Capone Sits Down For A Chat With Elijah Wood About 9, Geek Stuff, And Much More!!
Published at: Sept. 11, 2009, 9 a.m. CST by merrick
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here, with my final interview with a member of the creative team behind the dark animated feature 9, which opens Wednesday (9-9-09). After talking to director Shane Acker, as well as producer Tim Burton and voice actor Jennifer Connelly, I now get to sit down with the voice of 9 himself, Elijah Wood. Much like Connelly, Wood has been acting practically since he could walk. But more than simply an actor, Elijah Wood is one of filmdom's greatest fanboys, as you'll probably pick up from the many avenues our conversation takes us. He's insanely curious about so many different types of films, and has a very clear memory about the films that influenced and affected him as a kid growing up.
I ran into him several times at Comic-Con leading up to this interview, at screenings of DISTRICT 9 and INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, so it was clear to me that he wasn't just in San Diego to do press; he was there to take in the sights and sounds of his geek peers. He also managed to endure all 24 hours of last year's Butt Numb-a-Thon, the ultimate geek hazing. It struck me as funny that 9 also happens to be about a collection of nine characters attempting to stop a source of tremendous evil and destruction, but if any one can handle being the leader of such a "fellowship," it's Wood. (Yes, I did get to lob a few HOBBIT questions at him.)
Our interview took place mere moments after Wood inadvertently just missed crossing paths with the interview subject I'd spoken to just before talking to him, Chan-wook Park, who was at Comic-Con promoting his latest piece of outstanding filmmaking, THIRST. Wood's disappointment at not getting to meet the writer-director was palpable, but he braved on. Enjoy Elijah Wood…
Capone: I think Park was meeting with people from Wes Craven’s production company. You must have walked right by where they were meeting.
Elijah Wood: Really?! I am really excited about…what is his vampire movie called?
Capone: THIRST. They are screening it tonight actually.
EW: Have you seen it?
Capone: It’s like a really different vampire movie.
EW: It looks like it.
Capone: He’s going for ultra-realism. They took out all of the gothic elements and all of the mysticism, it’s strictly a disease. It’s like a disease that this guy gets through medical experiments and…
Capone: Yeah and it’s really bloody, too!
EW: Is it?
Capone: Yeah, and it’s all about guilt, since it revolves around a Catholic priest.
EW: Of course, it’s going to be heavy. Chan-wook Park is amazing.
Capone: So let’s talk about 9 a little bit.
EW: Sure! Have you seen it?
Capone: No, but I have a history with the short, because I was on a short film jury at the Chicago Film Festival a few years ago, and it was one of the films that played. I had to actually watch it a couple of times, because I couldn’t figure out from the short whether it was stop motion or if it was digital. I finally had to come to the conclusion that the movement of the camera was too sophisticated for it to be stop motion. We gave it the top prize for the shorts. But I haven’t seen the feature film, but I’ve talked to Tim [Burton] and Jennifer [Connelly] and Shane [Acker] yesterday. It seems like the kind of film where there is enough going on philosophically that you could really sit down and talk to Shane on a lot of levels and really get into it with him. Can you tell me a little bit about some of the things you talked to him about about the world of the film?
EW: Yeah, I mean we talked a lot about specifically the character of 9. The world, and it’s interesting, because I feel like we have almost talked more about the world in the last two days than we did in the course of making the film in an odd way, because we were talking about the notion that he created this world that is so vast and in a way with the film, you are only getting a glimpse. You are getting a glimpse of these characters, a little bit of context as to who they are, a little bit of context as to how the world came to be what it is now in a sort of post-apocalyptic sense, but there are so many things within that that can be explored.
There are a lot of themes, certainly that sort of notion of man’s lust for power ultimately turning on him, man creates machine for good, machine then ultimately is used for evil, therefore machine turns on man and destroys man. There’s that classic kind of theme present within the story, and there’s also this notion of essentially we are dealing with all mechanical characters, so it’s machines versus these other kind of creatures that are also machines in and of themselves, but there is humanity within them, literal soul within them and so it’s also a major theme within the course of the film, the notion that the human soul, if put to good, can solve problems and ultimately create a better world. There’s a little bit of that in there as well.
