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  Branching Out - Elijah Interview
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Caz
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Branching Out - Elijah Interview
« on: September 07, 2005, 07:59:14 pm »

West September 07, 2005 

Branching Out
Elijah Wood finds life after the Shire with two new and radically different role

By Jenelle Riley
 
Elijah Wood may have the best eyes in the business, literally and figuratively. In an industry in which actors can have a short shelf life, Wood, at age 24, has already built a career out of smart choices and excellent portrayals. It may not have taken a psychic to know that The Lord of the Rings trilogy would be a runaway success, but credit the actor for pursuing the role with a vengeance, down to putting together an audition tape featuring him in full Hobbit costume. He's also chosen roles wisely, showing his range from film to film and aligning himself with directors such as Rings' Jackson, Barry Levinson (Avalon and a stellar episode of the TV program Homicide: Life on the Street), and Robert Rodriguez (The Faculty and Sin City). And he's not afraid to take chances: His two latest films are Green Street Hooligans and Everything Is Illuminated, small independents by first-time feature writer-directors Lexi Alexander and Liev Schreiber.

As for those eyes, the enormous blue saucers that seem to take up the majority of his face, their power wasn't lost on Schreiber when he was casting the lead role in the adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's autobiographical novel, Everything Is Illuminated. "I had always seen Jonathan as the eyes of the movie," says Schreiber. "And I just couldn't think of anybody in show business with better eyes than Elijah Wood." In the film, Wood portrays a quirky, milquetoast individual who, longing for a sense of identity, visits the Ukraine to learn about his Jewish heritage. He is dragged around the countryside by a gruff grandfather with his own secret about the Holocaust, his dense grandson, and an antisocial canine named Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. It's as small and intimate a film as Rings was epic and grandiose, and at the center of it all is Wood, in an understated performance that holds the film together.

It's also the opposite of his character in Green Street Hooligans, in which Wood stars as a wrongfully expelled Harvard student who gets caught up in the violent lifestyle of British football fans. Although his character, Matt Buckner, begins the film as a patsy, he soon morphs into a tenacious fighter with barely controlled rage. It shows a remarkable range in a year that also saw Wood's placid features used to chilling effect as the creepy mute killer Kevin in Robert Rodriguez's Sin City.

In person, Wood strikes one as neither wide-eyed innocent nor violent criminal. His directors and co-stars frequently speak of how kind, professional, and-this one pops up time and time again-normal the actor is. "There is no ego with him," Alexander says. "I needed an actor who had the confidence to let this world shine. [To say], 'It's not about me; it's about me being the observer.' And not a lot of young actors have the kind of confidence to understand that their craft sometimes lies in just standing and not putting on a big show."

Even as a child, Wood was one of the best actors in film-it's not even fair to qualify this statement by putting him in the "young actor" category. He frequently outshone his adult co-stars, including Mel Gibson in Forever Young and Kevin Costner in The War. He had already tackled roles in heavy dramas-Paradise and Radio Flyer-by age 10, giving touching, nuanced performances in films that hinged on his work. If people were drawn to The Good Son because angel-faced Macaulay Culkin played a killer, they left the theatre realizing the film only succeeded because of Wood's preternatural talent. He has long been an actor to watch, someone who guarantees a film will have at least one interesting performance. One can't help but look forward to what the next two decades will bring.

Back Stage West: How did you go from being a kid in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to making movies in Los Angeles?

