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Beyond the Shire
With his latest roles, he's managed to pulverize the hobbit that exalted him in The Lord of the Rings. More than a superhot young actor, Elijah Wood has shown himself to be a true chameleon. Now he solves Alex de la Iglesias' Oxford Murders, and soon he'll be Iggy Pop. Will he die in the attempt?
Maybe Elijah Wood isn't a genius at math like his character in Oxford Murders, but having recently turned 27, he's managed to resolve one of the most complicated problems for a precocious movie star: reaching the summit without stumbling on the way. The equilibrium with which Wood has been savvy enough to take advantage of the lucky breaks, and make his own luck, is a rare thing in the unpleasant machinery of Hollywood. While Macaulay Culkin, epítome of the fallen child, took on all of the misdeed of The Good Son, a still unknown Elijah charmed the public with his crystalline gaze and a face of utter innocence. Today, with a hell of a career constantly surrounded with the best stars, Wood has taken it on himself to deny his supposed purity.
By luck or fate's design, Frodo, his hobbit alter ego in The Lord of the Rings, helped him to dive into the dark side. and since then he hasn't stopped poking around in it. He's taken advantage of Kirsten Dunst's memories in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind [Spanish title: "Forget About Me"], been a psychopath quartered by Mickey Rourke in Sin City, become a vampire in París, Je t’aime, and even married Lindsay Lohan to avoid the Vietnam draft in Bobby (don't tell me that getting involved with the official Bad Girl of Hollywood isn't walking on wildest side of life). But he's also lent his voice to the dancing penguin in Happy Feet, and has excelled in one of his freakiest and sweetest roles, the Jew in search of the little old lady who saved his grandfather in World Warr II in Everything Is Illuminated. It was in this indie hit that he hooked up with Gogol Bordello, the gypsy punch band that holds the title of "Coolest on the Planet" after collaborating with Madonna at Live Aid, and met his girlfriend, Pamela Racine, percussionist and dancer for the New York group.
He's scheduled his first visit to Spain precisely to coincide with with Gogol Bordello's tour through our country. The reason, promoting The Oxford Murders, Alex de la Iglesias' first international film, in which Elijah alternates between solves the ugly murders along with his idol, a professor played by John Hurt, and seducing Leonor Watling. Sitting in a Madrid hotel, he radiates patience despite three days locked in with the press. He tells us about his upcoming challenges: keeping his record label going, getting into film production, and incarnating a young Iggy Pop in The Passenger. He himself asked for a ton of eyeliner for some of the photos, to exude the rock star air.
How did Alex de la Iglesia convince you to star in The Oxford Murders?
Very simply: he sent me the script and I liked it. It seemed a very interesting take on one might call a "historical classic" murder mystery, but with math as a way to solve it. When I met with Alex in New York, I fell in love with him instantly. He's a hilarious guy and very passionate about everything he does. Besides, we have a similar outlook about things that are strange, absurd and dark.
It only takes a quick look at your filmography to see the interest you have in the fantastic and supernatural. Were you attracted to the sinister as a kid?
I never stopped to think much about it, but it's interesting that you mention it, because I do have a special interest in stories that reflect the dark side of life.
Can you recall the first horror or science fiction character you fell in love with?
I think it was Alien or Jack Nicholson in The Shining. I saw them as a little kid, and they scared the hell out of me. I love horror film. Also I collected action figures - Star Wars, Freddie Krueger, Spawn, Leatherface...
Which horror movie role would you play if you had the chance?
Well, I have to play a villain first. (Laughs) I've played a lot of ambiguous characters in my career, but never a real villain...
Well, in Sin City you played a dangerous psychopath with super powers...
True, that was a real villain. But the next time I'd love to have at least one line in the script. (Laughs) (The role was mute.) Alex and I have often talked about the possibility of working together again on a horror film. I hope we can do it.
Have you seen any of Alex de la Iglesia's movies? Mutant Action, for instance?
No! I'll ask him to screen it for me. I've seen The Day of the Beast, Ferpect Crime, but I haven't seen 800 Bullets or Dance with the Devil. Those are next.
You became famous at twelve, co-starring with Macaulay Culkin in The Good Son. I have to ask you if you're still friends.
I haven't heard from him since we finished that film; we never became friends. Later I crossed paths with him a couple of times, but we haven't maintained contact.
How odd. You both live in New York, right?
