Elijah Wood on ‘Wilfred,’ the Final Season, and Talking Dogs

Elijah Wood Wilfred Interview
Jason Gann as Wilfred and Elijah Wood as Ryan in ‘Wilfred’ (Photo Credit: FX)
Wilfred‘s currently airing its fourth and final season on Wednesday nights at 10pm ET/PT on FXX, and fans of the series are unfortunately having to prepare themselves to say good-bye to the pot-smoking, trash-talking, sexually adventurous talking dog (played by writer/executive producer Jason Gann) and his best friend, Ryan. Wilfred has a passionate fan base that will miss the chemistry between Wood and Gann and the relationship they’ve created on screen as a big goofy dog and his confused but likable next door neighbor. And as we head into the series’ final stretch, Wood revealed in a conference call that he hasn’t yet made plans to actually watch the final episode. However, given the fact he took home Bear, it’s likely he’ll have a least one friend at his side when the series finale airs on August 20, 2014.

Elijah Wood Wilfred Interview

What do you think five years down the road will be the legacy of Wilfred? Do you think it’s contingent on how the series finale is received?

Elijah Wood: “Honestly, I’ve not given much thought to that. But, yeah, I think to a certain degree, I think Wilfred is a show that in some ways was always designed to be enjoyed as individual episodic television so that each piece could be enjoyed into itself or unto itself, whilst a deeper enjoyment can be gleaned from the whole, if you will. So, I still hear from people that go back and watch the first two or three seasons and enjoy them just in terms of the relationship between Wilfred and Ryan, which I think is at the core of the show.

But then there are also people who watch it because they want answers, and I think they enjoy watching the process of, ultimately, the development of Ryan’s character, as it pertains to Wilfred. So, I think, to a certain degree once it’s fully contextualized at the end, perhaps that will have some bearing on it as a whole. I’m really pleased with how it ultimately comes to an end and I think – without revealing anything – it has a sense of being definitive whilst still plays with ambiguity, which I think is really important. I think, to a certain degree, to me in some ways it’s not even about answering questions.

It’s really interesting how that has become a focal point for a lot of people and, obviously, it is for Ryan, too, to understand what Wilfred is to have a better understanding of himself. But in some ways, the answers are sort of irrelevant. It’s about one’s own development and also about the beauty of what that relationship is, regardless of what the manifestation is or what Wilfred is. I think, at the end of the day, at least I feel this way and I’m happy with it, regardless of what Wilfred is, it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is the relationship and Ryan’s own personal journey. So, yeah, to extrapolate, that was a long answer. But I think will it have bearing? Maybe not, maybe not. And I think five, six years down the road – I’ve honestly not thought about it, but I think it is a show that people seem to enjoy watching again, episodes again.

Like I said, I feel like as much as we are concerned about the whole in regards to a development of character and a story that we’re trying to tell, I also think that the show is enjoyable as individual pieces. And I think, hopefully, people will like to come back to that. I certainly love that relationship and I would be interested in watching it again. So, I’m curious. I don’t know, time will tell I suppose.”

On paper you can see how actors would look at the concept of Wilfred as involving a man and guy in a dog costume and think that isn’t for them. What is it that first attracted you to the role?

Elijah Wood: “Well, I think the pilot is the first thing that I read. There was only the pilot and it was the strangest thing I’d ever read and also the funniest. But I’d certainly never seen anything like it or read anything like it. So, that in and of itself was a real appeal. But it also reminded me of Harvey a little bit. I’m a real fan of Harvey and Jimmy Stewart’s performance and the sort of notion of what that film is about that it’s sort of up for interpretation what Harvey is. And I kind of felt the same way about Wilfred. It could be about a man’s break from reality by choice. As it pertains to Harvey you could say that Jimmy Stewart’s character was an alcoholic. There are so many different ways that you could interpret it and that was something that really fascinated me.

I also just on a very simple kind of level, the idea of the absurdity of a man in a cheap dog suit talking to another man whilst everyone else sees a dog was just something that really appealed to me. So, I just totally fell in love with it and then ultimately consequently having conversations with David Zuckerman about where he wanted the show to go excited me even further.”

What has made the series so endearing?

Elijah Wood: “Well, I think central to the story and to the show is that relationship, and I think that that has connected with people. And a large part of that is what Jason [Gann] does and the characterization of Wilfred. What he brings to that is always so extraordinary and as the actor who works opposite him I’m constantly challenged and surprised by what he brings to the table. I think that that relationship is sort of core.

I think it’s also that the scope of the show is beyond simply being about focusing on the absurdity of a man in a dog suit and this guy, and I think that appeals to people, too, I would imagine. That there’s depth to it. I think what I’m most proud of the show and where I feel like the show is at its best is when it’s balancing the absurd comedy with real drama and kind of a pathos and doing that really deftly. There are so many episodes throughout each season that I think really achieve that in a beautiful way that doesn’t feel that the scales are tipped too much in either direction. I would hope that people love that. It’s certainly what I love most about the show.”

