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I-D Interview

Elijah Wood: more than just a two-foot fantasy figure made flesh...

Elijah Wood is taller than you think. Five foot six inches, socks, no shoes. Not your first pick for basketball, perhaps, but no cloven-hooved midget neither. A little less than average, let's say. And compared to Prince- that official yardstick of celebrity littleness- a veritable king. Elijah is older than you think, too. January 28 1981, 23 next birthday. A 'boy' only in pin-up parlay. A big kid only when he wants to be. Reality: a testosterone-filled twenty-something, with a half-inch of stubble to prove it. A scruffy indie lad who smokes and dates and falls over when drunk. Legal in every conceivable way.

Still, it's hard to think of him like this. As a Grown-Up, a Fully-Flegded Adult. Hard to not to want to call him 'young man' and gently patronise him. Hard, I imagine, for young ladies in his circle not to mother him, old ladies not to pinch his cheek and slip him a shiny coin. Yes, he says, he still gets IDed once in a while at bars, and no, he does not need to shave every day. Hard also, back in the 'real world' of Hollywood, for casting execs to let him move on. To cast off the coarse tunic and oversized hairy feet of his Lord of the Rings incarnation and take on roles that reflect his age and changing outlook. To tackle the sticky stuff on Grown-Up life.

Elijah's quandary: he has perhaps been too successful. Elijah first heard about Peter Jackson's ambitious plans to shoot the JRR Tolkien trilogy back in 1997 and doggedly pursued the main lead role (he corralled director-friend George Huang into making an epic autdition tape filmed around the Hollywood hills for the purpose). Six years on and he has so definitively established himself as a two-foot-something fantasy-figure-made-flesh that right now it's hard to picture him as anything else. Frodo-Elijah, Elijah-Frodo. Where does one end and the other begin in the collective imagination? At film premieres, for instance, press photographers shout 'Hobbit!' as Elijah walks by. And whilst the veteran child actor must himself take credit for this transformation- and he possibly will at next Spring's Oscars- clearly the production's phenomenal press machine, pounding relentlessly away for the last three years, has generously helped confirm him as The People's Frodo.

Elijah has one more Ring to get through and then he's done. Fun as it's been (and we all know from the seemingly endless tales of on-set hi-jinks, group tattoos and general gang camaraderie just how much fun it's been), Elijah must now move on. Of everyone involved in the project, the 22-year old perhaps faces the biggest challenge ahead. Whilst Peter Jackson is not prepping for his multi-zwillion dollar remake of King Kong, Orlando Bloom is working his niche as a cheaper Colin Farrell and Liv Tyler is probably scoping round for more ethereal-but-dim parts, Elijah must find roles that represent him in a fresh, unseen way, or face the prospect of Middle-Earth purgatory: The Ring can bring great joy but also despair, blah blah blah.

Hello Elijah, how are you?

I'm very well, thank you.

What are you up to at the moment?

Err, nothing much right now. About a week ago I finished principal phtography on a film with Michel Gondry. It's called The Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind.

What's it like?

Oh my God, I have no idea! It's a Charlie Kaufmann script, which means that it's strange and amazing and confusing and I'm really not sure if I understood what was going on. [Laughs] i'm not sure if anyone quite understood what was going on. I guess we'll just have to see. It's gonna be interesting though, that's for sure. The combination of Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufmann was perfect. Weirdly perfect.

And you play a scientist.

Well, sort of. The film's about a couple played by Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet who agree to have bad memories removed from their brain to save their relationship. I play a technician who moves in on Kate Winslet when Jim Carrey's having his brain removed. It sounds quite snidey put like that, doesn't it?

Yeah, a little bit. And did you do much scientific research for this role? Clue up on lobotomies and so forth?

[Giggles uproariously] Naw, there was very little research required for this role.

Did the initial attraction in working with Michel come from his music video work? I know you like your music.

I loved his first film, Human Nature, though most people never got to see it. But I'd been a fan of Michel's for quite some time. All those incredible videos that he's done with Bjork.

