The Mysterious Mr. Wood

-Elijah Wood was a child actor. But he’s never been in rehab, and he hates the spotlight. Very weird.-

By Patty Adams

I’m walking around The Library, a swanky New York City lounge, looking for the star of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. It isn’t too hard to find him: The indie-boy spiky brown hair and black Chuck Taylor sneakers make him stick out among the gray suits like a BeDazzled ‘NSYNC fan at Ozzfest.

Though Elijah Wood, 21, has been acting practically his whole life, he wasn’t super famous until last year’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The movie earned more than $800 million worldwide and 13 Oscar nominations. And Elijah even got his own action figure. But the moment we knew he was huge? When he shook hands with Ozzy on an episode of The Osbournes.

“Come sit down,” says Elijah, gesturing toward a squishy leather couch at the back of the room. “How are you?” he asks. My first impression: He’s shy, polite, and much cuter in person. Unlike most stars, Elijah (Elwood to his friends-as in Elijah Wood) actually asks about me-where I’m from, what kind of music I like, and how long I’ve worked at ym.

Kindergarten Dropout

Back when Elijah was little, in Cedar Rapids, IA, his deli-owning parents, Deborah and Warren, called him Sparkplug because he was known for being a spaz. “I used to climb on everything,” Elijah says. “I was always causing trouble.” (Looking at the totally mellow guy sitting across from me, constantly saying “please” and “thank you,” it’s hard to imagine.)

When he was in kindergarten, his mom enrolled Elijah in a local modeling and talent school. Six months later, they visited LA for a model and talent convention, and he signed with an agent who got him some commercials and TV guest spots. His mom promptly packed up and moved to LA with Elijah and his older brother, Zach (now a 28-year old video game producer). His sister, Hannah, (an aspiring poet), 19, and his dad followed later. His father bounced between jobs with Federal Express and an air-purification company, while his mom helped manage Elijah’s acting career.

I suggest to him that some people might think he’s got one of those controlling movie-industry mothers, but Elijah says he doesn’t. “Stage moms generally force their kids into it, and have much more of a vested interest in their kids’ careers,” he says, sitting up in his seat and sounding somewhat defensive. (I would have loved to have talked to his mom, but she declined to be interviewed, as did the rest of his family and most of his close friends. Elijah seems to be protective of them-and vice versa.) I did get to talk to Courtney B. Vance, though, Elijah’s co-star from 1993’s

The Adventures of Huck Finn. He remembers Deborah Wood as a loving mom on the movie’s rural Mississippi set. “People had a tendency to tread Jah Jah (his nickname for Elijah) as an adult because he was always so professional,” says Courtney. “But Deborah was there for Elijah, keeping him balanced and making sure no one forgot he was an 11-year old.”

Growing Pains

So while other kids were shooting spitballs and going to Little League practice, Elijah was starting his career, playing a pint-sized business exec in Paula Abdul’s “Forever Your Girl” video at age 7. It seems like he kind of became a mini adult off screen, too. “I was always surrounded by people three times my age,” says Elijah. “I guess it rubbed off.” Soon he landed roles in movies like Forever Young with Mel Gibson, The Good Son with fellow boy actor Macaulay Culkin, and Flipper with a very talented dolphin. Elijah admits that being treated like an adult all the time was hard. “I grew up fast mentally and didn’t relate to people my own age,” he says. “They were focused on the next night’s homework. I was concentrating on my lifelong career.” Yikes.

Elijah was homeschooled and tutored on-set, so he never had to deal with school bullies or trying to fit in. “I’m grateful,” he says. “I’ve heard enough from my friends to know that I didn’t miss out. High school is a pretty brutal battleground.”

The same could be said of a family going through divorce. Elijah’s parentls split up when he was 15, but he feels he wasn’t traumatized. Why? Because, he says, he never had a strong relationship with his dad. Hmm. The plot thickens.

“Generally, divorce has a negative impact-you’re close with your mom and your dad, and you don’t want to see them part,” Elijah says very unemotionally, almost mechanically (that self-defense thing seems to work for him). “But I always felt closer to my mother; she’s the one who really raised me, so [the divorce] was fairly easy for me.” He’s recently said that even though his dad was physically present, he wasn’t emotionally, and he wasn’t nurturing. Now his father lives back in Iowa, and they rarely speak to each other.

It’s weird that Elijah brushes off his parent’s divorce as no big deal, and even stranger that he doesn’t seem to care about not having a relationship with his father. But as he goes on talking about his dad, Elijah’s eyes get a little glassy. You don’t need to be Freud to see there are some unresolved issues there. Maybe that’s why he began taking on darker acting roles as he got older. In 1998, he was a class-ditcher in the sci-fi thriller The Faculty. The following year he played a hip-hop wannabe who smoked, did drugs, and had a lot of sex in Black and White. By the age of 18, he’d been in more than 15 movies and even had fan clubs. As far as Hollywood was concerned, though, he still hadn’t found his career-defining role.

Nothing Like Pointy Ears and Hairy Feet to Bring a Guy Friends and Fame

“Pardon me while I run to the loo,” says Elijah. When he returns from the bathroom, I call him on his faux-British speak because he’s been usin Brit slang like “keen” and “brilliant” all through our interview. He blames it on spending more than a year with a mostly British cast. Of course, he’s referring to the filming of J.R.R. Tokien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In all three (the third part comes out next December), Elijah stars as Frodo Baggins, the pointy-eared, hairy-footed hobbit destined to save Middle Earth.

