Popular teen actor, Elijah Wood has become a star with the first instalment of the highly anticipated Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Here he talks to Jordan Riefe about the biggest role of his career and how the experience changed him.
How exciting was it for you to be cast as Frodo for the Lord Of The Rings trilogy?
Oh man, I don’t think I can actually put into words how exciting it was.
It’s just overwhelming, the opportunity not only to play Frodo, from that perspective, but the opportunity also to take the hourney with everyone and an adventure that in some ways would mirror that of the book. To live in New Zealand for a year and a half, to be part of a trilogy – which is the first in history ever to be filmed at one time – to work with Peter Jackson, there were so many elements to the entirety of it all that just freaked me out and made me so excitied. Especially now, looking back, it’s such an honour to have been part of it and to be a part of it. I think the movie’s so wonderful. We had high ecpectations. It freaked me out, overwhelmed me. I think Peter has outdone himself and it’s only gonna get better – that’s the great thing.
Your commitment to this film has kept you out of all those teenage movies, hasn’t it?
That was good to escape from all that shit. It was a blessing. I was getting away from it – I didn’t have to read scripts, I didn’t have to do anything but focus on Lord Of The Rings. I got to escape and go away to another world and, in doing that, make incredible movies, so it was a blessing more than anything. It wasn’t something I really considered either. It was an opportunity that really does not come around. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There was no way I was going to pass that up. There wasn’t anything that could stop me from doing it. I didn’t really give it much thought and I didn’t really care that that was the most important thing to be, being a part of it, y’know?
Did you concern yourself with rumors on the inernet about the film?
I did actually. I was announced on Harry Knowle’s site an I’m a regular to Ain’t It Cool News anyway. I went to the site and it says in big letter, Elijah Wood Is Cast As Frodo, First Casting Decision! so I’m like, ‘All right!, so I read the talkbacks and it was people lambasting it. They were just like, ‘Oh my God, kill me now! This is terrible! The first casting and it’s going to be ruined!’, so I was like, ‘Wow, such passion! God, I didn’t even realise!’. So there I got my first taste of how passonate the fans were, but people tend to be over-critical on Harry’s site anyway. It didn’t really bother me; it was kind of a mixed thing anyway. But it did add to the pressure. I think when I went to New Zealand it became very obvious to me that I had to really fulfill not only my own vision but other people’s visions as to what Frodo should be. That tended to drift away once we started filming because I really felt like I’d foind the character and I was confortable playing that character. At this point I feel like I’ve done it and I’ve done the best job that I could possible do and if fans love it then I’ve done my job over and above.
Did you ever go into a chat room and say, ‘What’s wrong with Elijah Wood?’
No, no, it didn’t interest me enough. I thought it was more funny than anything. I didn’t try to dispute it, I just let them do their own thing and hopefully they’d come around.
What was your relationship with the book before getting involved with the film?
I have a terribly uninteresting story associated with the book, to be honest. I read The Hobbit when I was young and I owned Lord Of The Rings for years without reading them. They sat on my shelf and I guess I attribute that to laziness. I certainly know of the stories and was definitely familiar with it enough that I got really excited when I heard that they were making films. But I didn’t actually pick them up until I got to New Zealand.
What kind of resources were they?
Some actors more than others would consult the book. I never really did consult the book. I felt, like we were constantly….surrounded…. by all things Tolkien and Middle Earth and Lord Of The Rings that I never felt like
I was wont for more information or for a different sort of guidance. I felt like once we kind of found Frodo, I felt comfortable in his shoes and sort of moved on from there. Obviously there were particular points that are quite critical movements in Frodo’s evolution that were paid more attention to than others. In those particular circumstances we’d have a conversation or a long sort of pow-wow about where we were going to take Frodo at that point, Peter being involved, obviously. But I never really used the book. A lot of them did, but I think everyone had their own perspective and their own kind of way about taking their character on their journey.
What was it like working in those hobbit feet?
Oh believe me I got tired of those damn things after awhile. They’re great and wonderful and really define hobbits, I think. You put the feet on and you certainly feel like a hobbit then. It also meant that we’d lost about an hour and a half of sleep on those days, which felt like every day. Five o’clock in the morning you stand up for an hour while the person applies the feet. Then they fall off during the day and they’re reapplying them later in the day. There’s no freedom with the feet and they were constantly taking a beating. So, yeah, I got tired of the feet, but they look great. They look wicked.
Was the film like being a kid again?
Everybody has a bit of an evolution. No, in fact I felt like this, for me personally in terms of life experiences making the movies, I felt like I was really growing as an individual. It was the first time I lived on my own for that length of time. I left home and went to New Zealand to work with people I didn’t know in a country I’d never been to. It was a pivotal time in my life so, for that, I felt like it was a real kind of growing experience.
Then, the actualy experience of making the film and the character that I had to work with, I really had to take him to places in some ways I’ve never been before, so that was also a challenge and a real growth. So I think it was actually probably more of an evolution for me personally and filmically as I move into being an adult.
Watching the final result of the film, can you sit back and get drawn in?
Yeah, I think so. There’s so much in the movie that is new for all of us, alot of CG that we haven’t seen. Rivendell was exactly there. We had massive sets that were incredible, but then there’d be a blue screen set up for a background that wasn’t there. So, seeing the movie, there were tons of scenes where there were these expansive beautiful vistas that were included laters. There was so much new information that I was probably more focused on all of that and the entirety of the story than my actualy character. I think I focused on my character more that I normally do because of the fact that people are saying constantly to me, ‘Dude, you’re the ring bearer, you bear this responsibility’. I probably watched a little bit closer than normal, moreso the film. I just think it’s amazing. I think the film’s beautiful.
