Interview with Elijah Wood from Wilfred

Tomorrow night, FX will re-air the Wilfred Season 1 finale at 10/9c, followed by a special second season preview episode at 10:30/9:30c. Earlier this week, I had the great opportunity to participate in a press conference call with Elijah Wood, who plays Ryan on the show. In the series, Ryan is a depressed lawyer who, for some reason, sees his neighbor’s dog, Wilfred, as an adult man in a dog suit. The two of them hang out—often while smoking pot—and Wilfred always seems to talk Ryan into some scheme that could get him in trouble.

Elijah was such a friendly and genuine guy—and certainly different from Ryan. You could really sense his joy and excitement for his work on the series.

Jump with me to see what he had to say in response to my questions, followed by some other highlights from the call.

Kyle: Wilfred is manipulative and like the anti-Jiminy Cricket. Why do you think that Ryan continues to stay with him despite all the schemes and all the lies?

E. Wood: The scheming and the lying, that’s a good question. I think that as much as Wilfred cannot entirely be trusted, I also think that almost entirely those sorts of schemes and those lies end up in Ryan learning something and Ryan continuing to grow and advance as a person despite the method for getting him there. I think deep down, Ryan has a sense that Wilfred does have his best interest at heart, even though his methods aren’t exactly to be trusted. I think he’s aware of the fact that he’s on a path of self-discovery and a journey to bettering himself, and it’s his friend, it’s the person that knows him the best, it’s the person that understands him the best, again, despite the difficulties present in their relationship sometimes. It’s the person that he can actually rely on and that can truly understand what makes Ryan who he is.

Kyle: Some of the funniest moments on the show have been the improvised in-character banter between you and Jason Gann at the end of each episode. Will we be seeing more of that this season, and can you talk a little bit about the improvisation?

E. Wood: Well, actually none of those moments are improvised. The scripts are very finely tuned. We don’t actually have a lot of time for improvisation. We’re doing four day episodes, we’re running somewhere between six and nine pages a day of dialogue, so we’re moving relatively quickly. The pace is fast, so it’s difficult to get time for that kind of thing. And those beats, those couch moments of them sitting together and hanging out and smoking weed at the end of the episodes are also kind of finely-tuned little character moments. But, yes, you will be seeing more of them now that we’ve established that the basement does in fact still exist, which we can now reveal since people have seen the episode. Yes, we will see them hanging out in that space more for sure.

And here are some of the other highlights from the Q&A Session:

On unleashing Ryan’s dark side

E. Wood: It was a lot of fun. It provided a color to the character that was very different from the character we were introduced to and that we’ve only kind of ever alluded to that side of him in the first season until we saw it at the end, so it was great fun to play. It provided another layer and sort of insight into the darkness that lies within him that ultimately led him to the place that we found him in at the beginning of the first season. We won’t necessarily see that darkness again. He allowed himself to get to the precipice a little bit, and in doing that he almost lost everything that was holding him together, Wilfred included, and so we see him now having come out of that space, and I don’t think it’s likely that he’ll return there any time soon. But we now are aware of the fact that that exists, and to a certain degree I guess more importantly that is ultimately what led to his initial downfall, it was that sort of selfish activity and doing things that he knew was wrong despite the fact that he knew them that put him in the place that made Wilfred come into his life in the first place, I think.

On working with Robin Williams

E. Wood: Oh, it was a joy, it was such a treat for all of us. We’re all massive fans of his. And I’ve had the pleasure of working with Robin a number of times in the two Happy Feet films doing voice work, and he’s just a delightful human being, so incredibly humble and so hilarious, and obviously an icon, and to get a chance to bring him in to our world on Wilfred was a total joy. And it was funny, we were sitting across from each other doing a scene and we realized that, and he said it, that this is the first time that we actually got to play a scene together in the flesh, like in front of each other and on film, and he was saying how enjoyable that was, which was wonderful. It was great to actually have a tangible space to work in as actors. It was great. I think he had a wonderful time. He worked with us for a few days and I think he loved our crew, and he regaled people with stories and he spent almost all of his time hanging out on set. It was wonderful. It elevated our episode as well. It was a real treat for us.

On whether we will see Mary Steenburgen again this year

E. Wood: You will be seeing Mary again. And we particularly love working with her, she’s amazing. The one shame about doing these small episodes is that we only get our guests in for a short amount of time. Sometimes a character will feature literally for an episode only and so we only get them for a couple of days, or three days. And that was the case obviously last year with Mary because she was only in that one episode, but it felt like working with her, she left and we missed her. It felt like she was with us the entire time. She just has this beautiful presence to her and such warmth and kindness and … incredible in the role. She has the right amount of madness and sweetness in the character and I think she gave great insight as to where Ryan comes from. We were so excited to see her again and to work with her again this season. She’s wonderful.

On keeping a straight face while filming

E. Wood: Oh man, yes, I must say it’s really funny. I was actually talking about this on set the other day, but the first season I rarely broke. It was actually funny, we were about a day or two before we were finished on the first season and Wilfred had this line, it was a nebulous line, it didn’t seem particularly funny or outlandish but he just said something that, I think Wilfred’s line was I wasn’t finished yet, Ryan, or something, I had interrupted him, but I clearly hadn’t, and it was that line, I didn’t break all season for some reason, even though everything we were doing was hilarious and Jason was constantly funny, but I never broke until that line. It was the weirdest thing to break in.

