When the first in Peter Jackson’s long-awaited Lord of the Rings trilogy finally hits theatres, actor Elijah Wood will shoulder considerable responsibility. As Hobbit Frodo Baggins, it’s Elijah who is the centre of this epic tale, but the ex-child star is ready to embrace the challenge. Paul Fischer met the young actor in New York.
You wouldn’t think that Elijah Wood had been talking to the press for the last several days. Having spent close to 2 years inhabiting the guise of Tolkien’s classic Frodo Baggins character in the mammoth Lord of the Rings trilogy, 20-year old Wood was in chirpy spirits. “It’s the caffeine”, he says laughingly. Before embarking on his cinematic Middle Earth adventure in New Zealand, Elijah hadn’t taken the trouble to have read any of J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythological novels, though he had known of the books. “I had them in my own personal library for years and never got around to reading them, though I read The Hobbit when I was young and fell in love with that book.” He never got around to actually reading the Tolkien books “out of just classic laziness” but he certainly knew about the books, “so when I was approached to kind of audition for it I jumped at the chance.”
Jumping into the shoes of such a classic character proved even more a daunting task than when he played Huck Finn in 1993. “This was more daunting than anything I’d ever felt before.” After all, the actor adds, he had “never been a part of anything that is so familiar to so many people and continues to have such a fanatical fan base. It is just such an important book to a lot of people.” Woods admits “having felt pressure going to New Zealand for the first time and trying to live up to other people’s vision as well as to follow through with my own.” However, that subsided once Wood and company started filming “and I just felt very comfortable in that character’s feet, so was able to forget about that pressure.” Now that it’s all over, Wood just feels that he has “done the best job I can and at the end of the day this can simply be my own interpretation.”
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring is the first novel in Tolkien’s mythical story of reluctantly heroic Hobbit Frodo, who forms an alliance, or fellowship, with the likes of Gandalf the Wizard, Legolas the elf, Gimli the Dwarf, Aragorn, Boromir and his three Hobbit friends Merry, Pippin and Samwise, to destroy the ring which he inadvertently inherited, a ring that is in fact the One Ring of the Dark Lord Sauron, Frodo must make an epic quest to the Cracks of Doom in order to destroy it.
Though a mythological fantasy, Elijah sees the Tolkien trilogy – and subsequently the films – as retaining a degree of contemporary relevance. “It has been able to be relevant throughout each decade since its release”, Wood explains. “I mean during the 60s it was massively popular probably due to the fact that it was during the Vietnam era, and it was embraced by the hippie culture.” Woods believes that its relevance has to do with those classic themes of friendship, loyalty, courage, honour and hope in the face of evil. I also think that you can equate whatever you want to as a metaphor of what the good versus evil is actually about. You can also take the recent events in our history and equate those to the books as well.” Wood believes that “hopefully people can see the movies and gain some sort of hope. I saw the film for a second time about two nights ago, and there were just certain lines of dialogue and certain elements to the film that just resonated with me even more.” Resonated, he says, because of “those moments where our characters are standing together and relying on each other, and we can do this and we can battle this and we can overcome this if we stick together and rely on each other and we have courage.”
Woods is unconcerned at how the die-hard fans of the novel will react to the omission of any key elements in the film. “I think that some of the fans know that there are definite things that were left out and many of them know specifically what has been left out or what’s been added. It is a film and it’s very difficult to encapsulate the entirety of a novel into the course of a 3 hour film and certainly this particular book is quite difficult – there are a lot of ins and outs and highways and byways that you cannot include as it would just be too long.”
There were many challenges for Elijah to take on this project, including the daunting task of shooting three feature films in one two-year period and in some instances, shooting footage from the third film at the beginning of the shoot. Wood recalls that at one point, as he was preparing to shoot a pivotal scene from film one, the sets got flooded and the production had to shoot a cover set. “That set happened to be a scene from film three and it was something that I hadn’t really given much thought about. I thought: You know we’ll get to that and I will grow with the character and I will eventually start thinking about that as we move on, but I was forced to immediately bring Frodo to a place that I hadn’t imagined that I was going with him for quite some time. But after the first couple of months we became so comfortable with our characters and knew for the most part the entirety of their journey that it was pretty easy to jump around because we essentially became our characters.”
As for leaving home to work on Lord of the Rings for 2 years, Elijah had no reservations to embark on both his – and Frodo’s – journey. “You know it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I couldn’t imagine passing up the chance to travel to New Zealand and live there, take an adventure with these people and in some ways with me and in some ways create history by filming the trilogy at the same time.”
Elijah began his career as a child actor, having made his screen debut at age 9 in Back to the Future 2. He has since appeared in substantive roles in such diverse films as Radio Flyer, Forever Young, The War and with fellow child star Macaulay Culkin in The Good Son. But unlike Culkin, Wood has been able to make the transition from child to adult actor with an apparent ease. “As a child I was always doing something that was more adult oriented, that weren’t especially geared to a child market, so I think that being associated with adult films was helpful and that it didn’t put me in a box as a child actor. I was always a child working amongst adults which I think was a great help and I think that as a child obviously at like 7, 8, or 9 I didn’t really have any kind of idea as to how to strategize. Therefore I really have to hand it to my agent and my mother for kind of helping me out on that particular part of the journey. Obviously as I got older I became more passionate about what I do and wiser as to how it all works. I myself started to make choices that were what I really wanted, that was challenging as an actor and that kept me growing and the films that I chose included those elements.”
Those included the Lord of the Rings trilogy, a series of films that resulted in Elijah embarking on the same monumental journey as his Hobbit. That is why he is fielding offers of other work “in order to promote this beautiful film which I will be doing for a little while.” Wood is hopeful that audiences “are going to be completely blown away” not only by the film, but by his action figure. “That was the best part; it’s so wicked,” he adds laughingly.