Interviews

Interview: Elijah Wood on ‘Wilfred’ Finale Expectations and the Show’s Legacy

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Wilfred is entering the home stretch toward its series finale after four years on the FX Networks, and the show has been seriously messing with its viewer’s minds. Last week’s episode saw some big character introspection for Ryan (Elijah Wood) and the mystery behind “The Flock of the Grey Shepard” continues to loom heavy, teasing answers about just what is Wilfred.

Following the airing of the episode, FXX gave journalists, including myself, the opportunity to ask a few questions via conference call to the extremely gracious and cool Elijah Wood (Lord of the Rings, Sin City) about what to expect when the curtain falls on the remaining episodes of Wilfred. Here are some of the highlights:

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Wilfred Elijah Wood Final 02The last episode was a bit of a mind trip. What did you think was going on when you originally were reading the script?

Oh, my God. Well, reading the script, it was honestly I think my favorite script that I’ve read, maybe in the entire show. It was so exciting. I read the season kind of in order and I read like one through three and then I read four and it just totally blew my mind.

And it’s honestly representative of some of my favorite elements of the show. When the show can get as surreal and twisted sort of psychologically as this episode gets, it’s sort of my favorite areas for exploration, especially when it allows for a visual way to explore sort of psychological things visually.

So, it’s one of my favorite episodes and I’m so glad that we were able to not only do it, but also one of the things, and I don’t know if this was clear, but we ended up shooting, once you get really trippy, we actually shot primarily all of that with anamorphic lenses, which was a real treat for us because typically we’re shooting at times with our DSLRs, and to be able to utilize the anamorphic wide screen was really exciting on a nerdy level for all of us.

And it was kind of cool, actually, we got these amazing anamorphic lenses and then apparently when we were finished using them they ended up going off to Star Wars, which is kind of awesome. Yeah, it’s totally awesome. But I don’t know if I have an answer for what I think Ryan is thinking.

You know, the thing that kind of blew my mind about the particular episode is that we actually delve into so many things that I think we as viewers, and to a certain degree Ryan, is concerned with, which is like seeing Wilfred step out of his suit. Basically, articulating all these things that are sort of deep in Ryan’s psyche, seeing them actually play out and to be able to come back from that as just something that he imagined in the hallucination is totally incredible.

And I think ultimately what it is, it’s a manifestation of his own psychological concerns and fears more than anything. It plays to his paranoia about what Wilfred is in its deepest sense really and allows us, because it’s a mind trip, it’s a hallucination, that allows us the ability to really delve into that and play with it, which was a blast.

What do you think down the road the legacy of Wilfred will be, and do you think that’s contingent on how the series finale is received?

Ooh, good question, man. 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 that watch it because they want answers and I think they enjoy watching the process of 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, I think it has a sense of being definitive whilst still plays with ambiguity, which I think is really important. I think, to a certain degree, 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 I think 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.

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.

Wilfred Elijah Wood Final 05

How do you view the Ryan we met in the premiere and the Ryan we will see in the series finale? How has the journey changed him?

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, and 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. And 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.

And I think that’s ultimately where he will come to and I think that’s important.

Were there any story lines with any of the supporting characters that you wish would have been explored more throughout the seasons?

Oh, man. I don’t know if there’s anything that we didn’t explore enough of. I think the roommate from last season played by Kristin Schaal, just because I absolutely adore Kristin 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. Starting from season one, I would tell the writers and David and everyone else who would listen that we need to get Kristin 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.

And 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, you know, 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.

WILFRED -- Key ArtDid you ever have an imaginary friend growing up?

Oh, man. 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?

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 [Einhorn] 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 a replicate 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. And 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.

Do you have anything else planned, like any new roles coming up that you want to talk a bit about?

Sure. There’s a film that I did earlier this year that just played the Edinburgh Film Festival called Set Fire to the Stars, which is a movie about Dylan Thomas’s first trip to the U.S. and the poet professor that brought him over to the U.S. That should be coming out sometime before the end of the year.

And then there’s a film called Cooties my production company produced that played at Sundance. That should be coming out also, hopefully, before the end of the year that Lionsgate is going to distribute. That’s pretty much it. There’s also something we produced called A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, which I’m extremely proud of. It’s written and directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, who is an extraordinary filmmaker. It’s her directorial debut as a feature film. It’s an Iranian Vampire Western in black and white that comes out in October. And I’m really excited about people getting a chance to see that.

Do you have any plans to watch and celebrate the series finale of Wilfred in any special way?

I don’t know. That’s a good question. We haven’t actually talked about it, but it would be kind of nice to have a little gathering. I don’t know. I had some friends that went to a friend of mine’s house, the owner of the new basement, if you will, and then a bunch of them watched the premiere sitting on the couch from the basement, which was kind of amazing.

And I was actually abroad so I couldn’t join them. I don’t know, I think it would be nice to have a small gathering to watch the final episode. I think it’ll be kind of emotional, but maybe we’ll sort of need each other because it’s an emotional ending and I haven’t seen the episode yet, but it definitely was, it’s an emotional evolution.

So, yeah, I don’t know. We don’t have any specific plans, but I think that would be great. Maybe your question will have sparked something.

Final Wilfred Elijah Wood 06

How much room was the cast given to improv on set and was there anything that continually ended up on the cutting room floor?

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, 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 the story is, 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, and 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 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” and 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. And 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.

Wilfred Elijah Wood Final 01

Speaking of the “Couch Beats”, if the show were to continue on in another medium at some point in the future such as an animated series, would you want to be involved in some capacity or would you step back and enjoy them as a fan and let someone else play Ryan?

That’s a great question. 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. And 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. And 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.

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Wilfred airs its final season Wednesday nights at 10pm, exclusively on FXX.

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