The “9″ Lives of Elijah Wood

Posted on 09. Sep, 2009 by Administrator in Film/TV, hCovers, Profiles

words by Devoe Yates, photos by Robert Todd Williamson

One of the mythical nine members of the Fellowship of the Ring - he even has a tattoo of the number nine in Tolkien script on his waist to prove it - Elijah Wood is back with another movie centered around the number nine, this one simply called 9. Based on his Oscar nominated short of the same name, Shane Acker’s 9 details the odyssey of a strange little mechanical puppet man who awakes after the fall of man to the steaming rubble of a destroyed world. He soon learns that he is not alone, and that there is a war brewing between the remaining inhabitants of Earth, his eight brethren and the evil robotic machines that blew out mankind’s candle long ago. The film is dark in that Tim Burton sort of way, with wry cleverness, death, and shadows aplenty amidst the jaw dropping animation.

On a fittingly gloomy day, Elijah stopped by the h offices to tell us of his recent adventures, and like the Hobbit, Frodo, that he is probably best known as, he is gentle and polite and yes, quite tiny. Having begun his acting career at the meager age of seven in Paula Abdul’s “Forever Your Girl” video, it has been a long, strange, and very successful road for Elijah, with roles in both critically touted masterpieces and box office hits, The Ice Storm, Sin City, Bobby, and Everything is Illuminated to name a few. But as he admits, his tale wasn’t necessarily the classic story of a young child being a huge movie buff, longing for a future as an acting powerhouse.

ElijahWood1web The 9 Lives of Elijah Wood

Elijah Wood in tie by Kendi Ties shirt and Herringbone Suit by Thom Browne Vintage Brogues

With boyish candor Elijah remembers his humble beginnings, “At the time, I was too young to have any real sense of what acting was. It was more fun initially, and then when I started doing films I fell in love with it, not just with acting but also with getting to travel and work with interesting people. All of it sort of appealed to me, but I never ended up training professionally. I think certainly within those first few years, I understood the difference intellectually between acting and just being the character, but I don’t really put too much stock in to a specific method, per se. I think I learned so much just through experience.”

Asked for a specific example of a recent experience that’s honed his acting chops, Elijah offers up a tale from the set of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. “Michel Gondry, at least on that film, he worked in a way that made us all feel slightly uncomfortable, but in the best way. There were times when we didn’t necessarily know if the camera was rolling or not, so we all kind of had this sense of having to be on our toes at all times, prepared for anything. It really worked in the context of the story we were trying to create. He was also great in the sense that you’d play the scene as written and then he would reconstruct a scene in a variety of ways by saying things like, ‘I think that in this particular take you should just start laughing’ and ‘anything that the other actor says, just laugh.’ That was a really interesting experience and I think I learned a lot in that regard, but I think one of the great lessons to learn as an actor – it’s just simply listening - listening to the other person as opposed to simply reading dialogue, so that, ultimately, what your response is, is coming from a natural place. I think that always made an impression on me.”

As for the differently skilled realm that is voice acting, 9 isn’t Elijah’s first foray into vocal artistry, having voiced the title character in the popular Spyro video game series and the leads in such animated features as Tom Thumb & Thumbelina and Happy Feet. Though voice acting is much less visceral, Elijah approaches the roles the same as he would any live action film. I certainly treat it like any other acting job that I have, I guess playing Mumble in Happy Feet would have been my real first experience in terms of a large-scale animated feature. The character itself was still a fully fleshed out character except you’re only focusing on the voice and doing the character with a sense of realism purely vocally. It doesn’t feel like any less of an acting experience, but you have to kind of forget the fact that you’re standing there in a room with a microphone. I guess in that way you can almost liken it to green screen.”
Often times in animated films, the voice actors are prepped for their scenes with drawings, roughly animated scenes, and descriptions of their world at a given moment, but for 9, there was a greater base to draw from as Elijah concedes, It was ultimately the short film that I fell in love with and kind of made me want to be a part of the film. The characters he had created were so unique and beautiful, but you also have to take into account that he created that short by himself over the course of four years. I wanted to be a part of fleshing out that story and finding out more because, I mean, the short only kind of gives you a glimpse. So with this, we did have that as a major finished reference point.”

Elijahwood2web The 9 Lives of Elijah Wood

Elijah Wood in Selvedge steichen jean, organic cotton joyce vest, and chocolate stripe shirt by Loden Dager, Vintage “Alden” Brogues

One might wonder how long an actor spends working on an animated feature film, and here Elijah gives his assessment. “Over the course of three years, I’d say all in all, it was probably a little over a week’s worth of work. There would be sessions that I’d come in for quickly when they needed a different line reading or they’d written some new parts to certain scenes and I’d come in for a couple hours here and there.”

And sadly, due to the fragmented nature of the voice recordings, there is little chance to work with the other actors.Most people came in separately and that’s the unfortunate aspect of most animations. I had one session with Jennifer Connelly, a couple of scenes with John C. Reilly, and I came in to the studio at the end of Crispin Glover’s session. It’s a little disjointed in that regard, it’s always better when you can actually be in the same room, and obviously, so much comes out of real interaction.”

