Elijah Wood is a comparative rarity in Hollywood: a child actor who successfully (and seemingly effortlessly) made the transition to adulthood. From early films like The Good Son and Huckleberry Finn, he began appearing in more grown-up roles in the likes of The Ice Storm and The Faculty. The Lord of the Rings trilogy made him world-famous while earning him huge praise for his layered, sympathetic turn as Frodo Baggins. Since then, he has moved with care, gently separating himself from Frodo while expanding his range. The hit TV show Wilfred gave him a chance to try comedy, and this year’s Maniac puts him in the role of a serial killer (a trope he played in 2005’s Sin City, though without the technical acrobatics of this one). He sat down in Los Angeles this week to talk about what attracted him to the role, and the appeal of horror movies in general.
Question: Did you seek out this project, or did they seek you out?
Elijah Wood: It kind of came to me, mostly due to a mutual friend and a producer on the film: Alix Taylor. She contacted me and said “We’re remaking this movie Maniac, and we want you to consider the role of the killer. Oh yeah, and we’re going to shoot it almost entirely in POV from your character’s perspective.” That whole proposal just fascinated me. I’m a fan of the genre, so my interest was already piqued. The idea of playing a character that you rarely see – and putting the audience in the unique position of experiencing this story from the filler’s perspective – was a really disturbing and interesting one.
Q: Were you there the whole time, or was it like three days and then voice overs?
EW: I think it started out that way, but I was there most days. It became a real collaboration between me and the cinematographer, getting those movements down: working together to make the character live. We’d block things out in the traditional way, with the cast and without the operator. Then we’d have to figure out wherever the character was, which is where the camera would have to be, which let us spot logistical problems and figure them out.
Q: Did you look at other movies shot totally in POV, like The Lady in the Lake?
EW: Peeping Tom was one I was familiar with. Not The Lady in the Lake, which I knew in passing. But Peeping Tom was the one we drew the most reference from.
Q: What did you want to bring to the character? Someone so dark like this?
EW: Well, the main thing was to make the character believable in most ways, to believe that he could be out there somewhere. The challenge was not falling into cliché. With serial killers and villains in films, it’s easy to fall into expected tropes. We wanted to make sure we didn’t do that. Then also just finding the balance between the awfulness of the character and his humanity. Making him human without being too sympathetic. He’s really a character in three parts. Most of him is off-camera, some of him is on-camera and all of him is vocal. That was a lot of fun, bringing all those elements together.
Again, I’ve been a fan of the genre forever. Part of the appeal was as an intellectual exercise, since he’s such an interesting character. But part of it was just plain old-fashioned horror nerd. “Dude, I get to scalp people with a butcher’s knife and have all those cool gory effects? Sign me up!” As an actor I’m always looking for different experiences. I’m turned on by anything that’s different from what we’ve seen. It’s part of what drew me to Wilfred, which definitely is outside the lines. I thought that Maniac was similar… in that way if no other.
Q: Will we be seeing you again in the next Hobbit films?
EW: Actually no. All my work there was included in the first Hobbit film. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Peter [Jackson] is going to do with the movies, though. I think he’s done a great job transitioning Middle Earth into The Hobbit.