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Elijah Wood Talks His New Thriller No Man Of God, LotR's 20th Anniversary, And More - Exclusive Interview

Elijah Wood has pursued one of the more eclectic, successful careers in Hollywood since making his screen debut at the tender age of eight in 1989's "Back to the Future Part II." Moving smoothly from child roles in movies like "Forever Young" and "Radio Flyer" to more sophisticated teen characters in "The Ice Storm," "The War," and "Deep Impact," Wood's life and professional trajectory changed forever when he scored the role of Frodo Baggins in Peter Jackson's ambitious and now classic three-film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" (2001-2003).

The "Rings" trilogy made Wood and his fellow cast members into not just stars but cultural icons, as the three films ascended to the kind of beloved status afforded only a handful of other fantasy milestones, like "The Wizard of Oz" and "Star Wars." Wood, meanwhile, continued to alternate between indie and mainstream fare, appearing in films like "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Sin City," "Celeste and Jesse Forever," "Happy Feet," and others. His passion for the horror and thriller genres also led him to co-found the SpectreVision production company in 2010, home of cult genre hits like "A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night" and "Color Out of Space."

SpectreVision is also behind the new docudrama "No Man of God," in which Wood plays Bill Hagmaier, the real-life FBI profiler to whom notorious serial killer Ted Bundy admitted the crimes he committed during his horrifying reign of terror. While Bundy has been the subject of a number of films already, "No Man of God" focuses on his final days on death row and the psychological war of wills between the manipulative monster and the guarded law officer. Looper spoke exclusively with Wood about taking on the always controversial Bundy, while also reflecting on the 20th anniversary of "The Lord of the Rings" and his participation in the reboot of Troma Entertainment's grindhouse classic "The Toxic Avenger."

Why Wood was interested in a Ted Bundy movie

There has been so much written and filmed about Ted Bundy over the years. What made this different enough for you and everyone involved to want to do it?

It was a part of the Ted Bundy story that I just had not heard about. I knew a fair amount about his incarcerated life on death row. Certainly, the [James] Dobson interview I'd seen many times before, but this relationship with FBI profiler Bill Hagmaier was not something I was familiar with. The script was predominantly based on transcripts and recollections of Bill's, so this degree of accuracy framed around these series of conversations was just really fascinating.

It wasn't a Ted Bundy film in that it was depicting his exploits or sort of showcasing him in the height of his murderous rampage or the sort of person that was his own lawyer at his trial. It was a totally different approach and a different story in the Ted Bundy experience that just seemed really interesting and fascinating and exciting. And also just that there was this relationship between these two people that was significant enough for Ted to have considered Bill his best friend at the end of his life, so much so that he willed his earthly possessions to him. It's just really interesting.

I found the script so kind of eerie and terrifying, actually, because in some ways, since it's devoid of any murder or any gore or physicality, it's really kind of down to its bare essence. Just the discussion around that sort of topic is incredibly eerie and disturbing. So it was all of those kinds of elements that make it seem sort of vital and interesting and unique.

Finding new ways to tell the Bundy story

What did director Amber Sealey bring to the film?

It felt vital that a female direct this movie. This is obviously a very toxic male individual who wreaked havoc on many women's and families' lives ... We couldn't organically work in the voice of the victims specifically, but she found really creative ways to include women in the context of the film that felt like it expressed an element of that, from the montages to these women that you sort of see on the periphery throughout the film that are kind of observing Ted and these men as they talk with a degree of judgment, which is really kind of interesting. It's subtle, but it's really in the fabric of the movie.

How did you and Amber and Luke Kirby, who plays Bundy, approach the long scenes of just you and him sitting at the table, talking? Did you almost choreograph it in a way to keep it interesting?

Sure. Yeah. Well, the first part of that process took place over Zoom, just working out the dynamics of the scenes, of those interviews, working out what's being said by each character, what's actually being said that's not being verbalized, dynamic shifts within the context of those conversations, power shifts, those sorts of things. So working out those structures and then putting it on its feet became a conversation between our DP and Amber working out structurally how each scene was shot. Each sequence was shot differently, to give a different tonality and different feeling to every scene. So it doesn't feel like we're constantly coming back exactly to the same place in the same way. Hopefully, the way that each scene is shot is also evoking what is being expressed between the two of them.

So it's sort of a combination of all those elements that serves to work out how it's not simply just two men sitting in front of each other. The fear would be that it would get banal after a certain period of time. I mean, thankfully the conversations in and of themselves are so dynamic and so fascinating anyway, but it was obviously extremely important that we shoot it in such a way that it doesn't leave people kind of hanging. But we spent a lot of time in that room, and it was really fun to work all of that out and to figure out the energy of those scenes.

