/From the Chicago Tribune/
Elijah Wood grows up, sort of
By Robert K. Elder Tribune staff reporter
September 25 2005
You might mistake Elijah Wood for any other music geek flipping through the CD racks in the Loop's Rock Records.
With an armful of albums (The Warlocks, Roky Erickson, Black Mountain, Johnny "Guitar" Watson) he even sounds like one.
"Have you ever heard of Dead Meadow?" the 24-year-old asks one tattooed salesman. "Have you heard of Wolf Mother, that band from Australia? Very Blue Cheer."
A bit on the short side, though certainly not Hobbit-stature, Wood sports a close-cropped, jet-black dye job that's replaced the curls from "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy.
Then, you catch those familiar eyes -- supernaturally blue and clear, like 1,000-watt human high beams.
Those peepers get amplified behind Coke-bottle grade eyeglasses in "Everything is Illuminated" (which opened Friday) -- an adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel about a young writer (Wood) searching for the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis in the Ukraine during World War II.
It's a coming-of-age story about an obsessive collector played, in part, by an obsessive collector who is coming of age.
"Music is a huge obsession -- it's something I've actively collected since I was 12," says Wood, whose first major acting gig was in a Paula Abdul video directed by a young David Fincher ("Seven," "Fight Club").
The Iowa native has "Meet the Beatles" on vinyl, unopened, and a vinyl "picture disc" of Prince's "1999" album -- but what Wood's music collection has in depth, his toy collection competes for in sheer volume.
A couple years ago, he bought a complete collection of the original Star Wars toys from 1977 on eBay. When Wood was smaller, toys from the "Dick Tracy" and "Batman" movies were the rage.
He's fallen off collecting figures lately, mostly because of "space and time," he says. Like a lot of collectors, the glut of "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace" merchandise turned him off of heavy toy hunting.
"They just flooded the market with toys and it got . . . overwhelming and a little ridiculous. It was just hard to keep up, they were releasing things at such a quick rate," Wood says. "Now I find individual things I really like [Japanese] anime toys."
Wood is even the subject of two separate lines of toys, as Frodo in "Lord of the Rings" and the cannibalistic assassin Kevin in "Sin City" movie figures.
"It's like some sort of nerd's dream come true," he says. "It's insane."
Having recently moved away from the apartment adjoining his mother's house, the actor is coming to terms with his nature, which accounts partly for the slowdown in acquisitions.
"I'm a pack rat. I'm horribly disorganized when it comes to things like that," Wood says. "I have way too much stuff in a really small house. It's great actually; it's forcing me to deal with what I have and deal with it more properly and not bring so much [stuff] into the house. The sense of responsibility, even with a home, is very humbling."
He continues: "It's exciting though, it's a transition, that's for sure."
The same can be said for his career.
Wood has been careful to choose roles that distance him from the man-child role of Frodo from Peter Jackson's blockbuster "Lord of the Rings" movies. This year, he has played deadly Kevin in Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's "Sin City" and a thug-in-the-making in "Green Street Hooligans."
Subconsciously or not, he's attempting to avoid the Mark Hamill syndrome. After appearing in the original "Star Wars" films, series star Hamill quickly slipped into obscurity, revered by fans but eternally pegged a Skywalker by Hollywood.
"I'm always trying to play roles that challenge and interest me," Wood says. "Definitely, this is a time of growth and a transition to adult roles and also to change perception of who I am."
Actor Charlie Hunnam, who co-stars with Wood in "Hooligans," says any thought that Wood "garners fame and celebrity and money" -- a perception perhaps bolstered by Wood's recent gig as spokesman for Microsoft's Xbox video game console -- is patently incorrect. A longtime gaming fan, Wood's first role was in 1989's "Back to the Future II" as "Video Game Boy #1." Wood's brother Zach also works as a video game producer ("Area 51") for Midway.
"I think people don't give him enough credit for how real and serious an actor he is," Hunnam says. "He has some real aspirations and focused goals about what he wants to achieve."
Career risks pay off
Wood's odd filmography gives evidence of this. Some career risks have paid off (starring opposite Macaulay Culkin in 1993's "The Good Son"), others haven't (playing the title character in Rob Reiner 1994 Hollywood bomb "North"). As a teen, he avoided type-casting in teen movies, starring only in one high school sci-fi film, Rodriguez's "The Faculty."
"I never really got into films that focused on the teen years really," he says. "I avoided being overly recognized as a teenager too. I don't particularly like genres . . . it's a lot of fluff and not a lot of substance. I don't want to jump into that world. If you get sort of lumped into it, it's sometimes hard to get out it."
Unconventional projects followed a sprinkling of standard Hollywood fare, from "Deep Impact" to James Toback's racially charged "Black and White" and Michel Gondry's mind-bending "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."
In "Illuminated," directed by fellow actor Liev Schreiber, Wood plays a stripped-down, neurotic version of author Safran Foer -- a nearly non-verbal role for the talkative actor.
"It's definitely why I wanted to be a part of it, being able to play a character like that was unique and different from me," Wood says, now checking out the Faces (an early Rod Stewart band) boxed set.
The Foer character is also a different kind of collector. Instead of figures or records or comics, the Foer of "Illuminated" gathers oddball family keepsakes: eyeglasses, a grasshopper in amber, his grandmother's false teeth.
"It's about holding on to the moment and memories and connecting to the world around him -- connection to his family as well," Wood says. "So his collection is all about logging his experiences and relating those things that he's cataloging and bagging to those experiences to remind him of what he's been through. He's much more organized than I am."
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