Elijah Wood: Well, as the story goes. My mom was watching a television commercial one day. I think at the time I was 5 years old. And it just kind of popped into her head, "Oh, that would be fun for Elijah to do; that'd be a great channel for his energy. Maybe there's some way to get him into commercials." My brother, who's seven years older than me, was already kind of interested in drama and was doing stuff at school. So he had a vested interest in acting from a young age. There's no real outlet in Iowa for that sort of thing, so she enrolled us in modeling school, which sort of had a talent division. That particular school took its clients out to Los Angeles for a modeling and talent convention called the IMTA. That's where various managers and talent agents are looking for new talent, and I met [Gary Scazlo] the person who would become my manager at that time. He asked me if I wanted to become an actor. I think I was 7, and [I] said, "Yeah, that sounds fun." It was just the whole idea of L.A. and acting, and [it] just seemed really fun for me, kind of a fantasy. So we traveled out to L.A. a couple weeks later-my brother, my mom, and myself. My sister and my dad stayed home in Iowa to hold down the fort. We had no idea whether it was going to work or not. I started auditioning, and within six weeks I got my first job in a Paula Abdul music video, Forever Your Girl. It just kind of snowballed from there. I was doing commercials for a while. Then I got my first film role, and it became movies. My mom never expected it to go in that direction, but that's what happened.

BSW: Had you ever taken any kind of acting class?

Wood: Not really; I never was formally trained. The only class I ever took was an improv class in L.A. I think I only did that for a month or so.

BSW: So what are you learning at modeling school when you're 6 years old?

Wood: It was catwalk stuff, nothing at all that would apply to acting whatsoever. Although we did monologues. They had a kind of drama division.

BSW: At what point did you realize this was something you could do for a living?

Wood: I don't think that was a real thought of mine until I was older, 11 or 12, that I realized I had a career, a regular job. Before that, it was just really fun, and I was enjoying it. Obviously as I got older I realized that was my career and my life and my income came from that.

BSW: Was there ever a point when it felt like too much of a job, when you didn't enjoy it?

Wood: No. I think there was a time in which I was considering quitting when I was younger, mainly because I didn't really have any friends. I didn't go to normal school. There was only one time that really applied, where I felt I was missing out on something. And then I kind of grew out of that and ended up meeting people my own age, and it sort of all worked itself out. No, I never fell out of love with what I do.

BSW: Do you wish you had waited to start acting instead of breaking in at such a young age?

Wood: God, no. I've gained so much in my life as a result of doing what I do, and I've been able to travel so much and learn so much about myself and so many things. It's been such an education in so many ways. My experiences have really shaped me as a human being so I can't imagine not having had them.

BSW: There are so many stories about young performers where things don't work out. How did you avoid those pitfalls?

Wood: I think it simply comes down to my mother. I had an incredible mom who raised me with a really solid family base and never allowed me to define myself by what I do. There was a very strong difference between working and home life. She created the structure for my life and for who I am and never allowed me to get swept up into the falsities of the industry. That was so drilled into me from such a young age. I probably got more of a hard-core upbringing because she was afraid of the fact that I was in this industry, and she certainly understood what it could do to people. I credit everything to her.

BSW: How did she keep you grounded? Did she just tell you to stop if you were misbehaving?

Wood: It wasn't that simple. There were times where she threatened to take me out of the industry because she knew I loved it. There were all sorts of different disciplines.

BSW: A co-star on The Good Son told me the difference between your family and Macaulay Culkin's was night and day, that watching how he was growing up was heartbreaking.

Wood: Oh, it was, it really was. I'm so unbelievably grateful.

BSW: Speaking of films such as The Good Son, or even Paradise: Those roles required you to go to dark places at a young age. How were you able to achieve that?

Wood: Gosh, I don't know. It's hard to answer questions in reference to when I was younger because I don't really know. I guess I understood about observation and the human condition and the various sides of the human experience. I may not have been able to put it into those eloquent, intellectual terms, but I certainly understood it. I played a lot of roles that weren't necessarily based on life experience; it was based more upon what I observed from life and other people. I guess I always had an innate understanding of the job, which was a character you went to play, and these are the characters' experience, and you sort of make that believable and real.

BSW: When you auditioned for Lord of the Rings, you made an infamous video of yourself in costume. Any chance that will show up on a DVD?

