Elijah Wood | COOTIES

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Elijah Wood has a CV that is the envy of many an actor. Far from being merely all about a certain hobbit, Wood has immersed himself in challenging and different roles in order to keep his career fresh and full of exciting projects. Not content with just acting in films, 2010 saw him start up his own production company, SpectreVision, with Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller; a company that has recently developed the brilliant horror-comedy Cooties, which sees a school ravaged by an outbreak of a crazed virus that only affects pre-pubescents. With the hugely talented and charming Elijah involved as both an actor and through his production company, we were lucky enough to grab some time to chat with him about Cooties, his venture into producing, his refreshingly wide career choices, what the future holds, and yes, even those hobbitses get a mention as we touch upon the worry of becoming pigeon-holed after having worked on such a huge franchise.

STARBURST: Your production company, SpectreVision, developed Cooties, but where did the whole concept for the film initially come from?

Elijah Wood: It was actually an internal idea that Josh [C. Waller], my producing partner, and I came up with. He sort of pitched both Dan [Noah] and I early on as we were starting the company. It was really simple – the pitch was the movie. He had this idea for a zombie-like virus that affects kids who haven’t gone through puberty and they lay siege on a school, and the movies called Cooties. That was it. And we were super thrilled with the idea, but I think we were super shocked that nobody had made a sort of exploitation comedy in the ‘80s called Cooties and capitalised on that. Then that idea ultimately, through a mutual friend, got communicated to Leigh [Whannell – another person pulling double-duty on Cooties as writer and actor]. And Leigh fell in love with it and was like, “I have to write that!” We were thrilled because we loved Saw and Insidious and were huge fans of what he does. He pitched it as a horror-comedy. Our initial intention was to make it a serious horror film inspired by Who Can Kill a Child, but then he said, “It’s called Cooties, mate. It can’t be serious.” So that was kind of the initial jumping off point. Then he said that he wanted to write it with his friend Ian Brennan, who is the co-creator of Glee – and it really is the marriage of those two things; the sort of comedy sensibilities that Ian has naturally, mixed with the horror sensibilities that Leigh has naturally, then those things mashed together.

So was there anything particular that grabbed you about the concept of the film, or was it just that it was this really cool concept that bizarrely nobody had really covered?

Kind of. It just made so much sense that it was extrapolating on a very real phenomenon, which is when you’re a kid and you haven’t got through puberty then there’s these germs that you pass between members of the opposite sex. That’s kind of what cooties means in the US. And to take that idea that everybody’s familiar with, and then applying an actual virus with savage, murderous children just seemed brilliant. It was such a good idea.

Now horror-comedies are notoriously hard to balance and to get right, but yourselves, along with the recent 100 Bloody Acres, manage to do a great job at hitting the right beats at the right times.

Well it was our thought from the onset that we find a balance between the horror aspects and the comedy. So we were always riding the same lines at that point – the movie was never skewing too much in the other direction. That was something we were cautious of the entire time, from the writing to the script, tonally how it was playing out, how we shot it, and then ultimately how it came together in the edit. We were always riding this balance that the horror aspects were equally as scary as the comedy was funny.


Were you always looking to get involved in the film in an acting capacity as well then?

No, not at all actually. Starting the company, initially my feeling was that I didn’t want to participate as an actor in anything we produced. I wanted to just draw a line between the work that I was doing as an actor and the work we were doing as a company. Just from an integrity place, I didn’t want the company to feel like it was a vehicle for my work as an actor. That was really my reticence to play a role in this, and I was pretty against it for the longest time; it took a couple of months for them to convince me. Ultimately, I’m so glad that I did it. In hindsight I think it would’ve been a mistake had I not done it, because it was a really good experience. We had a blast doing it!

It’s also nicely worked how your character, Clint, serves as our entry point into the film and initially as its focal point before the movie soon becomes an impressive ensemble piece, which means that the film isn’t all on your shoulders then.

Yeah, exactly. It very much is an ensemble piece, for sure.

Clint is depicted as a struggling writer throughout the film, but were there any particular setbacks you pulled on for inspiration for the role?

I don’t think there was anything I was pulling specifically from my own life experience, but I think that there is a sort of common understanding. I think it’s something that a lot of the characters in the film are going through, interestingly enough. It’s a funny movie as in a way it’s as much about these characters realising that the dreams that they’ve had for their lives, they didn’t quite pan out how they expected it. That’s the sort of the secret story of the movie. It’s set against this ridiculous backdrop of these savage kids trying to kill these teachers, but in the mix of that they are coming to terms that there they are in their lives but it’s not where they thought they would be. And I think everyone can relate to that; to having dreams and not realising them, to have to accept where they are.

Once you agreed to take a role in the film, how did you find it trying to balance your producing hat with the acting sides of things?

Ultimately, a lot of the on-set producing was done by Josh. As an actor prior to becoming a producer, I’ve often felt that I was doing more than just simply facilitating the role that I was playing. Also, as an actor I would often do whatever would be necessary for me to help in seeing a vision through. I like to be a part of a team, I love being part of a creative team and a part of the crew in regards to the fact that we’re all there trying to make the best film that we can. So in that way there’s always been somewhat of a ‘producerial’ mind-set that I’ve occupied, in the sense that I’m just there to help in any way that I can and to help get things done in the right way. So it didn’t really feel that different, to be honest. For the most part, you know, I was a member of the cast and a lot of issues that would ever arise, as they always do when you’re making a film, a lot of them were handling by Dan or Josh on set.