Frodo is his favorite role to date. “He starts out pure-hearted, but the ring chips away at the innocence and purity of Frodo’s soul in the second [movie],” says Elijah. “He starts to lose trust and faith in the people around him.” Meanwhile, life offscreen was the exact opposite. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so close with people I’ve worked with in my life,” says Elijah. “I did a lot of growing up; I probably aged 10 years,” he jokes about his time filming LOTR. “But seriously, the person who went to New Zealand and the person who left there are significantly different.”

Filming in New Zealand kind of became Elijah’s college experience: He joined a fraternity of sorts with the guys on-set, and it was the first time he’s lived away from his mom for more than a few months. “I created a whole new life there,” says Elijah. “I had a car, a house, and I did my own shopping. So it was far beyond just making a movie.”

The hobbits-Elijah, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, and Billy Boyd-became inseperable. They hung out, watched movies, hit the pubs. “We didn’t get tired of each other,” Elijah says. “That’s a real testament to our relationships.” As are their matching tattoos. The nine actors whose characters made up the Fellowship of the Ring each inked themselves with the symbol for nine in Elvish, one of the movies fictitious languages. Did it hurt? “Like hell!” he says, wincing. “It’s like a hot, searing blade sawing into your skin. I’d do it again, though.”

The Secrets of a Mama’s Boy

Elijah lives in a guest house behind his mom’s place in Santa Monica, CA. He is the breadwinner but his mom still does his laundry and cooks for him. “I don’t cook,” says Elijah. “I wanted to go to culinary school for a while, but I never did.” It isn’t just the home cooking that keeps him there. Elijah and his mom are close. “I wake up in the morning, go to Mom’s house, have a cup of coffee and chat,” he says. “She likes the same music that I do, so she’ll have the White Stripes on. How cool is that?” Very, but it must get a bit weird to live so nearby-what if he brought a girl back to his place? “I’ve never done that,” he says. “I don’t know how it would work, but my mom would probably be very cool.”

Too Sweet To Kiss And Tell

Which brings up my next topic: dating. Elijah admits he’s been in love “probably more than once,” but he doesn’t give any names. He’s been linked with Franka Potente, 28, his co-star in the yet-to-be-scheduled romantic comedy, Try Seventeen, which also stars Mandy Moore. When I ask if Franka’s one of those loves, Elijah gets tight-lipped, bites his nails, and goes into the usual celebrity spiel about keeping his private life private. He doesn’t have a problem talking about romance in general, though.

“Anything is suddenly romantic when you’re with someone you care about,” he says. “Even something as simple as going out and getting take-away and watching a movie. Romance isn’t about buying flowers or having a picnic. It’s the little gestures-like a massage or an unexpected kiss.”

So what sort of girl makes him gaga while eating lo mein out of a carton? “I really enjoy women who have a strong sense of themselves, who aren’t afraid to speak their mind,” says Elijah. “On a superficial level, I like girls with dark hair-I’m a sucker for that. If a girl has an English, French, Italian, or German accent, I go crazy.” (Franka is German and has dark hair. Coincidence?)

Voted Least Likely To Party

Despite that Osbournes episode last season, Elijah’s not into the Hollywood scene. He says he doesn’t normally go to premieres unless he’s in the movie, and he sometimes ditches the after-party. “I get really quiet and anti-social,” he says. “I’m not very good at working at it.”Maybe that’s why he surrounds himself with people who love to talk, like Kelly and Jack. His sister Hannah-who met Jack at some concert-introduced them and they just clicked. “The Osbournes are insane, but I love them,” says Elijah.Another one of Elijah’s loudmouth friends is MTV’s resident tatttoed rocker Iann Robinson. They met when Iann interviewed Elijah last year, and realized that they both loved music, video games, and horror films. “Elijah’s just like me, only skinnier and more famous,” says Iann. “When Elijah’s in New York, we often stay up till 4 or 5 a.m., watching movies. A few weeks ago, we watched The Exorcist III. He’d never seen it and I was like, ‘Dude, it’s the best movie ever.'” Iann says Elijah often crashes at his place if it’s late. “He doesn’t pull that ‘I’m a movie star so you must do everything for me’ crap,” says Iann.

“Most young people are arrogant by nature, so if you’re talented and have money on top of that, you’re usually an ass to a spectacular degree. But not Elijah. We can talk about politics, family problems, and music.”Speaking of music, Elijah played DJ for Mandy Moore while filming Try Seventeen. “We both really like the Strokes and Bjork, but he also turned me onto so much music I don’t think I would’ve listened to on my own,” says Mandy.

Elijah, a big fan of the Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, and the Beach Boys, says his latest obsession is Songs for the Deaf by Queens of the Stone Age (he even brought it to our cover shoot). He claims he owns between 1,200 and 1,500 CDs. “I know it’s insane,” says Elijah. “I can’t possibly listen to all of them.” Well, the first step is admitting you have a problem, right? After our music tangent, Elijah checks his watch and politely asks how much longer we’ll be. (What, am I boring him?) After he says thanks for making the trek to see him, he tells me, “I’m into girls, video games, and music. See, I’m like any other guy my age.”