What music are you into at the moment then?

For some reason, I'm having a bit of a rock moment right now.

I think a lot of people are having a rock moment right now.

Well, I woke up this morning to the Velvet Underground and, I dunno, I love the new White Stripes album, like the rest of the world. Lots of things, really. I just heard the new Grandaddy album and its amazing. Also [reels off a list of cool-to-obscure punk and electronic bands that would make any music editor proud]. Actually I've just got back from South By Southwest [Texas music conference]. Friends of mine are in this band called Puny Humans and I went to support them.

Loony humans?

No, Puny Humans [chuckles]. I saw them play and then just wandered around. Snuck into a few different things. I saw The Coral. Oh my God, they were fantastic.

I've heard you've got quite a CD collection as well. Do you go on Elton John-style record binges, just go into Tower Records and buy everything they have?

[Giggles] No, but when I'm filming, they always give me a certain amount of money each month and I always end up spending most of it on CDs.

Like your pocket money?

Yes, like my pocket money.

I wanted to ask you about Lord Of The Rings stuff as well.

There's only one film left now. Yep, just the one. But it's not really ready yet. We have to go back to New Zealand to finish a few scenes.

This one's meant to be the most intense, isn't it?

Yes, it's the final one, the climax to the whole story and everyone's really excited about it. I think they're gonna give this one a really big push. I think it's gonna be crazy.

A big push? They've pushed it pretty hard already.

[Laughs] Yeah, they absolutely have. And it's got seemingly bigger every year.

Is there a part of you that's releived it's almost over?

No, not at all!

Not even al the endless press junkets?

Well, I use that time to catch up with everyone who worked on the film. This time will be kind of sad because it's the last opportunity for us all to be together.

[Interviewer is determined to have a bad word said about the experience] But you must sometimes get fed up of it all. Think, Elijah! All the same inane questions asked over and over again.

Oh yeah, it does get pretty inane at times.

Thank you! And there's only so many times you can tell that story about all the actors getting tattoos together.

You'd think so, wouldn't you? But even when we were doing press for The Two Towers, I had to repeat that story hundreds of time. I was like 'Look, we told you all about this last time. I even showed most of you, for goodness sake!'

[Elijah's tattoo is situated below the trouser line] Maybe they just wanted to see the tattoo again?

You reckon? Well, maybe.

Do you think people will allow you to move on from the trilogy?

This is something that i've been thinking about a lot. I do hope people will allow me to move on. But I think I switch off from a flim much quicker than other people do. Mostly by the time one of my films has come out, I've forgotten about it. I think that's a survival thing so it doesn't drive me crazy.

Do you think you'll always be stuck with Frodo?

Yeah, in some ways I'll always be attached to Frodo in people's minds. But I think the character is treated in quite a human, realistic way - it's not cartoon-like - so I hope that shows what I can do as an actor. In time, I think I'll be allowed to move on to non-hobbity roles again.

You say that so dryly.

And so seriously!

Has LOTR affected the choices you've made since, the kind of part you want to play?

Absolutely. Just being drawn to smaller roles in smaller films. I don't think I want to make a big Hollywood blockbuster film again. At least, not for some time. It simply doesn't interest me. Plus, the kind of directors I want to work with aren't making those kinds of films. I'm far more drawn towards the independent side of things. With people like Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham, and Mike Mills making films, it's an amazing time to work in cinema. But there's still a lot of crap out there.

One of the interesting things about your role as Frodo is that there's no sexual element to it. Something which is pretty unique in recent times. Are you excited to be able to play some roles with a bit of how's-your-father in them?

[Laughs shyly] Well, yeah. There are so many different characters that I want to play, so many different aspects of life that i want to express. And certainly I'm drawn towards some more 'romantic' roles now. Let's put it like that.

I'd like to see you play pure evil.

I would, too.

