Elijah Wood: Marking New Territory
So did you pick your Beastie or did your Beastie pick you? Seems like an apt question for a guy best known for playing the diminutive savior of Middle Earth, and whose cameo in the new Beastie Boys short film with every comedian this side of Will Ferrell seems just a bit out of place. And yet there he is, mugging like Ad Rock of years past alongside Ferrell, Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Jack Black, John C. Reilly and, well, the Beastie Boys. Turns out, his Beastie picked him.
“I don’t even know how one puts that into words,” says Wood, 30, who grew up, like most of us in the halcyon days of Hasbro toys and Hypercolor T-shirts, with the Beasties on blast. “It was a dream come true. It was freakish and surreal. They put me on the phone with Adam Yauch, and he basically laid it out for me and said, ‘Read the treatment first and get back to me.’”
As if starring in a Beastie Boys video is something you’d turn down.
“So I said, ‘Okay, yeah, I’ll read your treatment, Adam Yauch... and see if I’m interested in your film.’ Of course I said yes. It was insane. Every day Seth and Danny and I would look at each other and say, ‘What? We got to do this?’”
Just part of life when you’ve fronted a phenomenally successful trilogy with box office receipts the size of Bahrain’s GDP. But the same success that puts Nathaniel Hornblower on the incoming-calls list also creates a bit of an image issue you’ve got to deal with: If you’re not careful, people will always see you as Frodo. Think anyone will remember Hayden Christensen outside of the Vader suit? How about Daniel Radcliffe, post-Potter?
The Beasties video isn’t the only way Wood is busting out of his own mold. He’s a polymath, a modern-day cultural Renaissance man, interested in everything from obscure Serbian horror films to the early years of jazz titans Coltrane, Miles, and Mingus (“I had a huge Mingus void, which I’m now kind of rectifying. Wait a minute… I’m rectifying a huge Mingus void — it sounds kind of dirty doesn’t it?”).
Point is, Wood’s smart enough and gifted enough that he knows how to ride the fader on his own career. He’s a guy with layers — but he’s not so damn hell-bent on peeling his own onion for the public that he’ll overreach to prove a point. (See: Michael Jordan, baseball; Donald Trump, politics; Charlie Sheen, stand-up.) One thing at a time, whether it’s his shy but revelatory Twitter stream (recent tweets: Indonesian psych rock; New York steak-and-burger palace Peter Luger; a debate over “filler” on the new Radiohead release) or the roles he chooses.
Wood’s latest gig represents the continued resurfacing of his onscreen persona — a kind of gradual plastic surgery to a career that, if not carefully cultivated, could be overshadowed by all that shit that went down in Mordor. Dropping in June on FX, the series Wilfred sits alongside brilliant gutter-comedy brethren such as The League and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia on a network known for its dark humor.
“It’s basically about a relationship between a guy and his dog — or a man in a dog suit,” Wood explains. His character, Ryan, is a delusional, introverted wimp of a man who needs an injection of bad ideas to turn things around. The devil on his shoulder, in this case, just happens to be at the end of a leash, pissing on a fire hydrant.
“Wilfred the dog is essentially a figment of Ryan’s imagination, a manifestation of Ryan’s id or the darker element of his personality,” Wood says. “Wilfred pushes himself to do things he’d never imagined — and Ryan learns from that.”
Which kind of sounds like Wood’s modus operandi, right? To get outside of himself — or at least the self all of us on the outside have come to expect.
“I’d never really had the opportunity to work on a comedy,” Wood explains. “That was exciting, and the fact that it’s surreal, that there are multiple layers to everything. I wanted to explore this character and his mind and the cerebral aspect of the show. It’s like Harvey meets Fight Club. There’s definitely a Tyler Durden-esque element to the character.”
Wood’s got a dark streak, if you listen for it, and that shows through on Wilfred. Take the episode Wood had just wrapped when we spoke. “There’s a moment where Ryan’s essentially dominating Wilfred, and Wilfred doesn’t dig that. Wilfred turns the tables, and let’s just say he gets Ryan to believe that something very, very terrible has been done to him.”
Right. Doggy style takes on new meaning. But it’s just that kind of WTF moment that helps Wood step away from the hirsute footsteps he’s laid in New Zealand — where, incidentally, he’s heading once again to film a pair of prequel films directed by Peter Jackson. This time though? He’s not center stage — The Hobbit features Bilbo Baggins, Frodo’s cousin, as its lead.
“I haven’t even read the script yet, but my part is probably only about a week this time. But I think I’m going to head down for a month and almost treat it like a vacation. It’ll be like stepping back in time, the déjà vu.”
For now, Wood’s got his hands full with a few projects of his own, including his budding record label (band Heloise and the Savoir Faire just finished a new release) and a horror-movie production house.
“I’m trying to find a way to do all of this effectively without letting anything fall to the side,” Wood says. “I started the label because I wanted to be a part of releasing records, not because I wanted to start a business. And I’m a huge fan of horror films and wanted to get into film production anyway. It’s not gore or exploitation for the sake of it though — you can almost strip away the horror and still present a compelling story. I want to show it’s possible for the genre, for horror, to actually take itself seriously.”
Therein lies the rub, right? Knowing when to take things seriously, and when to lighten the hell up. No wonder he was one of the chosen ones.
(This article originally appeared on the cover of the Summer 2011 issue of ANTENNA.)