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Seeing Things

Before returning to Middle-earth, Elijah Wood plays straight man to a dog on the FX comedy Wilfred.

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Elijah Wood recently saw a photo of Daniel Radcliffe and his two Harry Potter co-stars in a newspaper. “It kind of blew my mind,” he says of how much the three had aged since the movie franchise began. “It made me remember how young they were. I’d forgotten, because we’ve all kind of grown up with them.”

Wood has grown up in public, too, from his first part in a Paula Abdul video (directed by David Fincher) when he was 7, to his role in the 1997 film The Ice Storm, to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which began shooting when he was 18. The thing is, despite the occasional scruffy beard, he could still play 18. This might be an advantage for director Peter Jackson, who has asked Wood to reprise the role of Frodo Baggins in The Hobbit (due in late 2012), but not so much when it comes to finding roles as mature as he is. “Work sort of slowed down in the last few years,” says Wood, who has been in three films since 2007—partly by choice and partly because “people may not be able to imagine me playing my age.”

Nearly six months into 30, however, he’s starred in the Beastie Boys’ epic short film, Fight for Your Right Revisited (he played Ad-Rock, alongside Seth Rogen and Danny McBride), and embarked on his first comedy and TV series, FX’s satisfyingly spiky Wilfred. As Ryan, he plays a troubled young man who, after failing to kill himself, bonds with his neighbor’s pet dog. The twist: Ryan sees Wilfred not as an animal on all fours but as a loutish, bong-smoking, teddy-bear-humping man in a dog suit, played by Jason Gann, who co-created and starred in the original Australian series. “My character is the straight man to Wilfred,” says Wood. “He has to adapt and react to situations that can be quite intense. A lot of hilarious comedy comes out of that, but it’s also ridiculous and all sorts of surreal. I mean, we are dealing with a guy dressed as a dog.”

Wood’s glacial anime eyes can lull you into believing all sorts of fantastical nonsense onscreen, but they don’t prepare you for his goofy dudeness. “I want to punch you with laughter right now. That was so fucking awesome!,”he yells at Gann after one oddball scene. He’s also exceedingly nice, which can sound like a backhanded compliment but in Wood’s case is not. “He makes everybody else look like an asshole,” says David Zuckerman, who adapted Wilfred for an American audience.

In October, Wood returns to New Zealand for The Hobbit. Filming the Rings trilogy was, in many ways, like slipping off the Earth for sixteen months. “I was 18 when I started and 20 when principal photography ended,” he says. “That’s a fucking huge chunk of, you know, developmental-age time.” When he got back to L.A., “I didn’t know what to make of my own life anymore, which had been so defined by that place and those people and that experience. I just remember everything feeling kind of foreign.”

Wood has yet to see a script for The Hobbit, but he assumes that since Frodo wasn’t in that book, his character will essentially be a framing device. “To me, it makes sense if Frodo bookends the film, but I don’t know,” he says. “I ran into a guy playing one of the dwarves at the airport. He was on his way to New Zealand, and he hadn’t read anything yet. I didn’t see a script for the Rings until we got to the set.” Wood adds, “I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but there was a Hobbit video diary that Peter posted, with all my friends and family from the first production on one of Stone Street’s soundstages. It choked me up a little bit.”

Wilfred
FX
Thursdays, 10 p.m.
Premieres June 23


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