It’s amazing to think of the amount of boxes you’ve ticked throughout your career. From the child acting work in the likes of Flipper, Forever Young and Oliver Twist, to stuff like The Faculty, Green Street, Sin City, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the whole Lord of the Rings franchise, Maniac, the stunning Grand Piano, and then something as brilliant and as different and as bizarre as Wilfred. It’s a fantastic list of works that you’ve been involved in, and they’re all so, so different. So with that said, what drives you to purposely strive to challenge yourself with different roles and to try and explore new experiences?

Yeah, totally. I think the guiding principal for me is to always just try and find something quite different than what you’ve done before. That’s always been there. Then at the same time, I’m also at the mercy of what is available to me, what I have access to read, what I have the opportunity to put myself down for. And so it’s also very organic. As much as it is about looking for those things that are quite different and new challenges, which is definitely a guiding principle, it’s also just reacting to things that I read on a gut level. There’s a very organic process to it as well.

You mentioned the roles that are put your way, but it would’ve been very easy for you to just rest on your laurels after playing Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. Did you ever find coming out of that experience that there was maybe a stigma attached to you or that you were pigeon-holed by certain people?

I think there was initially a concern that that might happen. I think my way to combat that was to just keep working and to work on things that were quite different. And I remember after Lord of the Rings was finished that I wanted to work on something really small, something performance-driven to just have the opposite experience of the enormity of what that was and the time frame for which was given to it. I always just felt that as long as I continue to work and that people saw me in different ways that I could hopefully continue to work as an actor without being burdened by Lord of the Rings and feeling like there was a shadow following me. And it really has not been a problem because I just continued to work.

Of course, it obviously helped massively that the roles you go for as ones that wouldn’t necessarily, at least at one point in time, be put down as Elijah Wood roles. For instance, becoming a football hooligan in Green Street or causing chaos in Maniac. You kind of go against the norm a little bit in regards to what people expect from you, which keeps you fresh and different.

And it keeps it really exciting for me too [laughs].

Considering the vast array of things that you’ve done to date, is there a particular one that stands out as a favourite or is that too difficult a choice to make?

Grand Piano stands out as one of the best experiences I’ve had making a movie. The result was something that I’m really proud of. It’s a ridiculous concept in many ways, but it was a concept that we all took quite seriously. The way that Eugenio [Mira – Grand Piano director] infused that film with the language of cinema and utilised it in such exciting ways, the fact that we shot it on 35mm, it was just such an exciting and gratifying endeavour on a daily basis and super challenging for me as an actor - just the technical aspects of it and the piano. It was just a joy and a film that I love. I love that movie!

Grand Piano 

And what’s next for yourself? Do you see yourself making the step from producing to directing at some point?

That’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time but I’ve yet to make that move for whatever reason or down to not finding a piece of material that spoke to me on a level that I thought there was no choice but to move forward as a director. But that’s something I’d love to do. Going forward, there’s obviously a lot that could be done with our company and there’s so many films that we’re working on and that we’re in varying stages of production on, which I’m super thrilled about. As an actor, I finished a movie earlier this year called The Trust with Nicolas Cage, which was an incredible experience, and that should be coming out some time next year. It’s sort of a heist movie, with the two us having never done a heist before but trying to steal a lot of money and then it goes in a direction that is not so wonderful. And then there’s The Last Witch Hunter that’s coming out in October.

You hear so many stories about him, but how was it working with Nic Cage?

Oh dude, I loved it! It was one of my favourite experiences working with an actor. I loved it. I love him. He’s super vital and loves the craft and just loves to do good work, to make interesting choices. It was a joy to be around him, it was a joy to chat with him. He’s super interested in films and filmmakers. I’d recommend movies to him, he’d watch them over the weekend then come back on Monday and tell me what he thought. He’s wonderful. It was just absolutely wonderful and fun to see how his mind works, how he comes up with the ideas that he comes up with. He’s a singular dude and there’s no one quite like him.

I’m of a generation where I see Nic Cage as this great, great actor with some stunning performances to his name, but then there’s some people these days that almost ridicule him…

Yeah! Now that man does not deserve ridicule. I think he’s a genius - he’s an absolutely brilliant actor that’s often misunderstood.

As well as Cooties, you guys at SpectreVision also produced the stunning A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, but what’s next for the company?

We have a film called The Boy that we premiered at South by Southwest. I think it’s playing at the BFI or it’s playing in London. As far as a full UK release, we’re not sure when that’s going to happen yet. Then we’ve got a movie that’s about to start shooting in January called Bad Vibes, which is a sort of psychedelic werewolf film, and then we’re about to start a movie with Richard Stanley called Colour Out of Space, which is an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation. And it’s a real gift to get the chance to work with Richard; he’s incredible.

Cooties is out on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday, October 12th and is well worth catching.


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0 #1 Mark Breeze 2015-10-10 02:23
Great interview! Elijah's mentioned movie The Boy opens tomorrow at the BFI film fest. The movie's 10 year old star, Jared Breeze is in town to join the director for a Q&A. Any interest in an interview with Jared?

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