Happy Birthday Elijah Wood!
Elijah Wood was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on January 28, 1981. He’s the middle child of three, with an older brother and younger sister. His parents owned a deli. Believe it or not, that’s actually his real name, not some stage name he came up with later on. In 1989, his family closed the deli and moved to Los Angeles to focus on Elijah’s budding acting career. Early on, Wood modeled and appeared in commercials, but in 1990 he starred as Aidan Quinn’s son in Avalon - a film about the American immigrant experience - that received widespread acclaim and was nominated for four Academy Awards. Elijah went on to star with Joseph Mazzello (Jurassic Park) in Radio Flyer - a SUPER sad film about brothers who were abused as children, directed by Richard Donner (The Goonies). (That movie scarred me.)
The early nineties definitely kicked off Elijah’s primetime as a child actor; he starred in Disney’s The Adventures of Huck Finn, played Jamie Lee Curtis’ son in Forever Young, and tried to survive the murderous shenanigans of Macaulay Culkin in The Good Son (another one that gave me nightmares). In the mid to late nineties, Wood was definitely busy (this was also around the same time that his parents officially divorced). In 1994 he starred in Rob Reiner’s North, as a child travelling the globe in search of “better” parents. In 1995, he starred in Flipper; in 1996, he appeared in a music video by the Cranberries (SO NINETIES!); and in 1997, he played opposite Christina Ricci in Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm. In 1998, Wood was in the star-studded disaster flick, Deep Impact, as well as one of my personal faves, Robert Rodriguez’s creepy horror sci-fi flick, The Faculty.
And then everything changed.
Elijah was cast as Frodo Baggins in Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. Whisked away to New Zealand to work with another star-studded cast - Ian McKellan, Liv Tyler, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Cate Blanchett, Sean Astin, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Orlando Bloom, John Rhys-Davies, and more - Wood got top billing. All three Lord of the Rings films - The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King - were shot simultaneously, and entirely in New Zealand from 1999 to 2000, with pick-up shots done from 2001 all the way to 2004. This experience bonded the cast and crew of the films. Peter Jackson’s film series are among the highest grossing, worldwide, of all time. ALL TIME, friends. Jackson’s use of creatures, costumes, make-up, and both practical and special effects were all game changers in the film industry. Weta Limited/Weta Digital and Andy Serkis brought the character of Gollum to life, mixing CG and live action in a way that had never previously been achieved. The film had a production team of over 2,600. The trilogy used 26,000 extras over the course of filming. Ever wonder how they made the Hobbits look so small? Check out CinemaBlend’s interview with Wood on the topic.
But what about Elijah? What effects did the epic experience have on Wood’s career? In a 2006 interview at SXSW Wood looked back on his time making LOTR:
I think what sticks in my mind is largely what’s loomed in my mind since we finished, which is just the experience of having made it. Being in New Zealand. The two months of prep before we started shooting when we got to know each other, and had this buzz of excitement about the adventure we were going on. We knew it would be special, but we didn’t know what was right around the next bend.
For the 15 year anniversary of the film series Empire showcased an article where the stars of the films interviewed each other. John Rhys-Davies (Gimli) interviewed Wood, at one point asking him, “What do you say when young people ask about becoming an actor?” to which Wood replied:
I say that integrity is of the utmost importance and that one should love the craft and have no other reasons beyond that love and passion to invest their time. Also, that it takes hard work and perseverance and that, ultimately, living life outside of the work will push one’s growth and experience to be better actors. Work with friends, create with like-minded people. Don’t wait for the opportunities to come to you. Create your own.
Pretty solid, grounded advice from a successful child-turned-adult actor.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in May of 2020, Josh Gad hosted a special LOTR episode of Reunited Apart with Elijah and many more. The YouTube series reunites the cast of popular movies through video-conferencing, and promotes donations to non-profit charities. The “One Zoom to Rule Them All” episode benefitted No Kid Hungry, a national campaign focused on ending childhood hunger in America. It was truly a pleasure to see Wood and so many members of the cast reunited (even virtually).
After LOTR, Elijah Wood could have just packed it up and called it a day, living out the rest of his life on the profits of that series. Instead, this is where I think Wood’s career really gets interesting. One of my favorite roles played by Wood is his first after LOTR: Patrick, a creepy lab technician in Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Patrick works in the business of erasing memories. When he sets his sights on Kate Winslett’s Clementine, he essentially tries to use her memories from her previous relationship with Jim Carey’s Joel to win her over (albeit unsuccessfully). 2005 was another busy year for Wood: he took the creep factor even further as the murderous Kevin in the adaptation of Frank Miller’s comic book series Sin City. He then starred in the film adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, Everything is Illuminated, about a Jewish-American man looking for the woman that saved his grandfather during World War II, and later, he became a violent football (soccer to my American friends) hooligan along with Charlie Hunnam in Green Street Hooligans.
In 2006, Wood voiced the character of Mumble in the musical Happy Feet. Since Happy Feet, Wood has continued to perform as a voice actor for film, television and video games, voicing the lead in Tim Burton’s weird and epic animated feature, 9, and Frodo Baggins (among several other characters) for Seth Green’s popular Robot Chicken series. He later voiced the main character, Wirt, in Cartoon Network’s Over the Garden Wall series. (For more on this series and some other seriously solid recommendations, check out Linda Codega’s list: Quaranteamwork makes the Quarantine work).
In 2010, Elijah formed a production company along with directors Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller, focusing primarily on the horror genre. Cooties, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night and Mandy are just a few of the films produced by their company, SpectreVision. One of the things I enjoy most about his career is that Wood doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously. In 2011, he appeared in the Beastie Boys video for “Make Some Noise,” along with Seth Rogen and Danny McBride (he does a pretty stellar Ad Rock). He also made his foray into TV, starring in Wilfred, a series about a man who is the only one who sees his neighbor’s dog as a man in a dog suit.
Wood had a cameo back in the shire for 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but after that return to the mainstream money, he has stuck to the quirky path - playing a cop alongside Nicholas Cage in 2016’s The Trust, and teaming up again with Melanie Lynskey (after their initial partnership in Over the Garden Wall) in I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, as neighbors who try to go after burglars themselves. Elijah even returned to TV as the “reluctant sidekick,” in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (inspired by the Douglas Adams book series).
He returned to film for 2019’s Come to Daddy, a film that plays with stereotypes, masculinity, and also just involves a lot of gore. Elijah has one crazy hairdo in this film. Seriously, check it out for his haircut and costumes alone. Since then, Elijah has continued some steady work as a voice actor and starred in a couple episodes of Drunk History (RIP). With that said, I look forward to any and all things Elijah Wood in the coming years. I hope to see him eventually do some directing himself. Sometimes actors that have grown up on camera become great directors in their own right (think Ron Howard, Sophia Coppola, Sarah Polley). Well, whatever comes next, I look forward to seeing more of that cherubic face and big eyes. Happy 40th Birthday Elijah Wood, you don’t look a day over 20.
Besides watching TV and movies, Diana likes plants, the great outdoors, drawing and reading comics, and just generally rocking out. She has a BA in English Literature and is an art school drop out. You can follow her on Instagram @dldimuro and Twitter @DianaDiMuro