Child Star to Box Office King to Indie Hero. Elijah Wood is an actor we don’t talk about enough anymore. His filmography has been a veritable roller-coaster of world-shaking hits and possibly career-shattering misses. Despite this, the actor has seen a steady stream of work ever since his cameo role as “video-game boy” in Back to The Future Part II. Wood is currently making waves in the festival circuit for his role in Macon Blair’s directorial debut “I don’t feel at home in this world anymore” which recently played at Sundance.
As a child star, he starred in over 15 films until his adolescence. He saw some recognition in 1990 when he starred in films such as Internal Affairs, the Richard Gere and Andy Garcia led police thriller, which saw some critical success and Avalon by Barry Levinson; an ambitious but slow drama. Both hold quite good ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. He then starred in films like Radio Flyer, The Adventures of Huck Finn and Forever Young. He made his next turn in 1993’s The Good Son, alongside one of the most famous child actors, Macaulay Culkin, who was, at the time, a veritable star with hit films under his belt like Home Alone, My Girl and Jacob’s Ladder. The Good Son was received so poorly that Culkin would not make another well-received film until 2004 and then would subsequently struggle to find more roles. Elijah Wood was cast as the proverbial “good son” to Culkin’s evil one and from this point on, Wood’s career would rely heavily on this “good guy” persona. And while Elijah Wood’s career was also hit by the release of The Good Son, he kept working and The Good Son would prove insurmountable to the actor’s future Hollywood characterisation. He was cast in Rob Reiner’s 1994 film North. Although helmed by a well-loved director, North suffered from a terribly strained script and the reviews subsequently turned south. Two more critical failures and then Elijah Wood would star in Ang Lee’s 5th directorial feature. Lee was riding on the coattails of the success of Sense and Sensibility in 1995 and The Ice Storm was his much-anticipated next film. The Ice Storm, although made in Hollywood and with a big-name director, felt intrinsically independent in its style. A subdued ensemble drama with an emotional punch about awkward sexuality and suburban malaise. This is where Wood, I believe, first truly shone. In a drama that is strange and awkward. The actor’s ability to explore these same traits on-screen is remarkable and he is at his best when he is playing these types of characters.
But alas, all good things end. And Hollywood, in all its wisdom, took an actor who was making waves in grittier independent dramas and entice him to play roles in quickly-made terrible thrillers. The next two films of Wood’s career were the awful teen thriller/horror film The Faculty and the campy, melodramatic disaster film Deep Impact, that, despite its name, fails to make any sort of impact. The films would garner impressive box-office numbers though and this would lead Wood to his next role.
Elijah Wood’s A-List, star making turn would come in 2001 with the release of the first instalment in the Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. The first film was released to so much pandemonium that every cast member was thrust into the media spotlight. Lord of the Rings created 11 Hollywood stars out of its 11 fellowship members. For three years, the Lord of the Rings films dominated the box-office, award ceremonies and media coverage. For three years, all of us were living in Middle Earth mayhem. Wood’s turn as Frodo Baggins immortalised him in film history. Again, his characterisation in these films depended on him playing the hero of the story and the metaphorical good person who conquers evil, in this case, the evil of Mordor.
Lord of the Rings’ success was both a blessing and a curse to a young Elijah Wood. It gave him the star power to gain new roles but this power weighed down on him and the expectation to create good and popular films is always heavy. One excellent film Wood starred in after The Return of the King was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. A film that has achieved universal acclaim. This put Wood in good placing amongst his Hollywood cohorts and he appeared to be on a streak of good films including Sin City. Then came Everything is Illuminated. Actor Liev Schreiber’s debut film as a director was this 2005 independent comedy drama. A festival film by nature, it got just 2 million back in box-office receipts compared with its 7-million-dollar budget. And while the film didn’t make much money Elijah Wood played another quirky interesting character reminiscent of his turn in The Ice Storm, 8 years earlier. It’s these smaller, quainter films that come to mind when we think of Wood’s career.
It took a while for Elijah Wood to escape roles that dragged him to a mediocre standard, way below the professional ability he had proved in countless independent films. Since 2012 Wood has taken roles that have enabled him to show a whole new range of acting ability. He especially shines when he ventures into genre films that are different to his retired Hollywood image. Think of his great performances in Jesse and Celeste Forever, a quirky romantic comedy where he plays Celeste’s over-the-top boss and Maniac, a disturbing slasher flic in which he plays a serial killer. In each of these films he had the chance to show that he could adapt to roles that were different to what the public were used to. When he returned in 2012 as Frodo Baggins again in The Hobbit; An Unexpected Journey, his appearance felt forced and unnatural because we were now used to seeing him in more adventurous roles. The Hobbit felt strangely tame and safe for an actor of his calibre.
It’s been over 15 years since Lord of the Rings, Elijah Wood is now a B-List movie star; a film festival star who produces and acts in more and more independent films, but that’s a good thing. A-List actors are often barraged with expectations and contracts. By falling back from the Hollywood limelight, Elijah Wood helped transform his career. Without Hollywood breathing down his neck, Wood has been able to stretch to TV and even produces films with his co-owned production company. He has been able to take challenging and interesting roles. He has proven that being B-List isn’t so bad.