Wood: It might. God, I haven't seen that in so long. And it will be a stark contrast to what I did in the film. Peter and I have talked about it for the full-on box set of the trilogy, which is imminent. That was one of the things he thought about adding, along with extensive bloopers and a documentary he made from his perspective. I'm quite happy to have it included, even without seeing it. I think it's definitely an interesting story, and I've told it so often I think it'd be cool for people who are fans of the film and want to know more about the behind-the-scenes aspect of it. I love watching DVDs that include that material. It gives you such great insight into the process of how these actors got the roles. It was three scenes, audition scenes they gave out for the character. I went and got a costume, got a book on Hobbits to get a sense on how they dressed, went into the woods. Again, it will be a stark contrast to what I did; the accent will be all f***ed up. I literally have not seen that in five years.

The scenes were reuniting with Gandalf at Bag End, the scene on the side of the mountain when I collapse and can't remember the taste of fruit, and the scene where he drops the Orc armor and is passing out-these really intense scenes, actually. My friend George Hwang filmed it, and we shot it from different angles so we could cut it together like proper scenes. It was fun. It was a really excellent way to audition because it was free of any of that pretense you have at an audition, of the nervousness of being in front of a casting director, you don't feel like you're acting in front of the grand inquisition. You're free to do whatever you want to do. It was also a great opportunity for me to display my passion for the role and just go the extra mile with the costume and everything. It was really fun.

BSW: Do you still have to audition?

Wood: Oh, sure. I mean, I'm 24, and I have a lot of work behind me, but there are roles that are moving into more adult perceptions that I'm not perceived as being. I'm still in that weird stage of looking really young, not really looking my age. Auditions are generally for when I have to fill a role that people may not necessarily perceive me as being able to do. I haven't auditioned in a while, but, yeah.

BSW: Do you mind auditioning?

Wood: It scares the shit out of me. There's no arrogance associated with it; it's not like I'm above auditioning by any means. My disinterest in it is purely based on my own fear. The auditioning process has always made me nervous; I've never enjoyed it. So I like to avoid it at all costs, if possible. But if there's something I really believe in and am passionate about, I'll do it. Some people have a great perspective about it, like it's a great opportunity to show your talent and try different things. I wish I could look at it like that, like a fun exercise.

BSW: When you were cast in Rings, there was some negative fan response. How did you deal with that?

Wood: When it was first announced, it was announced on Ain't It Cool News, and the talkbackers [on the message boards] can be really brutal and unfair. There are times where I agree with the essence of what they're saying, but I always think they go way too far with it. When I was announced, there was a long list of responses, and I want to say it was 50/50, but it may have been more bent toward those who were negative toward it. And I mean brutal. Like, "Kill me now." "The movie's ruined." Really, really intense. It didn't bother me; I looked at it, and it didn't make me feel insecure. I think I was kind of shocked. But I kind of understood. To a certain degree, I knew why people were having strong reactions either way. This is a book that people have lived with for years and years. With any adaptation, there's a sense of fear when they start announcing who's going to be cast and who's going to direct it, because it's an extremely personal experience, reading a book, and you have your own notions as to how these people should be represented. I understand having a strong reaction.

BSW: At the same time, the makers of the film and the cast really embraced the fan base.

Wood: Absolutely, and we still do. It was an incredibly important component, and we always wanted to please the fans. The movie was made by fans of the book for fans of the book. Obviously we wanted to tell the story in such a way that those who hadn't read the book could love it as well. But we were definitely trying to make it as close to the book as possible. We definitely never disregarded the fan base.

BSW: Everything Is Illuminated is also a beloved book. Was there any intimidation in taking on that film?

Wood: My sense of that book and its fan base is that it's not as great as Lord of the Rings. I hadn't read the book when I read the script, so to me, I didn't feel as close to the idea of an adaptation as I did with
Rings. My journey with the film was purely based on the script and the way Liev had interpreted the book. In fact, when I got to Prague, I started to thumb through the book because I wanted to read it, and I saw immediately the structure of the book was so different. And I thought, "Well, I could read it and that may give me further insight, but it's so different from what Liev has done I should leave it alone and focus on his vision for the story and the way he interpreted the book."