How was making three movies at once different that making one?
In making the three movies at once as opposed to doing it over a longer period of time, seperating them was critical only because it’s one story and it really does take place over this kind of length of time. We actually, in some ways, we’re taking this journey in real time. As confused as the schedule was and as back and forth as we were, we were kind of acting it out in a time comparable to that of the book. And certainly the idea of doing three movies as opposed to one, there’s really no argument there. You have to do a movie per book because there’s no way to encapsulate the entirety of the story in one film. Obviously Bakshi and the cartoon tried to do it. They only got to Helm’s Deep. You really can’t do that. I know that that was one of the problems Peter had shopping it to various studios cos a lot of people didn’t have the guts to take it on and to make that commitment. New Line was the only company that really made that leap. I believe it was Bob Shaye, actually, at New Line, who suggested the three, which is something Peter and everyone involved with the movie wanted in the first place, but they’d kind of been talked down to only two movies. So it was music to their ears when New Line said, “Well look, whay are you gonna do two – let’s do three – it’s three books!” Luckily it all worked out. It leant itself to something I think that was probably more genuine and accurate because of the fact that were were taking this journey ourselves, so I think a lot of the things that come through in the film, a lot of the themes, were actually played out in real life. I think that really infused the film and the performances as well.
Can you give us an example of that infusion?
The friendship of the fellowship. We became very, very close working on this film and we’re still very close, like brothers. So, the friendship of the fellowship that you see in the movies was a reality and we very much are a real fellowship. That’s just one of the many parallels.
What was the key to you in shooting three films out of sequences but maintaining Frodo’s growth from film to film?
Man, it’s first defining what he is initianlly and defining what he is at the end of all things and the challenge then is to find the moments that define him in that evolution. The moments that, for the character, start to change him and there are very specific kinds of moments throughout the journey – taking on that responsibility of the ring and understanding what the ring does and its role, because the ring, in the film and in the books, is kind of a character in itself. Once you understand its role, you can then apply that pressure to yourself and carry that through. It’s just about defining those moments where he’s stripped away, slowly but surely.
The producers say they still have CG work and tweaking on the other two films. Does that mean you are on-call for reshoots in the coming years?
Yeah, it’s really going to be dependent on the schedules and things like that. Obviously I’m loyal and I want to be there for everyting they need me for. That is a massive priority to me, but I also have to think about ooher things as well. I’m assuming that, in some way, if I am doing something else there will be negotiations and so on and so forth as to how I can do both.
But yeah, I went back twice last year, I’ll definitely be going back this year and I look forward to it. I don’t want to let this journey go, I don’t want it to end. It’s been such an important part of my life and I’ve made some incredible friends and these reshoots and pickups and things are a way for us to hold onto it and eventually we’re not going to need to go back. So it’s a good thing for us, but yeah, it does pose a logistical problem in terms of doing other films.
Is the tattoo that you each got [of the number 9 in Elvish – for the 9 members of the fellowship], another way of holding on to the experience of the film?
Yeah, well the tattoo, man, the tattoo was an idea that we had early on. It was something that really came together during the last couple of weeks of filming just because we know at that point that it had been a truly profound moment in our lives and that the fellowship was indeed a real fellowship and we needed to mark that in some way that would be permanent. So we all went to a tattoo parlour and got it done and damn did it hurt! It was a thing that we agreed that we wouldn’t show, although some have and that isn’t cool.
It was such a great experience but it was a year and a half long. There must have been your down times as well. Believe me, I could talk for hours about how great it was, but it was bloody difficult as well.
Is there one moment that stands out where you were like, ‘What am I doing’?
I think the most difficult moment that I can think of is where my own psyhce kind of faltered right before Christmas break within the first couple of months of filming. It was particularly difficult at that time. We were doing six-day weeks and I was just starting to get burned out energy-wise and standing in front of me, beyond reach, was home. It was really the first time I’d gone home so I was kind of focusing on that and not work. I just wanted an escape from it all. I got home and I experienced that and it was great to go home and it was a relief to relax. Then I came back and I never felt that again – I never felt homesick because I loved my life there [in Wellington]. I think something happened in that it was an evolution for me as a person. I think I accepted a certain amount of newfound strength, a newfound focus. I started to focus, I think, towards the first break. when I came back, I somehow didn’t allow myself to feel that way again. I grooved myself into the process and accepted that fact that in my mind it wasn’t going to end. I was going to be there forever and that was fine. I think there was a difference of focus. I was a part of my evolution as a person.
Were you able to move freely in New Zealand?
Yeah, it was easy to move around and not be bothered. We were welcomed into society with open arms. How did you find driving on the opposite side of the road?
I think there was only one time where I kind of fucked up and I dove on the left. They drive on the right-hand side, but I ended up on the wrong side of the road, actually twice. One towards the end when we were doing pickups. It was terrible. I turned right and I turned into their left-hand side and a car came right for me. I literally do not know how I avoided an accident. I think it was reflexes and the other driver must have had good reflexes and we just narrowly missed each other. It actually felt like the car went through us. I don’t know how, it was divine intervention of something. It was scary.
What did you love about your life in New Zealand?
I loved my house, I loved my car, I loved the Matterhorn Bar – a great local bar we went to. They make some of the best eggs benedict by the way. I just loved everything about it. I loved Wellington, it was home. I loved going over to Peter’s house and borrowing DVD’s. There we so many things that were so normal to me that became part of my life living there. I loved going to Arrow Street Videos and picking up videos. It was its own life and I loved every minute of it, it was hard and I rarely got sleep and I was more exhausted than I’ve ever been in my life when I left, but everything about it – making the movie and my time away from it – was incredible and indescribable.