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Going Wild For Treasure Island

Elijah Wood is well used to taking part in screen adaptations of books that readers hold dear to their hearts. One of the most distinctive faces of Lord of the Rings, he's taken on Frodo duties once more in The Hobbit, currently being filmed in New Zealand.

In the meantime, he's taken on the role of Ben Gunn in the TV adaptation of Treasure Island, alongside a luminary cast led by Eddie Izzard, Donald Sutherland and Rupert Penry-Jones. Here, he talks about getting back into a tunic, desert island luxuries, and a bit more gossip on The Hobbit...

Why did you want to be involved in this adaptation?

There were a lot of elements that intrigued me. I love the book, the fact that Eddie Izzard was doing it, I really liked the script and the characters are so unique and interesting. Completely different from anything I've ever done - just sort of wild and strange and eccentric. And it was a fun opportunity to come to Puerto Rico for a couple of weeks and work on something that is classic, but also play a character that's very different - and would look physically quite different - from anything I've done before. The thing about Ben as opposed to Silver is that there's almost less there for you that's mapped out in the novel, so it's kind of an open palette. It allows you to play around a bit more.

Who is Ben Gunn?

Ben Gunn is a colonial, so he's an American, who was a part of Captain Flint's crew with John Silver when Flint decided to steal the gold from everyone. They're all kind of in it together and then at the last minute Flint says , 'No it's actually all mine'. Ben Gunn strikes a deal with another group of guys to go find Flint's gold for themselves. They ultimately have no success finding the gold, but he gets marooned on the island. We meet him later in the story as Jim Hawkins, Squire Trelawney, Smollett and all these people get to the island.

He's been on the island for three years, so his hair is matted and long and his facial hair has grown. And he's painted himself in this sort of tribal way. He's just become kind of mad and one with the island really.

Did becoming 'feral' Ben involve a long time in makeup?

It was almost two hours yeah, because it's almost a full body paint, to give me a tan and add sunburn and things like that.

How mad did you get to go?

We didn't want to make him too crazy, it's more about the fact that he's not spoken to anybody for three years. He has this fear of eye contact and an uncertainty with people. He's not truly mad, but he's definitely created his own thought processes. He has this sort of über-connection to religion and to the Bible and he feels that it's his mission to kill all devils on the island - he kind of looks to other people to see if they're devils in human form. So he hasn't gone absolutely mad, but he's eccentric.

If you were a Ben Gunn figure marooned on a desert island what would be the luxury you'd miss most?

It's always the things that you don't think about that I think you'd miss the most. Like, Gunn misses cheese - he's mad about cheese. I was thinking about it the other day and initially I thought, 'Well that wouldn't be the first thing that you'd think about,' but if you were stuck on an island for three years, it probably would be the innocuous things that you'd really miss. For me? I don't know, hot showers? Certainly food, or at least certain foods I think, but mostly music: I would be desperate to be around music. If I couldn't have music anymore that would be a strange thing.

You've been playing diverse roles since childhood. What motivates you now in choosing new projects?

It's just new challenges, I think. Any other actor would say the same thing - you're always looking for something that will challenge you and is different from what you've done before. Aside from wanting to find roles that are very different from anything I've played, I'm just turned on by great filmmakers and great stories. You know, I played a tiny part in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but I was so jazzed to be a part of something Charlie Kaufman had written and that Michel Gondry was directing, so that is a huge side of it for me as well. I think I probably think more about filmmakers that I'd like to work with. Chris Nolan I think is extraordinary, people like the Coen brothers and Darren Aronofsky are incredible, and I'd love to work with Michel Gondry again.

But first, it's back to New Zealand for The Hobbit.

I knew it would either not happen because he's [Frodo] not in the book, or if it did happen it would be something very small. So I don't even feel like I'm going back to reprise my role per se, I'm going back to kind of give a nod in some ways. But for me also, you know, those experiences were so extraordinary that the opportunity to go back to work with Peter and the entire family is so exciting. Not to take away from the fact that it was truly one of the more difficult film experiences of my life, but it was also one of the best experiences in my life. Some people say you shouldn't revisit the best places you've ever been, but there was never a point where I thought, 'No I don't want to revisit that' because I love those people and I loved making the films.'

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