Capone: I love the metaphor that humans, or what passes for human, are these squishy very fragile looking burlap characters and that’s how he sees humanity versus this giant machine, literally machine with capitol “M.” I though, “Wow that’s a really dark look at humanity, where we are just pawns to machines, and we are.” I mean, I’ve got eight electronic devices in my bag.
EW: Totally. It definitely is commentary on that as well; our connection to technology and how we are kind of ruled by technology as well.
Capone: You have done voice work before in animation and in video games, is there a key to making it sound natural? There certainly have been people who have done it, where just sound bad. It sounds like they're reciting.
EW: Where people just kind of phone it in?
Capone: Is there a key to making it sound natural?
EW: Well, I would harbor a guess that maybe some of that is the actor may not be fully invested in the project that he or she is doing, and they feel like their voice is enough to lend to the project, and perhaps that’s what it is.
Capone: I guarantee you that’s what a lot of it is.
EW: With some of these larger films and they get these huge casts that sort of pour the money into it, and it’s necessarily for the art of the project or the story perhaps. There’s no specific example that I can come up with, but I think that the process for creating and developing a character in an animated film is very much the same as it would be for an actor working in a regular live-action film. You take it just as seriously, I certainly have. It’s a character with a beginning, middle, and an end that takes an arc over the course of the film. I worked with Shane to develop that character, and I think from a vocal stand point, to make it seem that it’s connected to the character, that it feels like the character is a real breathing thing, it’s just simply to believe in it, just as much as you would if you were performing it in live-action.
Capone: Are you an active person in the sound booth? When you are recording the part, do you move around?
EW: I think it’s actually difficult not to in a way, you know, especially when it comes to action sequences, because you are just trying your best in this static environment to imbue your voice with a sense of physicality, essentially. So in order to do that, your body naturally moves to help your voice achieve that idea. I think there are some people that are more physical than others, but yeah it’s hard not to be, because it is interesting. You are in a completely static, sterile environment, and you have these sequences that are so dramatic and so visceral and you are having to, with your voice, invoke all of those things, but I also love how that’s part of the challenge. That’s part of the fun of it as well.
Capone: Whenever I talk to anyone about animation work, the best performers are like that. They just get into it, and it’s a nightmare sometimes for the sound engineer, but yeah that seems to be the way to go. Let’s talk a little bit about your history of your love of animation. What do you remember liking when you were younger and what to you follow now in terms of there are so many different kinds of animation--between something like WALTZ WITH BASHIR or PERSEPOLIS or the Pixar stuff. What are you digging today, and what do you remember growing up liking a lot?
EW: I grew up with certainly Disney animated films, the classic tent-pole films that I think every child is exposed to at a young age, but things I remember vividly seeing THE SECRET OF NIMH as a child and being completely blown away by that. I think that was probably the first animated film that had a real darkness to it that I was exposed to that I really loved. As I got older, I don’t think I was exposed to films outside of the U.S. or outside of the traditional channels until I got older, so seeing things like Miyazaki's films and any of these sort of avant garde films or even AKIRA, for instance, I think I saw that when I was much older.
But that opened me up to a world of animation that I realized that anything was possible, that it wasn’t just these family films that you are exposed to when you are growing up, but that you can create worlds that are just as dramatic and intense as proper action films or real dramatic films, but do it in an animated world with really innovative amazing animation, so I was really blown away by that and obviously a massive Pixar fan. I think what’s being done now, WALTZ WITH BASHIR is a really great example, where taking a pseudo-documentary and using animation to tell the story… It’s a beautiful film, but it’s also helps to make the subject matter a little easier to handle and a little bit more palatable in a way, because the subject matter is so intense and what these characters go through and the story that they are telling is so intense that that animation kind of helps give you a little bit of arm's length perspective from some of the intensity of it as well, you know?
Capone: Yeah. As much as I love just talking to directors in general, the animation directors have the best stories, about failed experiments and the changing character developments. The Pixar guys are great about telling stories.