And this season has been the total opposite. I laughed so much this season and broke in so much more. I don’t really know why that is. I don’t know if it’s because the material is funnier this season or if, I don’t know, if I’m more comfortable with what we’re doing and what we’re creating that I’m laughing more, but Jason has made me laugh a lot this season. It’s been hilarious. And I can’t quite put my finger on it. I literally was talking about this the other day, it’s like what the … is it about this season, why am I suddenly laughing at everything. And we’ve had a couple of moments, like doing some of those couch … at the end, where there was one thing, he changed a line of dialogue in one of the couch … and you’ll see it in the season, he changed one word and that one word change made the line so ridiculously funny that I broke and then every time we tried to do it again I knew it was coming, so we literally had to walk off set and clear the air, because he was laughing as well. It was great. It’s been a really fun season. It’s sort of ridiculous how much fun it is to come to work. It’s just one of those jobs where every day I look forward to seeing everyone, every day I look forward to the material that we get a chance to make come to life. It’s really a blessing. It’s awesome.

On what about the show resonates with viewers

E. Wood: I don’t know. The thing I love about the show, and I don’t know if this is why people respond to it so much, but what I love most about the show is that it can be enjoyed on multiple levels. And I think that it’s a very multi-layered show, and I think that it really became even more multi-layered toward the latter part of the first season. And I love that about it. I love that there are some episodes that aren’t as reliant on comedy, that are actually about characters and internally what’s going on and there’s this underlying theme of the cerebral to the show that I love, and yet it can also be enjoyed on this level of just being hilarious, that a guy is talking to another guy in a dog suit. And I think it’s those things that I love most about it. I suppose that’s why people respond to it. I think it’s definitely unique. I don’t think that there’s anything quite like it on television.

I think those are some of the elements that I was most intrigued about and why I was excited to be a part of it. It doesn’t feel like a typical sitcom or comedy, it feels like we have the opportunity to take some interesting risks and to delve into stories that aren’t altogether common in the comedy space, which feels really exciting, and we have the freedom to do that on the network that we’re on. So maybe that’s why it feels to me like a breath of fresh air, not to be presumptuous, but I’m assuming that that’s probably why people like it. But at the end of the day it’s also a guy and another guy in a dog suit sitting around smoking pot, so that’s intrinsically funny as well.

On what he’d like to see happen in the future on the show

E. Wood: There’s a lot of ideas that get thrown around. I would love to see Ryan as Wilfred at some point, in some kind of strange existential dream. I’ve always thought that that visually would be really weird. What else? I don’t know if there’s anything else. I have an idea of where I want it to go. I have an idea of how I’d like the show to end, which I’d probably rather not say in case it lets the cat out of the bag in regards to something that we might actually do. But yes, there are a lot of things that I think we can explore. My favorite elements sometimes of the show are when the show gets really trippy and you don’t quite know what’s real and what isn’t. There are some episodes like that this season and I’d like to see some more of that. I think there’s a lot we can explore with that, exploring symbolism and fever dreams, which I think give insight into what is psychologically happening with the character. I’d like to see more of that, where we can put our audience in a place of not quite knowing where they are and what’s really going on, so I’d like to see more of that.

On whether Bear’s gender is going to remain a mystery

E. Wood: Bear’s gender will never be defined, I’ll say that. We’ve actually, I think, taken to calling Bear it, I’m pretty sure I’m correct in saying that, so Bear doesn’t actually have a gender. It’s a totally ambiguous gender. It’s funny, I suppose he probably has called him he I need to check back on the first season. I can’t really remember. But Bear is an undefined gender. Bear features a lot this season. Bear really comes into its own. I love that character. And I think what’s so interesting about the relationship between Wilfred and Bear is Bear is to Wilfred as Wilfred is to Ryan in a way, and it’s clearly something that’s internally happening with Wilfred and we definitely explore that a little bit more this season. It’s very funny.

On the differences between working on television versus film

E. Wood: The pace is more intense, we move at a much faster rate than films typically do. Like I said earlier, we’re doing about four day episodes, so it’s quite a lot of material in a short amount of time, so the pace is fast, I’m having to keep up. I have just about enough time to get home every night, go over the next day’s work, get some sleep, and go at it again. So that’s a marked difference. And I think the thing that was interesting for me, this is all relatively new being on a television show and being within a comedy, and what was so interesting last year is when it first aired the realization of the fact that it was in people’s living rooms every week, it was such an interesting experience. I never experienced that. I’m used to making something over x amount of time, releasing it on to the world in cinemas, and then it goes away. But we were in people’s living rooms for the course of the summer, which was so interesting, it was the thing that was kind of happening every week and that people were constantly reacting to, and it was an enjoyable experience and I’m looking forward to people seeing it again and reacting to more of what we’ve done.

On getting back into the role of Frodo

E. Wood: It was a joy. I actually watched “The Fellowship of the Ring” prior to working on “The Hobbit” again. I thought it would be a good idea to do a refresh, but it was actually easy, and I think what surprised me most about it, I expected it to be very strange and trippy in a way, and what was almost more surprising is how normal it felt. I remember I was on set in Bag End and I was looking around and I was in the feet and wig and ears and in my costume and I was looking around and it felt like no time had passed and we were just still working on “Lord of the Rings.” And I think in some ways that tripped me out more than anything, at just how, like, oh yes, here we are again, this is what we’ve been doing all this time.
Thanks to Elijah for the great call! Don’t forget to check out the Wilfred Season 1 finale at 10/9c tomorrow, followed by a special second season preview episode at 10:30/9:30c.

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