Elijah Wood

Elijah Wood: “Every film has its own part to play”

Short Profile

Name: Elijah Jordan Wood
DOB: 28 January 1981
Place of birth: Cedar Rapids, Iowa, United States
Occupation: Actor, film producer

No Man of God is now in theaters, and on-demand and digital.

Mr. Wood, does your process change from role to role?

I think my process is more or less the same with every film, but it shifts and changes depending on what is required. It's hard to articulate, because it's not something I ever really lay out structurally. I guess it's just reading the script a lot, getting a strong sense of who the character is, and finding that character in different ways. And it's not always the same! I think a sense of preparedness is pretty paramount. I always want to come prepared with dialogue locked so that's not something I have to worry about on the day.

So you’re not the type to just show up and read your lines?

Oh, I never just show up and read my lines!

Even for a smaller role?

I take everything as seriously as the next thing. I don't differentiate or have a level of commitment based on the kind of project that it is. I believe that there's an equal measure in one role versus another role. I don't know that I could ever say I did one thing more, that I brought one character to life more than another character because the level of commitment is the same.

“For me, playing the character with honesty is the most important thing.”

Your reliance on and relationship to the script surely varies though — a role with a lot of monologue takes more study and preparation than one that’s more action based.

Yeah, it depends on the project and what the script is asking of you. With No Man of God, for example, it is relatively naked. It's a very contained story: two people sitting in a room and engaging in these conversations over the course of four years. Although the film is about Ted Bundy, you never see any murder explicitly. There's not a lot expressed in any kind of physical way, and yet it's still so compelling. Preparation for that was a great deal of script analysis, going through each scene and working them out from what's being said, what's the subtext of the scene, what are the subtle shifts in energy and dynamics and changes… The onus was on us to make sure that the conversations in and of themselves were exciting. There isn't a great deal for us to have relied on outside of being truthful to those characters. And for me, playing the character with honesty is the most important thing.

How do you achieve that?

The character can arrive in a variety of different ways. It's a collaboration between myself and the director, the environment, the other actors; costume has a huge part to play in establishing who a character is and how a character feels.

Are there ever moments during that process of really becoming your character that you almost forget that you’re acting?

Yeah, that's often referred to as the flow state, where you're so invested in the moment that you're in that you're not aware of what it is that you're doing from moment to moment. It's just happening, right? So yeah, that definitely happens. It's kind of wild! Film acting, for instance, versus a theatrical acting, which I've done very little of, is so different because with film acting you are extremely technical, you're making all these micro decisions constantly based on where the camera is, and where your marks are, and hitting those marks, while also being in the moment, listening to the other actor, responding to the other actor… There's a million micro choices that are being made.

So how can you possibly pay attention to everything?

Well, that isn’t really possible. You kind of have to be lost in it to some degree, otherwise your own brain would get in the way. If you're thinking too much about all of the other little elements of where you're moving from mark to mark, where the camera is, that would impede upon your connection to the actor that you're talking to. So you do get into a place of just being in the moment, absolutely. I think, at its most successful, a scene comes together when everyone is sort of lost in it. You do try and achieve that. That’s where the best stuff comes out.

Has your ability to get into this flow state grown with time and experience as an actor?

I mean, I think absolutely with experience, there's growth and this constant sense of learning and of forward momentum. So hopefully what I can do now is different and more sophisticated than what I did when I was younger. But I think the same thing applies. When I was younger, I still also had to make all of those same choices within the context of a film scene and still be present in order for that scene to be successful. So it’s part of the process, you know?

What would you say has changed in how you approach your job as an actor then?

That's a good question. I don't know that I've really thought about it. I don't know that I do anything all that differently today versus how I did it before. If I think about 20 years ago working on Lord of the Rings… Did I approach that character any different to the way that I would approach something now? I don't think so. I think in some ways, the basic structure of the process has remained, and what may be different is just simply more life experience, more growth as a human being — my life, my collective experiences, all of that gets fed into what I do in ways that I can't even articulate.

“I'm always looking for something that feels challenging, something that involves getting out of my comfort zone.”

And do your acting experiences also feed into your regular life?

Oh, without question! Each of those experiences is a microcosm of life. There's so many things about being involved in a film that informs on who you are. With something like Lord of the Rings, I lived in New Zealand and that became a home away from home for me. It informed massively on who I am as a person. Even with a normal film, you’re usually away from home for a period of time, you’re with a new group of people, there's a shared experience in coming together for a creative thing that you're all working towards. It’s a connection amongst other humans… So yeah, every film has its own part to play in my life, for sure.

Recently you’ve had several producing credits — has that also influenced the way you do your job as an actor? Or are they two totally separate roles for you?

I think they're two separate things, but also very tied together. For a very long time, I have felt at my best if I'm included in the larger creative team more than just simply being an actor. I love the process, I love being a part of a creative team, and that everyone is working towards this common creative goal. And that sort of dovetailed into wanting to be a part of that creative process from an earlier stand, seeing something from its inception all the way through. That became increasingly exciting to me. I’ve really loved stepping away from being in front of the camera, to working with writers and directors and just being a part of that process from a different angle. Because even as an actor, I'm always looking for something that feels challenging, something that involves getting out of my comfort zone.

Is that mainly what you seek out in a script?

Well, I don't have a wish list of roles that I’m after. I'm really reactive in regards to just reading material and connecting with it and wanting to be part of it. It all starts from reading a script and getting this gut feeling that is sort of undeniable! I have literally read scripts where part of my brain goes, “Okay, the shoot is at this particular time in this place, I don't know that I really want to do that.” But then I read the script, and I can't deny it. I want to be a part of it. I have to be a part of it. It kind of comes down to that. And the inverse is true as well — reading something and not feeling anything, knowing strongly that it's not the right thing. It works both ways. And I've always just trusted that feeling.