Fan Expo 2014 Exclusive Interview: Elijah Wood Talks Film, Fans, And More
Not surprisingly, Elijah Wood is a lovely guy. He's a film geek at heart, as passionate about the medium as anyone reading this site. He's made small budget indie films and some of the biggest productions ever made, but none of it seems to have dampened his enthusiasm for movies.
I'd met Elijah a few times at Harry Knowles' Butt-Numb-A-Thon in Austin, Texas, including a very memorable Hobbit screening where we chatted at length about 3D HFR before the event began, and always found him to be incredible genuine and quick with a laugh. Plus, those eyes in person, man, they're like giant blue laser beams, it's almost disconcerting talking to the guy feeling that he's about to melt your face off with his optical weaponry.
In town as part of Fan Expo (Toronto's main nerdcon), I witnessed him spending an hour shaking hands and taking photos with a giant line of people. Each time he'd smile, seemingly enjoying the community of fans that have grown up with his films. Grabbing a break between that and an autograph session, we spoke a bit about his career, his passions, working with the late Robin Williams, and just who were those two middle-aged women hovering around while we were chatting.
What does it mean to you to interact with fans in this sort of environment?
It's great. It's super concentrated, so you get to meet a lot of people in a very short amount of time, but it's totally unadulterated. It's people that have a shit ton of enthusiasm about all of the things that they're excited about, and it's really wonderful.
Even though the interactions tend to be brief, it's lovely to speak to people, you see the diversity of people and the fact that it runs the gamut of old and young, and multicultural that love the things that you do.
You're choosing some really interesting projects, things like COOTIES and OPEN WINDOWS. Are you finding now that with some of your more mainstream genre stuff that would bring people to a fan expo, they're digging into some of your artier, slightly off-the-wall films?
It's happening, it's kind of cool. A lot of people are mentioning Maniac, which is great, because that's a pretty hardcore film. A lot of people mentioned that they were pretty excited about Open Windows, some people had said they'd seen Grand Piano. If there's a way to bridge the gap, not just to other films that I'm in, but maybe even to other filmmakers, so that if they see Open Windows , eventually they'll check out more of Nacho [Vigalondo]'s movies, that's even cooler to me.
You try to go to events like BNAT or Fantastic Fest, so you're obviously a fan as well of this stuff.
And you're making films not only that you have to make, but you're in a position to be able to choose the projects that you do...
I'm honestly making those movies, I'm lucky to be able to do it, but I'm making those movies because that's what I love. Those are the movies that we go see. And those are the filmmakers that I geek out over.
Whose autograph would you stand in line for?
I met the twins earlier. [points to two women standing a few feet away]
They're the twins from The Shining! Oh yeah, "come play with us!"
That's right. I nerded the fuck out.
Yeah, Louise and Lisa, they're amazing. They came from England to be here.
I'd probably stand in line for Carpenter, I'd stand in line for Cronenberg, Jodorowsky, that's the shit that gets me. I mean, there are certainly classic people, like Harrison Ford, where the nerd part of me would be super psyched. I got to meet Christopher Lloyd recently, that was super awesome, but yeah, filmmakers and musicians, that's what I would get really super nerdy about.
You are of very professional, but has there been a moment on set where you just suddenly devolved into that 10 year old kid, oh my god, I can't believe I'm here, or are you past that now?
No, I'm not past it. I don't think you ever get past that.
God forbid you get past that.
Yeah, what a shame that would be, to be blasé about these things. No, I still get excited. I always get them mixed up: Gareth Evans did Godzilla and Monsters, correct?
Nah, Evans did RAID and RAID 2.
Yeah, so [Gareth] Edwards I've met. That was exciting for me. It was before he did Godzilla, but I was a real fan of Monsters.
I love meeting filmmakers. That's part of what's so amazing about Fantastic Fest, other than other film festivals, it's that there's no separation between the attendees and the filmmakers. So I remember last year at Fantastic Fest, I met Ben Wheatley, that was a big thing for me. I'm a great fan of his work, so the fact that he was just hanging out outside, and I knew who he was, and that I could have a chat with him was phenomenal.
