The film centers on Frodo Baggins, played by Elijah Wood, and his journey to destroy the One Ring. And while Wood is by no means a Hollywood freshman (he has appeared in THE ICE STORM, NORTH, and FOREVER YOUNG), the role of the film's hobbit hero was not initially handed to him on a silver platter. On the contrary, Wood explains that he went after the part subsequent to his agent telling him that casting had already begun, and after he learned that they were looking for an English actor.
"I went after it," says Wood. "I decided to do my own tape because I didn't like the idea of going into an office and being put on tape there. So, I got a hobbit costume, got a book on the hobbits, got an idea of what they looked like and I went to the Hollywood Hills and filmed a few scenes there. I edited [it] together and then gave the videotape to the casting director in Los Angeles and she sent it to [the film's director] Peter Jackson. That was how I got my foot in the door, so to speak."
This extracurricular audition was something the young star did not mind doing, as he understood how difficult casting the character of Frodo would be.
Audition tape aside, Wood soon discovered that becoming a hobbit was more than just donning a costume and roaming the woods. The challenge in becoming and maintaining the character of Frodo would place demands on him physically, as well as mentally.
"The schedule was very hectic and there were long hours, six-day weeks," says Wood. "Certainly, there were quite a lot of physical scenes and sequences that required more of us, but I think that the challenge was more about enduring the length of the project more than anything [else]."
The true test of endurance, of course, came in filming three movies at once director Jackson made the decision early on that all three RINGS movies would be shot back to back. The actors often moved between films to make the most of available sets and shooting time. Initially, this shocked Wood, as he had to anticipate Frodo's growth across the span of three films.
"The first time we started jumping out of sequence was when some sets flooded," says Wood. "We were primarily shooting film one at that point, and we had to shoot on a cover set, and they said, 'Oh right, well the cover set is you in film three,' which is basically a Frodo that is a mere shadow of himself. I hadn't really begun to think about what Frodo was going to be at that point. I had to completely take Frodo to a place that he had never been, but after that, it became the norm. I got very used to it."
"It was a massive journey," says Wood. "It was such a joy to be able to take a character from one extreme to the other. His journey is quite internal because it really deals with The Ring and the influence that The Ring has over him and the burden that that creates. The Ring really is it's own character and it influences him and it starts to deteriorate Frodo's soul to the point where he is just a shadow of his former self by the end of it. There are very specific moments in the course of [the] journey Frodo takes [and] those were the things that I really had to focus on, the challenges."
Another "challenge" that presented itself was the actor having to deal with an animatronic mask his hobbit-sized double wore during filming. Ultimately, this proved a rather unsettling experience.
"That was kind of weird," says Wood. "You have a Frodo running around with a mask on, but early on, they had faces that didn't move. So, it was just Frodo with this blank look, and I was like, 'Oh man!' I remember that we were on top of [a] mountain, and they had a box of the faces. I opened the box and there were these hobbit faces just looking up at me, sort of dead. It was bizarre."
There are other subtle special effects that Wood especially liked, although they might not be so apparent to viewers. In what he calls the "Prancing Pony scene," Wood explains how a character walking in the background enhanced the Middle-earth atmosphere.
In addition to the special effects that were created for the movie, WETA also developed the costumes and weaponry, which included several copies of the famous Ring. Wood admits to having one Ring, and is looking to add more Middle-earth memorabilia to his collection.
"We're still doing pickups and re-shoots for the next two years," explains Wood. "Believe me, [when that's over] I'm going to start pillaging some things, especially Sting. I want my sword."
And Wood does have one other very special and very permanent memento of his time as a hobbit a tattoo in an undisclosed location.
"We all have one," says Wood. "It says 'nine' in elvish. There are nine members of the Fellowship. That was a treat that not many people get."