Elijah Wood became a household name with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but was a successful actor at a young age long before that. With films like 1992's Forever Young, Elijah worked with and learned valuable lessons from movie superstars such as a Mel Gibson, which he mentions in the interview. Wood wisely realized at a young age the importance of showcasing one's range by choosing a variety of roles. Projects he's worked on include Lord of the Rings, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Sin City, to the new uniquely absurd, dark comedy Wilfred, which just began its second season on FX (Thursdays at 10 ET 9 C). Monday morning Elijah called me to discuss diversifying his portfolio throughout the years, filming Lord of the Rings away from the world, portraying Ryan on Wilfred, and if he sees himself continuing to commit to the show.
What's it’s like making the transition from being a child actor to an adult actor?
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. 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. 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.
Were there any lessons you learned as a child actor that you've been able to carry with you?
I think when I was young, one of the better pieces of advice I was given, and I suppose this applies to almost anything in life that you do, was "You can always do better." It was actually Mel Gibson who told me that. It made me recognize that even when we think we're achieving our greatest, that there's always something more to achieve. It keeps us striving to be better, to continue to grow, and I think that applied to me as an actor as a young person, but also applies to me as a human being, so that's been with me the entire time.
When did you first feel successful as an actor?
I think I recognized as a young actor, probably in my teens, that I was able to continue to perpetuate my career and continue to work and there was one job which would lead to the next job, so I was lucky to have that at a young age. I was consistanly working, so I thought of that as being successful. I think there's a version of that which is being a part of something like Lord of the Rings, I think getting that job to me, was a measure of success. Obviously, the movies coming out and being the world-wide phenomenon that they were is a very easy measure of success too and that was the case. I rememember the moment I got that job, and to me that was a moment of personal success. It was the greatest career opportunity I ever had, at that age.
When did you realize how vital it is to diversify your portfolio as an actor?
I think I realized that probably as a teenager, where I was kind of cognisant of it. Probably realized that less as a kid... As a teenager I was more aware of the notion of a career and a sense of the possibility of longevity in the industry. It was upon realizing that and sort looking at the horizon line and hoping that I would continue to work as an actor and have a career. I think it was at that moment that I was aware of being pigeon-holed into a category or being typecast and that was something I didn't want.
I think I recognized that longevity was also related to a career that was relatively diverse. I was probably fifteen or sixteen when I recognized that. I think I felt that more intensely after Rings because Rings was so predominant in people's minds that I felt even more responsibility to myself to continue to work on films that were very different and characters that were very different. I suppose not only to continue to further my career along, but also as an actor to continue to challenge myself.
When you reach a certain level of fame, is it hard to not be guarded with who you let into your life?
I think people reveal themselves and their interests relatively quickly. So I don't feel like I've ever really led a guarded existance. It's funny, I was just having a conversation with a friend of mine about trust and the notion of trust, and I think I've always been a very trusting person but I think the older I got, the more I recognized that you become discerning with what you give to who and who you let in and who you don't. I feel like I manage to do that without compromise or without lessening the degree for which I do share and for the openness for who I am as a person.
So I don't feel guarded, I feel incredibly open and I'm open to the people that I can trust, but like I said I think people's intentions are pretty clear. I think people reveal themselves quickly as to who they are and the truth of who they are. At least I feel that way. I feel I can read people relatively well. Not to say I can't be fooled, I'm not perfect. As someone in the public eye, I don't really feel overly guarded.
I go about my life in a very normal way and I'm happy I can do that. Also, I'm not Brad Pitt either. There are people that have public lives or a level of fame that far exceeds mine and are in the public eye far more than I am. So that question might have a slightly different answer coming from someone of that level of fame or that digree of worldliness.
What's your favorite role you’ve portrayed?
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 eighteen at the time, I was twenty-two when it was all over, and it was a huge growing period in my life, and living in New Zealand was an extraordinary experience. And playing the role was a unique challenge.
Because everyone was so familiar with the Lord of the Rings books and it being such a big story, was there a lot of pressure to live up to people's expectations for the character of Frodo?
Sure. But I think at the same time, we had the benefit of being far away in New Zealand and slightly outside the of awareness of people's expectations. We kind of felt like we were in Middle-earth and felt like we were far away from the rest of the world. It almost felt like we were making the film in a bubble because we were so far away. But I was certainly conscious of people's expectations and didn't take that lightly.
Portraying a character that is as loved as that, and has as many fans in the context of the book, I was aware that people would have certain expectations in terms of how that character would be portrayed, so I took that seriously, but at the same time we also kind of dove head-first into the work and into that world.
I think after the initial work of preparation and getting ourselves into the mode of being in those characters and feeling that we were attacking it from a place that was strong... I feel like once we started we really started and the process for me worked. We had full belief in what we were doing.
What was your most challenging role?
I think a turning point in my life as an actor was probably The Ice Storm. I was fifteen when I did the film, fifteen or sixteen, 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 discuss your preparation for playing Ryan on Wilfred? It's such a uniquely dark and absurd comedic show...
Most of my work on the show is reacting to Wilfred and playing against that character. Half of my work is working with Jason (Gann) and the scenarios Wilfred puts me in. It's the character that he's created and the two of us bouncing off each other which really defines the situation that rises at any given time.
I never really did a whole lot of preparation beyond just understanding where the character was coming from. And sort of trying to play him as truthful as possible, even though it's a comedy show and at times can be quite absurd and broad in terms of the scenarios that we get ourselves into, but my main reposibility as an actor for the character is to try to be truthful to him and make sure that there's an emotional truth. He's relatively damaged and in a place of insecurity in his life in terms of defining who he is and finding his own personal strenghts and sort of rebuilding himself. Just understanding those things and trying to be as truthful to that as possible.
Are you finding the show works with your schedule and do you see yourself doing it long term?
Yeah, it's only three months. Unlike an hour-long drama which takes about seven to eight months to shoot, we shoot it in a three month period of time, so it's relatively quick and it frees up the rest of the year and the time prior for any number of other jobs, which is great. So I actually feel like it's sort of ideal and in regards to how long I want it to carry on, as long as the show has a story to tell is how long I want it to carry on.
I love the show and I think that it's a very unique show and the story telling is relatively layered and interesting and not always overly reliant on the comedic, and that's something I love about it. I feel as long as there's a steady progression of the characters and we're not simply repeating the same scenarios over again or just settling on jokes, I would love to continue doing it. But I'm not sure what the shelf life is, it can be seven seasons, it can be five seasons, I'm not really sure. It kind of depends on the writing and the progression of these characters. So as long as the show has integrity and there are stories to tell that don't feel like we're retreading the same ground, I'd love to continue.
Follow Elijah on Twitter: @WoodElijah