The filmography of Elijah Wood has some dark moments, be it his depiction of the killer Kevin in Sin City or his twisted relationship with the titular canine in the sitcom Wilfred, which returns to FX on Wednesday. But there isn’t much in the Lord of the Rings actor’s résumé that would prepare you for his new movie, Maniac. Directed by Franck Khalfoun (P2) and co-penned by French gore-teur Alexandre Aja (High Tension, Piranha 3D) this remake of the 1980 cult slasher flick stars Wood as a mannequin renovator and serial killer whose passions come together in extremely violent fashion.
Below, Wood talks about Maniac — which opens this Friday at New York’s IFC Center and will also be available on VOD — his love of genre movies, and the upcoming horror film he can’t wait to see.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What attracted you to Maniac?
ELIJAH WOOD: I was a fan of Alex Aja’s work, but the thing that intrigued me the most was the fact that it was for the most part entirely from the point-of-view of the killer. I’m not a huge fan of horror film remakes because I find that most of them don’t add anything to the original film. They’ve remade a lot of great movies and not done any justice to them. But this was an exception because I felt it was such a different take on the original material.
Because it’s a POV film, you always feel like you are in the presence of the killer. But, watching the movie, I had no idea how much you would have physically been on set.
It’s funny, because it was initially proposed as, “It’ll only be two weeks of work because we’re just going to shoot your reflection.” I think everyone was a little bit naïve — no one had made a POV film before, myself included. The thinking at the time was, “Well, we’ll just get a double for your hands or anything that needs to come in the frame.” I quickly realized that whoever’s hands those would be would have to be making my decisions. So I said, “I actually should be around every day.”
It proved to be an incredible journey that we went on for those four weeks and far more challenging than I think any of us ever realized because of the limitations that shooting scenes in a POV perspective creates. Every day was a puzzle that we had to work out. We would block out the scene traditionally and then figure out how we would get the camera in there and then also how I would get myself in there.
I know you’re a big fan of horror movies. Were you looking to star in one?
It certainly helped that I’m a fan of the genre, but I wasn’t actively looking for a horror film at the time. I think the genre’s being served extremely well at the moment. There are some fantastic filmmakers in the U.S. that have made some great films in recent years and it’s exploding in other parts of the world. But I wasn’t really looking for a role, it just came to me. I was friends with one of the producers and that’s how it arrived at my doorstep.
This is the most extreme role you’ve ever played.
Was it fun to inhabit that space?
Absolutely. It provided a challenge which I’ve never had before, which was to try and make a killer like this, who is involved in such brutality, believable and to try to make him as rooted and grounded as possible. The notion of playing a darker character was intriguing to me. It’s not something that I’ve had the opportunity to do much in the past beyond Kevin in Sin City. To flesh out a character and try to find a great amount of complexity within a character, as opposed to just a single note of evil, was an exciting proposition.
The first out-and-out horror movie you appeared in was Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty. What do you remember about that?
It was great. That movie was coming at what was the tail end of that Scream-inspired revisit to teenage horror films. Kevin Williamson [who wrote both Scream and The Faculty] started a great thing and a bad thing at the same time. That always happens when something really great comes out — there are a million imitators. The Faculty came in right at the end and I remember getting the script and being aware of that and a little bit wary of jumping into what was such a popular genre and not one I personally loved beyond the ones that established it. But Rodriguez was attached, which I found very exciting because I knew he would do something really interesting with the film. The way it was cast was really smart and there’s some great little homages in there. It was a blast. It was a great time. It was an awesome summer in Austin, Texas, making an alien horror movie! [Laughs]
You recently set up a horror movie production company called Woodshed. What can you tell us about that?
We’ve actually changed the name to SpectreVision. But I’ve been a fan of the genre for a long time. I met my producing partners through another project that we were producing together that was not in the horror genre but we became friends and quickly realized that we shared a mutual love and appreciation for horror. A lot of the best films in the last 20 years have come from Europe and other parts of the world. And we were really inspired by those movies as well as films from the ’70s and early ’80s when it felt like people were taking the genre seriously. I love movies where you can have great storytelling and a great script with a really wonderful cast and yet still tell a compelling, horrific story. Those are the kind of movies that we’re inspired by and the kind of movies that we want to make.
Could you talk about some of the films you’re producing?
Well, we’re executive-producing a film called A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which is an Iranian vampire western.
Not another Iranian vampire western!
[Laughs] Well, I’m sorry. It’s shot in black-and-white. It’s so beautiful. I’ve seen a couple of edits of it recently. It’s so stunning and it’s entirely in Farsi. So that’ll be our first film to be released. We’re hoping to get it into festivals this summer. And we’re going into production on a film called Cooties that Leigh Whannell, of Insidious and Saw, wrote for us with Ian Brennan from Glee. It’s probably reflective of our most commercial, exploitation movie content. It’s about a zombie virus which effects children pre-puberty in this school, and it’s very much a horror comedy.
Do you think this is a good time for horror?
Have you seen You’re Next yet?
F—, man, I’m dying to see that movie. I [missed it] at Fantastic Fest the year that it screened. Oh, man, I can’t wait to see that. It looks incredible. It has one of the most beautifully cut-together trailers I’ve seen in a long time.
Elijah Wood talks more about his fascination with horror in the current issue of Entertainment Weekly.
You can check out the trailer for Maniac below.