It still happens to me, like I met the twins earlier and I was like, I don't think they realized what a big deal that was to me. They worked with Kubrick when they were kids, it's so iconic.
You've been on the inside of this industry for so much of your life, can you still sit in a darkened theatre and just lose yourself in the film?
And you're not thinking about it as a filmmaker and how would I re-do this?
It's probably a weird hybrid at this point. There's no way to see the process over and over again and not watch something and be aware of the process entirely. But I tend to try and just tune out.
I have friends that are far more critical than I am. They walk out of the movie and will pick it apart, and I'll tend to let myself go a little bit more. Because that's what they do, that's what you're supposed to do.
I think you can certainly be analytical about the films that you see, but there's a precipice that you can reach where you can start to ruin your experience of actually watching movies. So I'm somewhere in between I think.
Is there a film that would surprise us that you love?
Oh yeah, I've got some sentimental films. One of the only Brett Ratner movies that I truly love is Family Man. I love Family Man, dude!
It's basically like a version of A Christmas Carol in a way. The guy sees a version of his life and he gets a glimpse and can change his life. And I was in love with Tea Leoni in that movie too.
Loved COOTIES at Sundance, what's the current status of that film?
The status is hopefully January of next year. It definitely won't be this year, it'll be after the first of the year, and we're looking at January, but we're still waiting to see from Lion's Gate where they feel like it's going to sit.
That whole journey has been amazing. It took us three years to get the movie made. And then the response was so good at Sundance. Off of the pickup from Lion's Gate, which was always the home we had hoped for, we ended up getting some more money to make a new ending, which we're really excited about. We only had so much money, and the ending we made, we weren't always that happy with, so we got to make a new ending and we're psyched. I'm excited for people to see it, it's really funny. Have you seen it?
What did you think?
I loved it.
I think it's awesome too. I mean, I'm biased, but it works.
It's the classic kind of fun film that's certainly an homage, but it's also doing its own thing, it's not simply recycling what's gone before.
Right, and I think it was really important to us that it be its own thing, especially considering the fact that there are a fair amount of horror comedies and a lot within the zombie trope, so it was important that we differentiate it enough.
I would be remiss if I didn't ask, given a discussion we had at BNAT - you still ambivalent about 3D HFR?
I may have even said this then, I'm all for filmmakers playing with the new medium, and I do think that there are bits of The Hobbit, for instance, which is the only thing I've seen in HFR, that look incredible. But for me, there are bits that look like television too.
Now, I think what's great about what Peter [Jackson]'s doing, regardless of whether you like it or not, it's still trailblazing, it's still trying something new. He's right, we've only ever seen 24 frames a second, that's what our brain knows, so to push things forward and see about moving the medium in another direction, I think it's exciting.
It's not my favourite, I don't know that I'd want to see every movie like that. I think there's a warmth and, I don't know, there's a weird, oddly, even though it's seemingly more realistic with HFR, there's more realism for me with 24 frames.
Are you the guy that buys vinyl?
I only buy vinyl.
Yeah, see, you're that guy!
I am that guy!
But also, look, we're heading in a digital age, aside from HFR, we're moving further and further away from film. There's no question that a movie that was shot on film but scanned digitally and screened digitally is better. A digital print, especially if it's coming from an analog master, is a fucking stunning thing. Sometimes a 35mm print is kind of a bummer, depending on the state that it's in. So I'm not staunchly 35mm. I certainly am in terms of filming it. We shot Grand Piano in 35mm and it's fucking beautiful, so I do believe in it still.
So you're shooting on 35mm, you're DI'ing on digital and it's a DCP and you're projecting with a properly calibrated 4k projector.
It's a pretty awesome thing. So I see the benefits of that.
And two weeks after it's opened, it looks as good as it did in week one.
There's no degradation, and you're not seeing a print of a print of a print way down the line, which is a bummer, for a filmmaker especially, if your intention is what you see in the mixing stage, perfect colour, sound and everything, and the derivations of that that you can't control, I get it.
I know you're producing obviously, but when are we going to see the transition from you the actor to you the director?
I need to make that leap. I'd love to direct. I have trepidation, and it scares me, in a lot of ways I feel like I've been going to film school all of my life in the best way.