No, my home is in Los Angeles. My girlfriend is the one who lives in New York, that's why I spend so much time there.
Where are you most comfortable: in a dump on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, or a swanky pub on Rodeo Drive?
The answer's easy: in a dump! You can always get me to go to bars that are remote and unknown, places where I can relax, but that aren't necessarily relaxed! (Laughs) Night life in Los Angeles is a pain in the ass. There aren't many cool bars, and you have to plan all night before going out because everything's out of the way. [This is true. Nothing is close to anything in L.A.]
What do you like best about Madrid?
I haven't seen anything yet, mate! And I'm dying to get out and around! I've loved to go to the Prado [Museum]. I guess all us tourists say that, right? (We laugh.) On Saturday I'm going to the Gogol Bordello show in Madrid, and after that I'm going with them to Barcelona.
A lot of people don't know you're a total music fan. Now you're going to play Iggy Pop for a film project. Are you scared?
(Laughs and then gets super serious) Very!
How can anyone with that good-guy face think he can play "The Iguana"?
That's what I said! No, seriously. Three years ago, they sent me a script about the early Stooges, and I was really fascinated by the story, because I'm a real fan. I really appreciate them giving me this challenge.
Have you met Iggy Pop?
No, and I prefer not to. He also prefers to maintain his distance, and I think it's a good idea. Meeting him would be too intimidating, I'd have to live up to his expectations, and mine are enough to deal with.
You've just launched a record label, Simian Records. Why did you venture into that in these uncertain times?
Because I love music, I admire the work put out by small labels, and I love the idea of taking part in releasing a record.
You started by signing up a typical college rock band, The Apples In Stereo. Who would you like to sign if you could?
Oh mate, I'd be happy if I could put out a record by Radiohead. They're fucking great. I've also got another group on the label, Heloise and the Savoir Faire, that are releasing a record this year. I'm planning bring them on tour in Spain.
You played on a record by Viggo Mortensen. When are you going to record your own project?
I mess around with instruments, but I'm not a good musician. You should hear me bang on the drums. But you never know. I'm more comfortable among musicians than actors.
During photo sessions you play music on your own iPod, mostly post-punk or no wave bands. Do you prefer older music to the current stuff?
My tastes are really varied. I like to discover cool old stuff. At the session I played, for example, Gang of Four or Liquid Liquid, but also blues like Muddy Waters or Howlin' Wolf. Every day I hear more old music because it's hard to find current groups that have real personality.
You started your career taking part in a Paula Abdul video directed by David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven). Years later we saw you in a Cranberries video. If you could, whose video would you choose to be in?
I'm trying to think of groups that make brilliant videos. I don't know if I'd act in any one in particular, but I'd love to work with Chris Cunningham (director of essential videos by Aphex Twin, Portishead, Squarepusher, Bjork). That guy is bloody amazing. His videos are weird and beautiful at the same time. I know he had a huge film project pending, but I don't know if it went ahead. I'm sure if he ever crosses over into movies, he'll do brilliant work.
You've been acting since you were eight years old, and you've lately mentioned your interest in producing or directing. Do you have any projects in mind?
Yes, I'll be producing "Black Wings Has My Angel", based on a black novel of the 50's. I'm trying to find backing. I'm also working with Tim Burton on an animated film called 9, and I've got another film about to premiere, Day Zero, but as an actor.
Do you think you're ready to take on the role of producer?
Yes. It might confound me, but it scares me a lot less than directing. I think I'm more prepared for it. Sometimes I feel like I've been in film school for the last twenty years. I've been lucky enough to work with incredible directors, producers and actors, and to take part in the process. I see it as a natural evolution.
Are we going to see the prequel to The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit?
I'm not the person to answer that. The last I heard is that they're making two films and I hope to be included.
Confess, when was the last time you got mistaken for Tobey Maguire (Spiderman) or Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter)?
For Daniel Radcliffe, three days ago. I get mistaken for Tobey less and less. I think the last time was at an airport, three months ago.
One last indiscretion, how do you find such tight clothes, being so small?
(Laughs) Oh mate, it's a real pain. I spend a lot more time shopping than I'd like to. You don't know how many times I leave a store really wanting something. They've never got my size!
If you could consult a crystal ball, what would you like to see in your future?
That I've directed a couple of films, and that I've achieved my goals.
**Thanks to Serai for the translation!