Nevertheless, the chemistry does seem to pop in 9, as does the ornately envisioned world the little ones live in. With its dark mix of immense landscapes of destruction and its nightmarish robots, it’s a fantastical vision of the future, set in a parallel sci-fi universe, post World War II. Elijah agrees, I don’t know if it’s representative of what I think the end of the world would look like. But technology being our ruin is something that’s relevant. We are kind of run by technology now, you know? It’s something we can’t live without, and yet it serves to be a detriment to certain parts of our society. We’re completely pinned in – we’re run by it, even our cars run on computers now. But it’s not something that haunts me, I try and remain ignorant or carry around a certain amount of hope that we’re going to be alright for a while.”

And what if, like 9, it came to pass that he seemed to be the last man on Earth? Elijah responds, “That would be a lonely existence. But I think in being that alone, there’s also the fantasy of sneaking into places that you couldn’t go before. I’d investigate old buildings or places that were once off limits, I think that would be kind of interesting.”

Before the end of the world does arrive, Elijah does have other work on his hands. Several years ago he started his own record label, Simian Records, and has signed several bands, including The Apples in Stereo, Heloise and the Savoir Faire, and Brian Scary and the Shredding Tears. As for acquiring bands for his label, Elijah describes it as such, “The bands that I’ve worked with thus far I’ve met them through friends and been introduced to them in a very kind of organic way as opposed to going out to shows and looking for bands. The Apples in Stereo, I met them years ago at South By Southwest. They were in the process of recording that last record and they didn’t have a label, and I was starting a label, so it just all kind of happened naturally. That’s pretty much been the case for anybody that I’ve worked with thus far, it hasn’t necessarily required me to rush out there and look for bands, which I’d be perfectly happy to do as well.”

As for how Simian Records is prospering, Elijah replies, “Great! It’s slow but sure, which is sort of my own design, I guess. I’ve put out a few records so far and it’s been really enjoyable for me, being a music fan. Getting a chance to put out records that I care about and think people should listen to is the whole reason I stuck with it to begin with. It’s also an exciting time for bands to connect with audiences and fans – specifically having a relationship with their fans, and I think that’s great. The fans now, in some ways, have more power than they used to when the sort of major labels kind of ruled, you know?’

I prod Elijah as to the genesis of his label. “It gestated for a while. I had friends in the music industry, both on the music level and also in the business side and I was asking around for a while and asking people’s advice. It just sort of occurred to me one day – I would love to put out records and do it on a small level, knowing that I wasn’t ever going to go in to music from a creative standpoint and I was never going to play in a band or be in a band or write songs.”

But this isn’t entirely true, Elijah did lend some audio bonking to Viggo Mortensen’s recent outing with guitar virtuoso, Buckethead. Elijah grins widely, “We had done an interview for Lord of the Rings, myself, Dominique Monaghan, Billy Boyd, and Viggo – I think we were at a laser tag place. After the interview, Viggo was like, ‘Hey, do you want to come out to The Valley and come check out the studio where I’ve been recording with Buckethead?’ So we get out there and he was like, ‘Hey, do you guys want to play around and just jam and we’ll see what we can do?’ So we all just took turns with different instruments - some more rudimentary than others, but it was really fun and Buckethead was amazing.”

And as the fates tell it, Elijah did once tickle the ivories as well. I used to. I took piano lessons when I was younger, but I never stuck with it long enough, which I regret. I don’t have a lot of regrets in life, but that is something. I mean, I guess it’s not a regret if I pick it up again. I found myself getting frustrated with having to practice, I was impatient I guess. I would like to pick it up again and…I mean, I’d love to take up drums. Playing music with friends recreationally – I can definitely see that. I think that would be a lot of fun as I learn something and can actually play an instrument properly. But I can’t imagine writing music, necessarily.”

As for singing, Elijah has long been attached to an Iggy Pop biopic in which he would play the head Stooge himself. Elijah nods, “That is in the ether right now. I had been attached to that for a number of years and ultimately the financing fell through. I love the project and it scares the shit out of me, but I’m a huge fan of The Stooges. I think I’m happy that it hasn’t been shot yet, I feel like I’ll be more ready for that in a couple of years.” But the resounding question is whether or not Elijah would do the actual singing. I think that was part of the plan. I would like to try to do that if it made sense and it didn’t seem too different or take people out of the experience of watching that character. If it didn’t work and it sort of felt wrong, then I think it would hinder the character and hinder sort of what the movie was trying to achieve, I think. But it would be interesting to try it out at least.” I ask Elijah if he’s been practicing singing some of the songs just in case, “Sure! Sure, or just singing along in the car, in the shower (laughs).”

And it is here that Elijah must return to the gray skies outside, and perhaps to sing “I Wanna Be Your Dog” in the car on the way home. Like his character, 9 , there is an optimism in his step, a fresh innocence and sense of wonder that can be seen in many of the characters he’s created over the years. It would seem that there are many pots cooking on his odd little stove, and it will be interesting to see just what his strange brain takes a fancy to next. Whatever it is, it’s certain to from the heart, a very natural place.

Styled by Ashley Furnival
Groomed by Jenn Steicher

* To see the rest of the shoot buy your copy of h today.

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