Elijah has been working in the industry since he was eight years old. Previous to Lord Of the Rings, he had appeared in over 25 films - a fact often ignored in the trilogy's attendant hype. From the relatively inauspicious beginnings of 'Video Game Boy 1' in Back To The Future II, he has gone on to deliver some touchingly honest performances - culminating in his tragic turn as Mikey Carver in Ang Lee's The Ice Storm, seduced by Christina Ricci in a Richard Nixon face mask, then electrocuted to death. We'll quickly pass over Flipper: The Movie at this point. And that Paula Abdul video.

Okay, the standard question for former child stars: did you feel like you missed out on your childhood?

Absolutely not. I've had some incredible experiences that not many kids get ot have if they go to school and do all those normal things.

Did you ever envy young people aroung you?

Well, there was a period of time when I resented what I was doing and wasn't sure if I wanted to continue acting. I felt like I had no friends and I would look around at other young people and be really envious. But that time passed.

That's sad. How old were you?

Like 10 or 11.

I thought you ewre gonna say 18 or something.

No, I had plenty of freinds by then. But even today, most of my mates are, like, 10, 15 years older than me.

Speaking to you now, you seem so reserved and shy. How do you cope with the level of personal intrusion that your work brings?

There's only been one time when it's got to a really intense level. And that was when I was seeing Franka Potente [the German star of Run, Lola, Run]. That got to be fucking crazy, really fucking crazy. But it calmed down again afterwards.

Have you ever snapped?

Not really. There was one Christmas Eve when I was out having a good time and there was a guy following me with a camera and I was really creeped out by it. I went over to him and challenged him about what he was doing and he explained that the newspaper he worked for simply didn't have enough pictures of me. He was just doing his job, I guess. I didn't really like it, but I could understand it.

You're so tolerant! Have situations like that forced you to grow up faster?

Yeah, I guess so. I'm 22 now but i've felt like an adult for so many years. Constantly being surrounded by grown-ups in a professional environment meant that I had to be.

It must be incredibly frustrating sometimes then, the difference between the way people perceive you and the way you feel about yourself?

[Laughs self-deprecatingly] Yeah, that's pretty much been the frustration. I used to really struggle with it. At times I was desperate to look older than I did. The difficult thing is, there's reallynothing you can do aobut it. But recently I've learnt to deal with things and accept them far mor. And actually now, I think I'm finally beginning to fit my age, which is great. To finally catch up with myself.

And I think as you get older you realise that looking youthful, shall we say, can be a powerful too.

For sure.

So would you still take a teenage role now?

Yeah, if the part was right. I don't have a problem with that anymore.

And you're playing an adolescent in Thumbsucker, the debut from video director, Mike Mills?

[Brightly] Oh actually, I'm not. I was so excited by this part and I was a massive fan of Walter Kirn's novel [boy attempts to cure oral obsessions through sex, team sports and Mormonism] but it's taken a year and a half to set it up, and Mike and I sat down and had a meeting about it this week and we decided that I'm too old for it now.

You're too old?

I know, imagine! In the past , I've been turned down for roles for a whole variety of reasons. But never for being too old.

That must be a weird feeling for you.

Yeah, it is. On one level, I'm really disappointed but on another, it's quite a novelty. Right now, I'm trying to enjoy the moment.

Elijah is smarter than you probably thought as well, He know that there is a certain amount of reinvention required after Lord Of the Rings. And he knows his days as Peach Fuzz are numbered. His next (non-hobbit) release, the savvy apartment comedy Try Seventeen (co-starring Debbie Harry and Wood's former love Franka Potente), will be one of his last teenage roles. Instead of trading, Michael J Fox-ily, on his boyish good looks - the slight frame, the snub nose, the kind of sad wide eyes sported by small puppies on greeting cards - he is actively seeking out the risky and alternative. Projects that will receive limited releases. Features that have no franchising deals with Burger King. He does not, I think, want to be made into a plastic figurine ever again. He's bigger than that now. much bigger.


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