Elijah Wood turns up for our interview in a New York hotel room with his hair closely cropped. An interesting cut for the young actor whose career has been revitalized as a result of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Suggesting he had his hair shorn for a new film role, the 21-year old former child star says “it was just for me. I wanted to do it for a long time and I just figured the time was right to do it now.”
Sporting a slight goatee beard and feeling far more relaxed than the last time we chatted a year ago, it’s now easy for the actor to look back on the success of the first movie and examine its effect on Wood’s career. “I’d never been involved in anything so huge”, explains Elijah. “I think there were opportunities and scripts that were coming my way that were more the kinds of things I’ve been wanting to do for a while, so opportunities became more available.” But the actor also insists that those opportunities were part of a progression in his later career. “It’s not as if the doors were opened, but rather a three year progression”, insists Wood. “It’s also up to me to continue working and doing things I want to do.” Things such as Try Seventeen, an ensemble Indie drama which is as far removed from Rings as you can get. “I really wanted to do something smaller. It’s all about the script. If the script is quality, no matter how big or small it is, then I want to be a part of it.”
However, there is nothing small about the second installment of Lord of the Rings. The three-hour epic is a much darker component of the Tolkien tale. This time around, the Fellowship has been broken. Boromir (Sean Bean) is dead, Frodo Baggins (Wood) and Samwise Gamgee (Sean Astin) have gone to Mordor alone to destroy the One Ring. Part of the duo’s journey also includes one of the Ring’s original bearers, the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis), who has tracked Frodo and Sam down in search of his ‘precious’, but is captured by the Hobbits and used as a way to lead them to Mt. Doom. Though all three films were shot simultaneously two years ago, Wood recalls shooting these sequences during which the Ring’s stranglehold on Frodo begins. Though on screen less than in its predecessor, Wood had to embark on some challenging acting this time around. “Even though we were skipping around quite a lot, I certainly realized that the weight of that particular journey, what happens to Frodo and how profound it is, meant some huge demands on me as an actor. It was a real effort on my part to try and manifest all of that, and not only show the negative side of what the ring’s doing to him, but also make it a progression.”
As dark and challenging it was to work on that, for Elijah, it’s the third film, next year’s Return of the King, which he is most excited about. “As opposed to this movie, the third movie is the most complete,” Wood says. “This movie was very complicated and difficult to iron out in terms of all the different narrative elements. How do you make a movie with these three cut up stories and make them blend in such a way that it keeps the momentum, has a through-line and message, yet has emotion with all this darkness? The third movie, on the other hand, is a conclusion and a very ironed out thing. It was always very clear with the third movie what it was going to be about and how it was going to be filmed and ended.” To further whet our appetite, Wood also agrees that the third film “is more emotional and is the saddest and darkest of the three. Everything is at stake and everyone loses a little bit. The great thing about Tolkien is, that even when there’s great triumph, there’s also great loss and everybody loses to a certain degree in the next story, which I love. I also loved working on it and taking Frodo to that extreme and so I’m very excited for people to see THAT movie, because it’s going to freak people out, especially having been with these characters for so long.” Wood, too, has been with Frodo for three years, from initial production over an 18-month period, to re-shoots and pick ups which remain ongoing. Soon it will be time to finally put Frodo behind him, which Elijah concedes will be tough. “It’s going to be hard especially going back to New Zealand to film revisions there for the last time, and tidy up the third film.”
Having shot all three films together, looking back on the experience, Wood says there were no disadvantages to working that way and he has no regrets. “The great thing about filming all three at once, was that it was capturing a moment in these movies. It’s all one story so it all takes place in a certain period of time from the moment they set out. So in doing that, there’s continuity in the moment and there’s something really important in that moment. We were all in New Zealand for that length of time working our asses off for that length of time, experiencing everything as people in real time, and the trials and tribulations of actually making these movies. So all of that energy got fused into these films.” Wood also agrees that there are parallels between Frodo’s arduous journey on screen, and those of Elijah himself, “in the sense that I had a responsibility to fulfill this role; I was out of MY element as Frodo was out of his carrying out this responsibility on this journey. Everyone felt like that and that THEIR journeys mirrored that of their characters. I knew it was going to be like that which was part of why I was so excited to go to New Zealand to work on them.”
Elijah Wood has done a lot of growing up of late. It seems an eternity ago when the 9-year old began to make an impact on films such as Avalon, Radio Flyer, Forever Young, Huck Finn and The Good Son. He made a gradual segue into older teen roles in Flipper and The Ice Storm, before proving he has the chops to make it as an adult actor in the Rings trilogy. Clearly, Wood has succeeded where other child actors have stumbled, and as to why he has succeeded where others failed, the actor finds it difficult to figure out. “It’s difficult to have any perspective on it when you’re in the middle of ir,” Wood says. “I think I was just lucky enough to keep working. It was probably The Ice Storm that had a lot to do with pushing me into more mature, adult-oriented roles. The success of that film and its quality only make you better as an actor and had a lot to do with how I was perceived later on.”
Lord of the Rings will continue to effect the young actor years after the final one comes out in 2003. His friendships with many of his cast members have continued, Wood says. “We vacation together a lot, hang out and ogle women collectively. After all, you’re only young once, right?”
THE LORD OF THE RINGS – THE TWO TOWERS OPENS ON DECEMBER 18.