IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Elijah Wood Talks 'Maniac'

Friday, 28 June 2013 11:36 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Elijah Wood Talks 'Maniac'

When it comes to acting, Elijah Wood is a maniac!

Wood began his career as just a kid with a small role in Back to the Future Part II, and went on to appear in such films as Avalon, Forever Young, Radio Flyer, The Good Son, The Ice Storm, Deep Impact, and The Faculty. But it was his performance as Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings trilogy that made him a household name. Since then, he has appeared in a string of successful movies including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Sin City, Bobby, Happy Feet, Happy Feet Two, Celeste and Jessie Forever, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - reprising his role as Frodo in the prequel to the original series. Wood is also very busy on the small screen starring on FX’s extremely popular comedy series Wilfred, which just began airing its 3rd season, and also voicing the lead character on the Disney XD animated series Tron: Uprising. But now the actor can be seen in a completely different type of role as a psychopathic killer in the new remake of the cult ‘80s horror classic Maniac, which is currently available on VOD and in theaters in New York, and opens in Los Angeles on June 28th. 

In Maniac, Wood plays Frank, the role portrayed by actor Joe Spinell in the original. Frank is an unassuming young mannequin shop owner living in downtown Los Angeles who befriends a young artist (Nora Arnezeder) and agrees to help her with her upcoming exhibition. But when the troubled young man’s suppressed desires come to the surface, it begins a series of events that prove deadly for everyone around him. The film is directed by Franck Khalfoun (P2) and shot almost completely from Frank’s point of view. 

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Elijah Wood for an exclusive interview to talk about his work on Maniac. The accomplished actor discussed his new film, its unique POV style, watching the original, director Franck Khalfoun’s vision for the movie, playing a psychopath, his own love for the horror genre, and the first horror movie he ever saw. 


Here is what he had to say:

IAR: To begin with, I understand that you decided to watch the original Maniac after you had already begun filming this remake. Can you talk about that decision and how it may have helped inform your performance?

Elijah Wood: I hadn't seen the original already before we started filming, so I was curious to see. I don't know that I was actively staying away from it to avoid any kind of parallels between what Joe Spinell had done and what I had done. I knew they were going to be extremely different because our physicality's are so different. I just wanted to go in to the process of creating the character fresh without it being informed by something else. Then I finally did start watching the movie once we already started and I loved it. In some ways I regretted not seeing it before mainly because there's a scene in the movie that wouldn't really be appropriate in ours, where Joe Spinell jumps on top of a car with a shot gun and blows this guy's head off. It's an awesome, very intensive, very visceral scene. Tom Savini, the makeup effects guy is actually in that scene and it's his head that blows up. I was just really struck on how intense and visceral it was and how incredible that could be with the conceit of our POV. But it probably would have robbed any empathy that you might feel for the character because it doesn't really attach itself to his profile. It was not included obviously.

A great deal of the film is shot from your character’s POV, so did that mean that you didn’t have to be on set as much because your character is off camera or did you decide you that you needed to be there for those scenes anyway?

Wood: It was originally proposed that it would be two weeks of work for me, or ten days just to shoot the reflection shots. Then they were starting to talk about hiring a double for my hands and I started to realize that a double, whoever that was, would be making choices for the character with his hands and it just very quickly dawned on me that I should be around the whole time. We had a meeting in production and I said, I really want to be around, I hope that's cool? They're were like, “Oh, that's great, we didn't know if you wanted to.” I think there was just a to a certain degree a sense of naiveté from everyone's standpoint going into a POV film for the first time. I was there every day. It was a unique process, and a gratifying one. It felt like a kind of discovery process to a certain degree because each scene felt kind of like a puzzle that we had to figure out how to shoot and how I would be inserted into that particular scenario. I don't think I've ever worked with a DP (Director of Photography) so closely before because he's effectively a part of my character. It was a really interesting, exciting and fun process as far as the character was concerned. It was multi-faceted because it was the camera, it was the POV, it was these very specific reflection shots, and it was the voice re-recording all of the dialogue later when the film was finished. It was a fun process. 


Can you talk about director Franck Khalfoun’s vision for the film and what it was like for you working with him to achieve that?

Wood: I think he was really excited by the visual element of the film and what we were working with as it pertained to what we saw of the character on the screen. I think he was really excited at what those specific moments would be so we definitely talked about those and the overall tone. But I also think it was important that you feel empathy for the character, that he feel kind of vulnerable. We don’t want to sympathize with him just because he does horrible things and not to overly push that forward. We were certainly of a conservative mind because I think sometimes the mistake is made in horror films to try and push sympathy as a different way to deal with a villain we’ve already dealt with. I think the results are not very interesting because you strip what’s scary about the character away. But it was important to me to play the character as a human being, both in his darkest moments and also in his more human uncomfortable moves.    

You’ve played a psychopath before in Sin City, but you definitely have a reputation of being a very nice guy. Is it difficult for you to get into the mindset of playing a character like this, or is it a nice challenge for you as an actor?

Wood: Well it’s a nice challenge for sure. On a daily basis I had a sense of a little bit of disconnect to a certain degree because I’m not on camera. Aside from the moments where he is on camera and reflections, I always knew that re-recording the voice and giving the character a sense of presence would be important. Also looking at the whole arc of the character, which was a unique thing to have access to because more often than not you’re playing that out on screen. So to look at it from an outside perspective and then fine-tune it, I always knew that’s where the character work would occur. So I wasn’t spending day in and day out on the film within the tone of the darkness of what the character was going through. Because so much of it was kind of technical and logistical, and so much of my time was spent behind camera. It was just something I was always aware of. I always knew that the character would be mostly created in the POV stage to a certain degree. 


Finally, are you a fan of the horror genre yourself?

Wood: Totally. I grew up watching horror movies. I remember seeing the first horror movie that I had ever seen at the age of five.

What was the movie?

Wood: The first one I remember seeing was Truth or Dare?: A Critical Madness, which was a direct to VHS film. My brother is seven years older than me so that’s how I would see these films when I was that young. I’m a huge fan of the genre so it was exciting to work on something that was generally a horror film too. I’ve sort of skirted with genre films in the past certainly, but not an out and out horror film.        

Maniac is currently available on VOD and in theaters in New York, and opens in Los Angeles on June 28th. 


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