who the character is and play him truthfully and honestly.  Beyond that I don’t think that there’s anything that is necessarily changed.

Do you bring it home with you or do you leave it on the set?

Elijah Wood: Oh I leave the character at work.  Yeah I never feel like I occupy the character’s head space fully and entirely throughout the day.  I mean I think it’s there in the context of the work and on set, and I think it’s gone by the time I’m home.  I think that there’s definitely a separation.

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