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Maniac: Elijah Wood Interview

By Meredith Alloway · June 26, 2013

Elijah Wood has been around since he was a kid. He’s maintained a rare, spectacular momentum that many other actors can’t match. With his turn as a serial killer in Maniac, it’s clear why. He’s constantly re-inventing himself and choosing roles that are surprising and exciting. Portraying the doe-eyed, innocent but deceptive serial killer Frank proves he’s got a knack for horror. His eyes are melancholy Poor guy, but his actions are brutal Not the scalp!

Breathing a whole new energy into the classic 1980s film, Elijah and I had some time to talk serial-killer-shop. It’s baffling how dissimilar from his character he seemed. Sitting across from me in a blue jean button up and with a welcoming, unassuming smile, I wasn’t convinced. I had to know how he got into the headspace of someone much darker.

ATW: Did you read Psycho? Frank clearly has a mommy complex.

W: The parallel is certainly there, a character that we’d get insight into the mother relationship having had an influence on the psychotic behavior. I think it’s also a character we’re familiar with. I think that’s what was important to me in playing him was to make him as real as possible, human. I didn’t really use any references in thinking about how I was going to play the character. I’ve done a lot of reading in the past just for my own interest just about serial killers. I’m sure some of that was in the back of my mind.

ATW: Your roles in Sin City and then Wes Anderson’s short in Paris, je t’aime are also very dark. Did you use similar methods to get into that headspace of a killer?

K: The character in Sin City exists so specifically in the world of Frank Miller. It’s very much a graphic novel character, there’s something heightened about the character. It felt different. Frank, there are layers to him. He’s a real person. It’s a horror film, but at the end of the day it was important that the character be as grounded and nuanced as possible.

ATW: One of the challenges of playing a killer is believing your humanity. What is that for Frank?

W: I think his humanity is directly related to his vulnerability. He’s not a character without fear. He’s socially inept.

ATW: The line ‘Let me massage you a little bit longer…’

W: [laughs] It’s so disturbing. When he’s not killing, he’s in his internal life at home or he’s out having these stilted, strange interactions with people that are sort of sad.

ATW: There’s another voice in Frank’s head that he’s constantly fighting with – this angel and demon within him. Who are they?

W: I think the demon is his compulsion to kill. Maybe there’s an inner character I suppose. It’s based on the pain he derived from being neglected as a child. It’s anger towards his mother. The other side is the fact that he’s aware of this compulsion, but he doesn’t want to do it.

ATW: What’s interesting about Frank is he’s not a total sociopath. He doesn’t like what he’s doing, and it makes him complex.

W: Well, he doesn’t like what he’s doing…

ATW: But he still does it…

W: Yeaaaa….he doesn’t like what he’s doing after the fact. But he does. He can’t help himself. He put the scalps on the mannequins, taking a souvenir home with him. You hear about Jeffrey Dahmer doing that, keeping pieces of the body around as really a way to keep them with him.

ATW: You have a line in the movie…

W: ‘I don’t want to kill you; I want to keep you?’

ATW: Well there’s that! But also ‘Hair is the only thing that lasts forever.’

W: Yea, it’s disturbing!

ATW: Shooting these scenes, knowing it’s actually your hands strangling someone-was that difficult?

W: There’s an abstraction when you’re dealing with a prosthetic, that’s kind of fun. When there isn’t anything to indicate that it’s fake, it can be a little uncomfortable. For me, one of the more difficult things was pushing that one woman’s head under the water. It’s actually someone having to hold their breath. When it comes down to someone else’s safety and comfort level, I’m always really sensitive to that. There’s little to separate reality from fiction in those moments.

ATW: You’ve got Toad Road coming up that you’re producing. How is being behind the camera different artistically?

W: They’re similar and they’re different. I love filmmaking, the process wholly and completely. As a producer it’s gratifying to create something from its inception. Toad Road is something we acquired and then ended up getting it picked up for distribution. It’s a film we believe in, and we believe people should see it. That’s gratifying, to be able to help facilitate people’s storytelling and unique perspectives.

ATW: You have two other horror films coming up: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and Cooties!

W: These are all from my horror film production company. A Girl Walks Home Alone is an Iranian vampire film in black and white and Farsi.  Cooties is a film we’re about to shoot in July. It’s actually a horror comedy about zombie children. There’s a movie called Henley in the works that’s watching a serial killer develop from a young age into adulthood. We have a film called Curse the Darkness…

ATW: So they’re all romantic comedies?

W: [He laughs] Right.

ATW: [Elijah’s wearing a mysterious ring (ironic?) that I’ve been eyeing the whole interview. I have to ask.] What’s on your ring?

W: It’s Hebrew for If not now, when?

IFC Midnight is releasing Maniac in LA July 28th! It’s currently out in NYC and on VOD nationwide!