There have been so many interesting supporting characters throughout the seasons of Wilfred. Is there a storyline with one particular character you wish would have been explored more over the course of the show?

Elijah Wood: “Oh, man. I don’t know if there’s anything that we didn’t explore enough of. I mean, I love…that’s a good question…I think the roommate from last season played by Kristen Schaal, that was, just because I absolutely adore Kristen Schaal I really wanted her to come back this season. And I thought what she did with that character was so brilliant and so funny and it was an absolute joy for all of us to work with her. She was actually an actress starting from season one I would tell the writers and David and everyone else who would listen that we need to get Kristen Schaal on the show just because I think she’s wonderful. So, to finally have cast her and get her on the show was really wonderful.

I thought the dynamic that she brought was really exciting. So just for personal reasons because I think she’s wonderful, I kind of wanted her to come back because I would love to have seen that character more.

And as far as the other, I mean I love the ‘Bruce’ character. I love how if you kind of take a step away, if you think about the fact that all of this might be manifest in Ryan’s mind, the fact that Ryan would manifest a sort of villainous character that is an antagonist to Wilfred is so absurd and so strange and kind of wonderful. So, I’ve always loved the Bruce episodes for how truly strange they get and, again, taking a step back and looking at it, it’s so complex, the manifestations. Those are some of my favorites. I always loved those episodes.”

Elijah Wood Wilfred Interview
Elijah Wood in ‘Wilfred’ (Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels / FX)

When you look back on your experience over the years with the show, what do you think you’ll remember the most from behind the scenes?

Elijah Wood: “Honestly, it would be the family that we created or that was created as a result of making the show on set. I think in a way the hardest thing to let go of when it all came to an end was the crew and the family that had been created over the years, because it was really the same group of people for the most part for the majority of the episodes over the course of four years. So when I think about the show, I really think about that. I think about Randall Einhorn directing every episode except for I think two in the first season. That’s kind of out of the norm, it’s not common, and certainly not for a comedy for a single director to direct every single episode. And so in that we were really fortunate and he had an incredible vision for the show.

Everything kind of descended from him. Our direct family and the sort of atmosphere on the set really changed from Randall. As it often does, it comes from the top. That’s really the kind of resounding memory I have. We got to go to work every day and have a laugh, and what a gift that was to work with people that you love, to work with material that was constantly hilarious. It was genuinely something I would look forward to every year, that for three months I got to go to work with these great people and have a laugh. And I’ll definitely miss that.”

Did you have an imaginary friend growing up and if you were someone else’s imaginary friend, what would you do or make them do?

Elijah Wood: “No, I didn’t have an imaginary friend. I was always fascinated by people who did and kind of fascinated by the notion because it is sort of a phenomena. A lot of kids, it seems, between the age of three and six tend to have a friend that they communicate with and I’ve always found that kind of amazing. But, no, I didn’t have that experience.

And if I were someone’s imaginary friend, I don’t know, I would be far less manipulative than Wilfred. I would really try and look out for the well being of the individual, I think. I would be a kinder imaginary friend.”

Now that the show is ending is there anything that either you were given or you asked for to take from the set?

Elijah Wood: “Yes. I have Bear in my possession and I have the Gatorade bong. There’s one of two, I think Jason has the other one. And actually a good friend of mine has a good portion of the basement. I was most sad to see the basement go. I think all of us felt a really strong connection to the space. We spent, obviously, a lot of time over the years in that set and I kind of was trying to advocate that someone literally take the whole set and build it on their property. But no one did. I was trying to get Randall to do it because he’s got a bit of land.

But a friend of mine actually took a lot of the furniture and it’s replicated in the basement in his house, which is pretty awesome. So, I can actually go to my friend’s house and sit in the basement. But I think that’s it. I don’t think I have anything else.

But Bear…I was actually really scared to take Bear home. I was primarily worried about where Bear was going to go and I didn’t want it to fall in the wrong hands or to be sold or anything, so I felt like I had to save it. I drove Bear home and put him in my house and sat him in a chair and it just felt so right. I was sitting there on my couch looking over at Bear.”

How do you feel about the Ryan we met in the premiere versus the Ryan we’re seeing now as his journey is coming to a close?

Elijah Wood: “Well, I think the Ryan we met initially was kind of, in general, he had really kind of hit an impasse in his life where he didn’t know where to go and he was sort of ready to end it. The character that he is now, I think, has developed a sense of strength and an understanding of what he needs to be happy and in some ways that it’s not about being happy, which I think is probably the greatest thing that he can learn. He also, in the earlier seasons, the way that he interacts with Wilfred is really to be easily manipulated and the sort of wool being pulled over his eyes quite simply. And now I think he’s far wiser to Wilfred’s methods. I think, ultimately, when you see the resolution of the show I think he really comes to an understanding of his place in the world and who he is and, more importantly, I think to be okay with not knowing.