The 20th anniversary of The Lord of the Rings

Do you remember how you felt at this time 20 years ago, just before "The Fellowship of the Ring" was about to come out in late 2001? There's also a weird parallel in that we invaded Afghanistan shortly before the movie came out, following 9/11, and now we're exiting 20 years later.

I mean, we were unbelievably excited to come off of Cannes earlier in the year, where we had actually shown about 30 to 40 minutes of footage, which was comprised of a big portion of the cave troll sequence in the mines of Moria and then a smattering of various footage of the film. There was enthusiasm and excitement around that, because that was really the first time we'd seen any fully cut, finished footage with the score and everything.

As you mentioned, with Afghanistan being back in the news again, we were in New York, a few of us, Sean Bean, Orlando Bloom, myself, maybe Viggo [Mortensen] too, doing some long lead press in New York on September 9 and 10. I actually flew home, but ultimately landed in Cincinnati on my way back to Los Angeles from Newark. I flew out of Newark, which is actually where one of the planes took off that hit the Trade Center. So it's crazy that will be 20 years ago as well.

But there was obviously a huge amount of anticipation and enthusiasm leading up to the release of that movie. You have to imagine that we had spent over 16 months and then many months after, shooting additional footage, with this intense anticipation of what that first movie was going to be. To see so much of that realized for the first time was just so unbelievably exciting. And then to celebrate that as a team and travel around the world, which is what we did subsequently for the next three years, was really kind of an amazing journey.

A 20th anniversary LotR reunion?

Any 20th anniversary plans afoot? Have you talked to any of your castmates recently about getting together or doing anything?

We've talked a bunch. There's a lot of talk about a 20th anniversary gathering, but I don't know if anything's quite come together. It's also difficult because of COVID. I don't know that we could even get to New Zealand. In fact, I'm almost sure we couldn't get to New Zealand unless there were some major permits and some sort of way in there, which I suppose is possible, but that country's shut down.

It's a tough time. This particular year is a little hard for a variety of reasons, which is a shame, because we do, and we have, over the years, and certainly over this last year, talked about wanting to do something. I suppose the one benefit is that we do have at least two more 20th anniversaries to celebrate, so that's kind of nice. At least we have that.

I think there will absolutely be a gathering. I know we all want to celebrate together, and I think we want to be able to find a space that works for everybody. There are a lot of people who would love to sit down at a giant table and raise a glass to our experience, collectively, share stories and just hang out.

Wood gives his take on Amazon's upcoming Middle-earth series

Do you think it's smart of Amazon to set its new "Lord of the Rings"-based series in the Second Age and not try and directly recreate or dovetail with what Peter Jackson and your cast and crew did?

Yeah. I think there's only so much more story to tell that would have included any of the characters from "Lord of the Rings." I don't know that there would have been anything that would have sustained. So it's sort of the logical place to take it, in terms of what other story to mine, and the Second Age is rife with so much. So from a strategic standpoint, I don't know that it was so much about making something that didn't have to adhere or dovetail into what Peter and all of us had established.

It certainly does give them more creative freedom, but with the fact that they shot the first season in New Zealand, there was clearly an intent to keep it in at least the landscapes in accordance with what had previously been established, which is awesome.

I'm really excited to see what they've done. I mean, J. A. Bayona shot the pilot. He's an incredible director. I've loved all of his work. I'm really curious what the focus of the storytelling is going to be and what it's going to be like. I get the benefit at this stage to enjoy something with full objectivity as a fan, which is rad. So I'm just excited to see it. I'm deeply curious.

On the Toxic Avenger reboot

You've also been working on the "Toxic Avenger" reboot. What can you tell us about that and how it's coming together?

I'm super excited. We wrapped a couple of weeks ago. They're in post now. It was a blast. I think fans of Troma and of the original "Toxic Avenger" film will be super pumped. It was a treat for me. I love Macon [Blair, director], and I loved working with him on "I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore." I would do anything for Macon. He's just the best. I was honored to get a chance to work with him again on that.

The tone of the film is f***ing awesome and funny and everything that you would want, but it also has a real beating heart too at its core. It's such an amazing cast, like Peter Dinklage, Kevin Bacon, Taylour Paige, and Jacob Tremblay. It was awesome.

I'm really excited. We saw a little bit of footage at the wrap party, kind of like a blooper reel as well as little bits and pieces from the film. I'm so excited to see how it all comes together. It was a blast.

"No Man of God" is now in theaters and on demand and digital.