EW: Are they? I managed to meet [John] Lasseter yesterday. I was so excited.
Capone: I got to talk to Miyazaki yesterday, so I know exactly what you mean.
EW: Whoa! I met him very briefly.
Capone: I wanted to meet Lasseter. He is actually one of the few Pixar guys I haven’t talked with, and we were within five feet of him a couple of times yesterday, but we saw the Miyazaki film last night.
EW: How is it?
Capone: It’s beautiful and energetic and youthful.
EW: Is it PONYO?
Capone: I get to meet a lot of great people here this week, but Miyasaki will be the only one who nearly left me speechless.
EW: That’s how I felt, too!
Capone: You are in the presence of a legend.
EW: Who did PAPRIKA, by the way? Did you see PAPRIKA?
Capone: From Japan, sure. [Satoshi Kon directed.]
EW: That movie blew my mind, too. That also pushed the envelope of what animation is, and it was kind of almost like a total mind-head trip, that film, from a visual stand point.
Capone: It was. You mentioned THE SECRET OF NIMH as being dark, and 9 is at least as dark.
EW: It is.
Capone: Are people ready for like a post-apocalyptic animated American film? Certainly a lot of Japanese films have done that.
EW: I know. That is sort of what made me excited about it, too. That we are not necessarily making these kinds of movies in the states, and I think that the studios… there are definitely great animated movies that come out every year, for sure, but there are also a lot of movies that are out of the same crop, that are sort of made for the same audiences. There aren’t a lot of movies that are taking a real chance to create something new and maybe appealing to a slightly older audience. I was really intrigued by that, to be a part of something that evoked more of the films that are being made in Europe or in Japan.
Capone: I’m actually hoping for a day when the dark quality of any animated film maybe isn’t noticed as much. Even about UP, people are saying the ending is sad, or that everyone cries at the beginning.
EW: I love that. To me, that's a triumph.
Capone: One of the things I love so much about the short was that there was no dialogue in it, and I’m not sure if you are aware, Tim had actually encouraged Shane to try to maybe work on a script with no dialogue.
EW: I had heard that.
Capone: I’m so familiar with the short, so to hear 9 speak took some getting used to9, but I guess there are big passages in the film where there is very little or no dialogue.
EW: That is true. That is definitely true.
Capone: Yeah, you might have not had a job!
EW: It’s also rare that you get the opportunity to see… I was exposed to the short first as well.
Capone: What do you remember about that initial exposure?
EW: The animation style. There was nothing I could really compare it to, like I had never seen anything quite like it. The character and design of the characters made out of organic objects that were clearly sort of found objects. I found that to be really interesting and creative. It’s a rare thing that you get approached to do a film and you get to actually see a large chunk of what that film is going to be. It was essentially like watching a preview of the movie. You never really get that. I got that with SIN CITY before, because Robert [Rodriguez] did that little short beforehand which ended up being the opening of the movie, but aside from that. So I was so intrigued, the short is a glimpse and it leads you to want to know who these characters are and what the world is and so that, just as a person watching it, I wanted to be a part of whatever that continuation of the story was or the explanation of the story or the explanation of who these characters were and what that world was. I was also intrigued at the notion that Shane had done it completely on his own over the course of four years. That’s quite an incredible achievement.
Capone: You discussed with Shane kind of personality traits that you might want to introduced into the character, and things you would want to inject into his personality?
EW: We didn’t talk so much about… I certainly brought what I felt I understood to be the character to the character. The character also evolved over time. The character very much had always started out quite innocent, when he is born into the world, he’s born with questions. He doesn’t know who he is or what he is or who these people are, so there’s this real pure innocence to him, but then eventually as we kind of carried on with the process of recording, we really wanted to imbue with more of a sense of heroism and strength and sort of leadership as he kind of grows into that position over the course and that sort of becomes his arc. That was something that we kind of developed. We would approach scenes thinking about that and how we can imbue the scenes with that extra quality and have him take control. That grew over time. It was interesting.