You've had lots of good directors to learn from.
It's been extraordinary. So I feel like I have the tools, but sometimes I fear that I won't have my own voice. The directors that I really admire seem to have carved out, you know who they are. But I won't really know that until I do it. I have to make the move.
THE ICE STORM doesn't get talked about nearly as much as it should.
I love that film.
It still means something to you?
Yeah, that movie's really significant to me as well. Because prior to that, I'd worked on a lot of films that were more family oriented. And that was a
really adult film and it, for me, it marks a turning point in my life, working with Ang [Lee], the approach that we all took as actors, the kind of focus
that he demanded of all of us.
He sent everyone a kind of packet of information on the 1970s, book excerpts, advertisements, magazine excerpts, and then three CDs each of songs and albums that we might be listening to, so I had a Yes album, I had Dark Side of the Moon, perfect for my character. We had questionnaires for each of us to fill out from our character's perspective.
Asking us all about our home life and our internal thoughts, which was such a fascinating exercise and I've never really approached what I did from that perspective.
The rehearsal process was a whole other element of that, working with him was extraordinary, and that cast. So it had a huge influence on me. It really felt like the moment where I was leaving my childhood behind and moving into a different phase of what I was doing and I think I was taking it more seriously.
I think I was more sophisticated as a cinephile and had a deeper understanding of what it was I was doing and was more interested in it, so that movie means a lot to me.
When was the last time you watched it?
Oh, it's been a while. I haven't seen it in probably over a decade.
I'm wondering when you watch it back, now that you're an adult, watching your performance as an adolescent, how that's going to come across.
Yeah, I'm curious.
The huge transition between THE ICE STORM and LORD OF THE RINGS was a big change, and you basically became an adult filmmaker on the set of Jackson's film. Aas you're watching THE HOBBIT now, or as a fan of the works, what it meant to you, with the distance that you never had watching the LOTR films, what has that been like?
It's been kind of extraordinary. I never imagined I would go back. I never imagined I'd play that character again, and it was a gift, it was a real gift. It felt like a family reunion for me because so many of the people who had worked on LOTR were working on The Hobbit, all the way down to the crew, all the way up to Peter, so it really felt like stepping back in time.
It was such a huge part of my life that was so significant in so many ways, probably more profound for me personally than it was as far as my career is concerned, in a way, at least that's how I feel. Being able to revisit that with that much time and space having separated it was just a treat.
And, like you said, being able to watch those movies from a fan's perspective, without having the years of experiences playing out in front of it, I get to just sit there and enjoy it and not know what is coming and not know what was going to happen.
I didn't read all of the scripts. I had only read bits, I think I had only read the first one, so two and three I didn't read, so it's all a surprise, all a mystery, so it's great. It's cool. And it was cool to go back and meet everybody else because they, all of the other actors were going through a very similar thing to what we all went through. They were going to be there for over a year, for some of them it was the first time they were a part of something that massive, so in a way they were going on their own journey and it was really fun to sort of pop in and watch them all from the sidelines and be a small part of their piece of it, it's cool.
Finally, you worked with the late Robin Williams
I got to work with him directly multiple times. We spent a great deal of time together, primarily working. I didn't get to know him so well socially. He'd always very kindly offer me to come up to his place in San Francisco, but we never did make it happen.
Honestly, he was one of the most beautiful people I'd ever met. I mean, everyone says nice things about people when they pass, but what's extraordinary is the deluge of inspirational stories that you hear and personal stories of how he influenced someone's life in the smallest way that was very profound.
He was that kind of person.
He emanated goodness and beauty and humility and light and it was one of the most shocking things.
We all knew that he struggled with substance abuse. I didn't quite understand the depths of his depression. I suppose it's to be expected that that comes with it, but you would never know. It was a gift to know him and I'm sure I'm one of millions of people that feel the same way. What else do you say?
Following our conversation, the twins from The Shining, Lisa and Louise Burns, presented Wood with a signed photo of them from the film. It was a wonderful little moment, and he seemed completely thrilled by their gesture, as if he too had stood in line for hours for just such a moment.
Thanks to Elijah and Touchwood PR for arranging our chat at Toronto's annual FanExpo.