BSW: This is also your first time playing a real person; although the story is fictional, your character is Jonathan Safran Foer.

Wood: It's essentially fictional, but there are things that are real. But it wasn't intimidating. I never allowed myself to look at it as an adaptation of a book or that I was playing a real person, which is kind of funny. But I hadn't really met Jonathan. Liev and I had had extensive conversations about the character, in the fictional sense, that it never really crossed my mind to try and base this on another person, because we already had a pretty clear view of how we wanted the character to be. I didn't meet him until we'd been filming for about a month; he came out to the set to visit. It was interesting. And great. I was so excited for him as the writer of the book to be seeing his characters come to life.

BSW: Not being Jewish, did you study the religion?

Wood: It didn't really require it so much. I didn't need research to give him any sort of Jewish heritage because that's sort of unspoken; it's just who he is. Nor did I have to do any research on the Holocaust, because it's very specific to this particular small town and this particular event.

BSW: You've been doing a lot of ensemble films lately, but now it's just your face on the poster, and you're the only name in this film. Is there pressure to carry it?

Wood: I never really thought about that. I think it's only now that I'm realizing that. It's not daunting, but I never really thought of it that way. I [saw] it as an ensemble because it's these three characters and their experiences together. I never thought there was a grand responsibility of it riding on my shoulders. When I pick roles, I'm looking at the role but also looking at the script and the director. Eternal Sunshine, for instance, was all about wanting to work with Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman. It wouldn't have mattered what I did in that film, I was just passionate about wanting to be part of that vision. Choosing roles is relatively organic. You come across scripts, and if I want to be a part of it, I sort of trust my instincts and my gut and go for it.

BSW: Were roles such as those in Hooligans and Sin City influenced by your desire to sort of shake up your clean-cut image?

Wood: Definitely. I think one of the reasons I responded to Hooligans was it gave me an opportunity to take a character from that innocent place and go to a darker place. The thing about Sin City wasn't so much I wanted to play an evil character; it was being a huge fan of the comics and wanting to be a part of the adaptation in any possible way. I know [director] Robert [Rodriguez] really well, and I generally have dinner with him when he comes out to L.A., which isn't that often. So he was out in L.A., and we were sitting there, and he said his next movie was Sin City. My friend George said, "Elijah should play Kevin." Robert was, like, "That's interesting; I hadn't really thought of it." A couple months later, Robert asked me to come to his hotel and put myself on tape for Frank Miller [the comic creator and the film's co-writer and co-director]. I went in and literally just stared at the camera with glasses on, that's all it was, with Robert reading passages. Frank dug it and approved, and it went from there. It was a really fun opportunity to play something so sadistic.

BSW: Is there a secret to longevity in this business, anything that will keep you working for another 20 years?

Wood: I don't know if there is a secret. It's not like applied science, it's sort of just continuing to believe in what I do and strive to do something different and continued passion. I don't know if I'll be an actor for the rest of my life, but I love film so much I'd love to be a part of it in different ways. I'd love to produce films; the concept of taking something from a concept and nurturing it over time and ultimately seeing it through sounds incredibly gratifying. I'd love to direct at some point. It was wonderful watching Liev on this experience because it was the first time I've worked with an actor-director, and I could relate to his experience because we come from the same place and we relate to each other very well. It was the first time I could kind of see how I, myself, could be in that same position.BSW

There's also a photo on the site (albeit not a very good one).
http://www.backstage.com/backstage/features/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001056232
« Last Edit: September 07, 2005, 08:03:53 pm by Carina » Report to moderator   Logged
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Re:Branching Out - Elijah Interview
« Reply #1 on: September 07, 2005, 09:46:29 pm »

thank you Carina. 
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Caz
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Re:Branching Out - Elijah Interview
« Reply #2 on: September 07, 2005, 09:59:07 pm »

You're welcome Nettie.
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Kathleen
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Re:Branching Out - Elijah Interview
« Reply #3 on: September 07, 2005, 10:09:39 pm »

Thanks Carina.

