Elijah Wood: the blockbuster star with an indie heart
Early in the new millennium Elijah Wood was the darling of Hollywood as the star of “The Lord of the Rings,” one of the biggest movie series of all time.
Yet fans of Peter Jackson’s films based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novels — combined budget, $283 million — would be forgiven for being unable to name a single movie he has made since.
The 35-year-old is that rare breed of film star — an actor who chose to chase the scripts rather than the big paydays after his early success.
“Making ‘Rings’ was like making the world’s largest independent film in a way, the spirit of it, and that’s kind of what I connect to,” he told AFP at the annual Sundance Film Festival in the mountains of Utah.
“Ultimately I just want to be a part of great storytelling, and it sort of doesn’t matter, the scale.”
Wood, a Sundance regular, has returned to the ski resort of Park City for his latest movie, “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore,” said to be the only festival entrant with a grammatical sentence as its title.
“Green Room” actor Macon Blair’s directorial debut is a bloody crime comedy with an escalating body count in the best traditions of Quentin Tarantino, Guy Richie, the Coen brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson.
It stars Melanie Lynskey (“Heavenly Creatures”) as a nursing assistant worn down by people’s unkindness who eventually snaps when her house is burglarized.
– Child star to superstar –
Wood, in a rare comic turn as Lynskey’s metal-head, martial-arts-geek neighbor, has been winning early acclaim for the role.
The second of three children who grew up at his parents’ delicatessen in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the actor has built up an impressive catalogue of more than 70 film credits.
His mother recognized his gift for performing early and sent him to an International Modeling and Talent Association convention in Los Angeles.
He began to pick up minor TV roles and has a credit as “Video Game Boy” in “Back to the Future Part II” but became an in-demand child actor after starring in Barry Levinson’s 1990 family drama “Avalon.”
He made the difficult transition into a versatile, credible grown-up actor with parts in films such as “Deep Impact” and “The Faculty” (both 1998) before Jackson came calling.
His work in the director’s hugely successful film adaptations of Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King” (2001-3) turned him into a bona fide superstar.
The $3 billion franchise — each part, at its peak, placed among the five highest grossing movies up to then — ensured that Wood could pick and choose his roles.
His supporting parts in Michel Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and his turn as a mute sociopath in “Sin City” were warmly received.
– ‘New voices’ –
But football hooliganism drama “Green Street” was panned while his voice role on “Happy Feet” and TV work on “American Dad” and “Robot Chicken” didn’t exactly draw the spotlight.
Apart from a reprisal of his role as Frodo Baggins in the first of Jackson’s “The Hobbit” trilogy, his resume has since largely consisted of obscure shorts and indie films most would not have heard of.
His net worth is estimated at $18 million, a relatively paltry sum in Hollywood. That equates to around four months’ earnings for Dwayne Johnson, Matt Damon or Tom Cruise.
“Sometimes, when things get too big or unwieldy, you don’t feel connected to it, which was not the case with ‘Lord of the Rings’ at all,” Wood told AFP.
“I like working on things that are a little bit smaller.”
The good news, he said, is that independent film is in good shape, with new players like Netflix — which financed “I Don’t Feel at Home” — producing original content of a sufficient quality to challenge the big studios.
“That’s why we come to film festivals like this — to see movies from around the world and domestically that are made by filmmakers” who are creating something original, not making the latest, tired sequel about some comic book hero, he said.
“We want to see emerging new voices and new stories.”