Elijah Wood

Everything Is Illuminated

Interviewed by Stephen Applebaum

“Nobody changes clothes in the entire film ”

Some actors' careers have been killed by their association with a particular role. When Mark Hamill became Luke Skywalker, it was the beginning of the end. Some interesting choices since The Lord Of The Rings, however, have allowed Elijah Wood to kick the hobbit, and keep things interesting for himself and for us. Below he talks about his latest project, the acclaimed directorial debut of actor Liev Schreiber, Everything Is Illuminated and how he actually owes all his success to his Mum.

You're not Jewish but you're playing a Jewish character, Jonathan, in Everything Is Illuminated, which is about Jewish identity. How did you become involved in the project?

Hm. The script was sent to me and I fell in love with it. I loved the story, and I loved the characters, they're so colourful. I also loved the character of Jonathan; it was so different from anything I had done before. After reading the script I met with Liev [Schreiber, writer/director], and it was funny because it was a relatively new thing for him to do, to go to hotels and meet actors for a film. So we immediately became very comfortable with each other because all pretence was set aside.

Did you feel intimidated meeting the book's author, Jonathan Safran Foer, because you're playing him to some degree in the film?

I didn't actually meet him until we started making the film. That was relatively frightening because I'd already kind of settled on how I was going to play the character, and I was just hoping he was going to be happy with it. I didn't get a clear idea of what his reaction was. I think he was just soaking it in. As far as I know his perspective on it at that time was some kind of distance. He wasn't taking it extremely personally or observing everything to see how close it was to the book he had written. I think he gave Liev the material to interpret for himself. The book is very much its own thing, and the film is very much its own thing as well.

Your look in the film is highly stylised. How did that evolve?

Kind of out of practicality, oddly enough. The character is very practical, so the idea that he would wear the same suit every day makes a lot of sense. The glasses were a stylistic choice, particularly the magnification. The thing about Jonathan is he's an observer so it accentuates that one quality. Jonathan is also the sort of person that doesn't really fit anywhere, so the glasses and the fact that they are so magnified, it kind of keeps him separate from the rest of the world. But all of the characters, to a certain degree, have a specific stylistic look to them. Nobody changes clothes in the entire film.

You've made some interesting choices post LOTR: Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Sin City, Green Street, the British football hooliganism film, this. Have you deliberately shied away from more mainstream projects when they have come your way?

It's probably more organic than that. It's down to whatever comes across my table and I fall in love with, and they just happen to be these smaller films. When I read Illuminated and met with Liev, it's like, "I got to be a part of this. It's going to be beautiful and amazing." The same with Eternal Sunshine. That was a small role but I could not pass up the chance to work with Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman.

People threatened you with the Shirley Temple syndrome when you were younger and the Mark Hamill syndrome when you did Lord of the Rings . . .

There are a lot of syndromes, aren't there? I seem to have not caught the bug.

Did you it ever scare you or did you always think it was press twaddle?

I'm getting this question a lot, and it is interesting, but I just worked. I loved what I did. I think one of the greatest aspects, and one of the ways that I was able to avoid a lot of that, personally, is I had an amazing mother who created a very, very solid base for me as a human being that was very separate from life as an actor. There are a lot of pitfalls associated with the industry that certainly attack the youth, and I didn't have that experience. In terms of how I managed to go through and continue to work, that's anybody's guess. I'm very fortunate, though.

Everything Is Illuminated is released in UK cinemas on Friday 25th November 2005