That's a really good interview.

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Thanks for the beautiful siggie and icon, Deenan!
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Re:Branching Out - Elijah Interview
« Reply #4 on: September 07, 2005, 10:32:24 pm »

You're welcome Kathleen. It's great isn't it?
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Re:Branching Out - Elijah Interview
« Reply #5 on: September 08, 2005, 02:04:09 am »

Thanks Carina,

I haven't read everything yet, but I will print it and read it in a quiet hour.

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Re:Branching Out - Elijah Interview
« Reply #6 on: September 08, 2005, 02:36:48 am »

Thanks for the link great interview
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Re:Branching Out - Elijah Interview
« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2005, 07:48:46 am »

Geli, have fun reading when you get some quiet time.

You're very welcome Kristine.
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Re:Branching Out - Elijah Interview
« Reply #8 on: September 08, 2005, 08:08:49 am »

So many wonderful Elijah interviews coming out these days, huh? We're really getting spoiled. Woohoo!

Thanks for posting the whole article, Carina.
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A million thanks to Deenan for my icon & siggie!!!
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Re:Branching Out - Elijah Interview
« Reply #9 on: September 08, 2005, 08:17:34 am »

He's a gem too, so I think people are much more enthusiastic about interviewing him, because he just gives the best answers.

Thank you for your email Sweetie!
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Re:Branching Out - Elijah Interview
« Reply #10 on: September 08, 2005, 10:50:33 am »

Thanks Carina! Wonderfull interview!

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Re:Branching Out - Elijah Interview
« Reply #11 on: September 08, 2005, 02:05:05 pm »

Thank you, Carina!! That was a great interview!!
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Re:Branching Out - Elijah Interview
« Reply #12 on: September 08, 2005, 09:26:32 pm »

Glad you liked it.
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Another Awesome Elijah Article
« Reply #13 on: September 11, 2005, 06:58:06 pm »

Courtesy of Bunniewabbit's LJ, I've looked on the first page but I'm not sure if this is posted about yet or not.

http://www.backstage.com/backstage/features/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001056232

Because since reading this breath-takingly awesome article I MUST quote one thing from it for discussion.


Quote:
BSW: When you auditioned for Lord of the Rings, you made an infamous video of yourself in costume. Any chance that will show up on a DVD?

Wood: It might. God, I haven't seen that in so long. And it will be a stark contrast to what I did in the film. Peter and I have talked about it for the full-on box set of the trilogy, which is imminent. That was one of the things he thought about adding, along with extensive bloopers and a documentary he made from his perspective. I'm quite happy to have it included, even without seeing it. I think it's definitely an interesting story, and I've told it so often I think it'd be cool for people who are fans of the film and want to know more about the behind-the-scenes aspect of it. I love watching DVDs that include that material. It gives you such great insight into the process of how these actors got the roles. It was three scenes, audition scenes they gave out for the character. I went and got a costume, got a book on Hobbits to get a sense on how they dressed, went into the woods. Again, it will be a stark contrast to what I did; the accent will be all f***ed up. I literally have not seen that in five years.

Sweet potatoes!!! (that's a new one) I've been thinking about that and waiting for so long to see if they'd release Elijah's audition. Hahahaha, haha, I want to hear his accent all f***ed up.


By the way, can anyone figure out where to find a big picture of that up corner one they displayed? Because that looks bloody awesome.
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Re:Another Awesome Elijah Article
« Reply #14 on: September 11, 2005, 07:28:38 pm »

Most cool. I've been hearing about this for eons, yet haven't seen anything about it.
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Day is desire and night is sleep.
    There are no shadows anywhere.
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