Capone: Did you find it kind of amusing that you were once again one of 9?
EW: One of 9 on a journey of sorts. [laughs] Yeah it is funny.
Capone: What did you think of DISTRICT 9 the other day?
EW: I loved it! Oh I loved it!
Capone: I was not expecting what that was at all.
EW: Same! At all… the trailer does not indicate…
Capone: Half of the trailer isn’t even in the movie! That interrogation scene…
EW: Right, I was waiting for that!
Capone: I was too! I was like “How is that going to fit into this story?”
EW: They must have cut that out.
Capone: I talked to Neil [Blomkamp] about it, and he just said they have so much extra footage, because a lot of that was improvised. A lot of those smaller roles were improvised, including that scene.
EW: I’m sure a lot of the other interview sequences were probably also like long interviews, let the tape roll…
Capone: Pretty much everyone who had fewer than two lines was not even an actor, they just told people what the deal was and then they said “OK, talk.”
EW: I was blown away and blown away at the notion the movie cost 30 million dollars. It looks as incredible as it does. That just goes to show that you can make an incredibly exciting action movie for a fraction of the budget that Hollywood is spending on movies these days.
Capone: Did you get much of a chance to talk to Peter [Jackson] at all?
EW: A little bit, yeah. I saw him at the panel last night and then a little bit after.
Capone: Just as a fan of the material, are you kind of curious to see the direction that he and Guillermo [del Toro] are going to take THE HOBBIT? It started out for a while, and I had a pretty long talk with Peter yesterday and the night before, that it was going to be like HOBBIT as movie one and this bridge film as movie two, and now it’s all mixed together now, it’s going to be one long book/movie.
EW: Did he continue to allude to the notion that there would be a chronological bridge still?
EW: It’s still going to be there? What is that?!
Capone: No idea. Are you curious to see if he’s got a place for you or the other folks? He says they haven't written the second script yet, so they are not sure exactly how much of a bridge there will be. But when I saw you at Butt Numb-a-Thon, you and I were talking about the interview I did with Viggo [Mortensen] last October, and he was talking about footage that he had shot with Liv Tyler when their characters were much younger and courting. No one knew that footage existed. Was there anything like that for you? Was there any pre-FELLOWSHIP scenes that he could insert in there?
EW: I don’t think we did any pre-… [pause] No, we didn’t do anything pre-FELLOWSHIP. It’s all at the beginning of the first film…everything before the shit hits the fan. I’m very curious too. I really don’t know what they’ve got planned. I think it’s one of those things that, I would love to go back and be a part of what they are doing, simply because I’m a fan of Guillermo’s, and it would just be great to revisit it. It’s like going back home. It’s like a family and so many of the original people associated with RINGS are working on the new ones and so in that regard… And I probably will go down and visit for sure. Alan Lee and John Hough are back doing conceptual art… They are bringing a number of the cast members back. I imagine the crew that they are assembling is largely going to be people that worked on RINGS.
Capone: Peter is maintaining that other than Ian [McKellen] no one else has bee asked back from the cast.
EW: Well [Andy] Serkis…
Capone: Of course.
EW: And there is talk of Hugo Weaving maybe coming back, too. I’m just also, as a fan, just excited about it. I’m excited that Guillermo is being brought on to direct. I think that’s a brilliant choice.
Capone: It’s exciting.
EW: Yeah, it’s so exciting and the fact that they are going to be visiting the story that I thought that they would never do. I remember speaking to Peter while we were making RINGS, specifically asking him “Do you think you will ever get around to doing THE HOBBIT?” and he was like, “No, I don’t really think I’ll do that.” And of course, he was so embroiled in the midst of LORD OF THE RINGS at the time, so I can’t imagine that he could even conceive of it, but I’m definitely excited about it. I think it will be great.
Capone: All right, well excellent. Thank you so much.
EW: Yeah man, it’s good to see you.
Capone: Good to see you again.
EW: How much longer are you going to be here this weekend?
Capone: I’m supposed to leave Monday, so I'm in for the duration.
EW: Oh, okay, so you're around.
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