I think that’s probably one of the greatest lessons of the show and for him in his life is that you can’t necessarily have all the answers. The sort of seeking for happiness and the pursuit of that and the pursuit of sort of clarity is ultimately futile. That is, it’s kind of about progressing through life and not knowing and the unknown being really good. I think that’s ultimately where he will come to and I think that’s important.”

Do you have any special connection with animals?

Elijah Wood: “I’ve always loved animals, yes, always. My family have always had dogs and cats, so I grew up with animals my whole life. I have many friends who have dogs and cats and are really connected to their lives and their animals. So, yeah, it’s been kind of a major timeline through my life is love of, certainly domestic animals, but also I’ve always loved animals, in general.”

How much of the show was scripted versus improv and were there many scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor every episode?

Elijah Wood: “Well, almost all of it, I would say 99% of the show is scripted, probably for a couple of reasons. One of them is that we kind of didn’t have enough time to play around too much. Everything is relatively specific, so yeah, there wasn’t a lot of improv. I can’t even really think about specific lines that may have been improv’d. We were doing six to eight pages of dialogue a day so it was tough to actually find the time to sort of play around because we were moving at such a pace.

But, yeah, every episode has a number of things that ended up on the cutting room floor. A lot of what ends up going – because we only have 20 some odd minutes of actual show time – a lot of what ends up going are actually jokes most of the time because each episode is encapsulating some kind of dramatic or story element and so each episode has to be in the service of that first before the jokes can work or exist.

So, a lot of what ends up going are jokes. In a way it would be kind of amazing to see all of that because there were some really great ideas and some great moments that ultimately didn’t make it because of having to have, just sort of the screen time for the story. So, there’s plenty. I feel like every episode has a few moments here and there that are really funny that just didn’t work for the story.

For everyone to know, there’s like I think maybe 20 scripts for Couch Beats that we never filmed, which kind of breaks my heart a little bit because we loved shooting those Couch Beats. They’re some of my favorite moments in the show where you kind of just sit with Ryan and Wilfred and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do or pertain to anything in regards to the story of each individual episode. They’re just sort of these stand-alone Ryan and Wilfred getting high moments that are sort of some of my favorite. I was told this season that there were up to 15 to 20 scripts that had been written for these kind of moments that we just couldn’t get to, which is kind of a shame.”

Ryan and Wilfred’s relationship has a lot to it that can still be played with, if not in a live action format then in some other medium like animation or a book/graphic novel. If anything like that were ever to come to fruition, would you want to be involved or would you rather sit back as a fan and just kind of enjoy those inclinations in a different medium?

Elijah Wood: “I actually have often thought of it being animated because there are sort of no boundaries within the context of animation. There’s so much that you can do. I’ve always actually really loved the little interstitial animated bits that they use for the logos on FX. I think they’re fantastic. I love them and I kind of love them so much that I sort of wish that there were whole episodes just with those characters because they’re kind of great. I love the animation style as well. So, I don’t know. If there were an animated show of Wilfred and it was Ryan and Wilfred, I would definitely be interested. I think it would be a fun environment from which to tell their stories and I think that would be fantastic.

Look, I love the characters still and I particularly love the character of Wilfred, so just seeing that character or both of them in some other iteration I think would be really interesting.”

Did you ever do any research within the mental health industry? There are people that suffer with Ryan’s condition or affliction so was there a thought given to that and did you do any research about how to play someone who sees creatures that are imaginary?

Elijah Wood: “Well, I think we were always aware that various symptoms that we were expressing were potentially real and linked to quite real mental afflictions. But it was always really important that it be undefined so I never did any research. Part of that was because we are not actually seeing Ryan from the perspective of an outsider to see how crazy he actually is. So, to a certain degree what he is experiencing for us, because we’re only seeing his perspective, we’re seeing it as real and, believe me, every absurd scenario that he would get himself involved in with Wilfred, we would say to him if you could actually see what is actually happening right now it would be really disturbing.

It was always on our minds and it was always on my mind, but I was never playing mentally disturbed because he was just experiencing Wilfred, so the reality that he’s in is that reality. The only way I think I would have had to play him slightly mentally handicapped would be if we were to break from that reality and actually see Ryan for what he really is, which is smoking a bong with a dog on a couch or sitting in a closet somewhere. Do you know what I mean? Because we never actually showed that I was to play it as what he’s really experiencing with us only afterwards questioning the reality of the world that he’s in and questioning his own sanity, as a sort of observational afterthought I think.

We were keenly aware, and I think it was also important to us and I’m sure David would speak to this as well, that we’re not necessarily poking fun at mental illness and I think for that we were also never trying to get at all specific with what that could be. We were really working within our own reality and a certain level of generalities as it pertains to what those symptoms were because we were never trying to make something accurate in regards to mental illness. I mean also, at the end of the day, it is a comedy, so as dark as the show gets and, certainly, as some of those symptoms are reflective of real mental illnesses, I think it was also important for us not to get too accurate or to poke fun too much, I think.”

-By Rebecca Murray

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