In the film Maniac, Elijah Wood plays a serial killer with mommy issues and a passion for playing with life-size dolls. We talked with Wood about the film, NYC versus LA, and whether or not serial killers could have been saved if only their mothers had loved them more.
How did you first become attached to Maniac? What brought you to the project?
I was approached by one of the producers, Alex Taylor, who I'm friends with. She's worked on a couple of Alex Aja's American films and she said: "Hey, so, we're doing a remake of Maniac and Alex has written the script and we would love for you to play the character of Frank, the serial killer, and it's going to be shot entirely in POV, and you'll only be seen in reflections." So that was basically the pitch. And I was so thrilled by the idea and intrigued by the notion of playing a character that you largely don't see. The idea that the audience would be experiencing subjectively what the character was doing through his POV was really exciting, and the prospect of that being a disturbing place for people to be during the entirety of a film and the idea that you wouldn't see the character much, that it would be in reflections was also kind of exciting. And to be a villain, I'd never really been in a horror film before and I'm a real fan of the genre, so it was an exciting kind of prospect all around.
Even though you're rarely seen on the screen, were you still on set every day?
Yeah, that's what was funny too, because it was initially proposed as like two weeks of work because they would just shoot my reflection shots and that would be it and they talked about getting a double for my character's hands and I was like, Wait, wait. those should be my hands and I should make those choices. So then I was on set every day and in wardrobe every day regardless of whether I'd be seen or not. And there was a body double as well, a guy called Steven, who had to either be my left or right hand because I couldn't get both hands around the camera, and that became complicated because at a certain point there was one scene where I think I had a knife in my left hand, which was Steven's hand, and I had to pass it to my right. And that's an easy thing to do with your own hands, but coordinating that with a stranger and not having it look weird, that was a challenge.
So this film is a remake, and the original Maniac was shot in New York, but this one was shot in downtown LA. What do you have against New York?
That New York doesn't really exist anymore. I think what's interesting about shooting in LA, is that downtown LA is really beautiful but it's also desolate, it's also kind of empty at nighttime. It's pretty active during the day, or different districts are, but then everyone leaves at night and it's left to the homeless and drug addicts. It's an interesting place because it's very dark, but it also retains this beauty because the architecture is there and it's really beautiful, old architecture and it evokes the history of the city. It's kind of a character in and of itself and it's not often that you see downtown shot that way and it kind of evokes New York City, but maybe New York of a different time. So I really was pleased to see that version of LA. I'm really pleased with how all the elements came together.
Yeah, the music was also amazing. Especially the use of the Q. Lazzarus song from Silence of the Lambs. It provided some much needed laughter.
Yeah yeah yeah...there was some relief. That helps.
And so, mothers. Do you think a fucked-up mother can turn anyone into a serial killer pretty? Was that the message here?
I don't think so! I think if you look at the history of serial killers, some of them had relatively well-adjusted childhoods, not necessarily neglected ones. They weren't all horrible. But to be capable of that kind of thing, I think you had to have something innately within you that could be triggered by neglect. You sort of wonder, if Ted Bundy had had a really incredible childhood would he have killed people? I don't know. Cause I think that there's also a close tie with mental illness and being a serial killer. Some of them are geniuses as well. You know, on the topic, there's an amazing interview with Jeffrey Dahmer and his father, I think it was on Inside Edition, and Dahmer was in jail at the time, and the interviewer tried to say to the father, Do you blame yourself for what your son has become? And Dahmer interrupted and was like, Don't fucking blame him. He had nothing to do with this. This was all me. And in a long answer to your question, I don't think parents are all to blame for our own indiscretions, we all have to take responsibility for our own actions. They can certainly pave the way though.
Did you do any research on serial killers for this movie?
I didn't. That's all past research, just out of curiosity. I just found serial killers to be sort of psychologically fascinating. So I've done a fair amount of reading and watching documentaries.
Was there anything specific you did to prepare for this role? Because you were so, so creepy.
Oh, thanks. Thanks. I didn't really. Physically, because the character's only seen a number of times throughout the film, it was very important that the character look not entirely like me. Not entirely well, either, but at the same time he had to be sort of attractive enough to believably spend time with these women so they wouldn't feel threatened. I had an idea to cut my hairline back a little, we made him kind of pale. And the costume design was really great too. The costume designer had a great idea where the things the character wears are sort of out of time, but not in a cool way, they're just kind of antiquated and not very stylish. Those were the things I was sort of paying attention to. In the dialogue, this was the place where the character was realy defined. My concern the whole time was to make him as real as possible, and try to relate to his vulnerability, and exploit his humanity the whole time.
Are you going to want to do more horror films?
As an actor, maybe. I'm actually about to start working on one called Cooties that my production company is making, because my production company produces horror films. That's really where my interest lies in the genre, producing and creating the kind of horror movies that I really love. I probably won't be in most of them, except for this first one, Cooties.
That's a great name. It's really fun to say.
Cooties is good, right? It sounds like a movie from the 70s or 80s, an old exploitation movie or something. But they never made a movie called Cooties.
They never did.
Just run with it.
We're doing it. It's going to be fun.
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