Interview: Elijah Wood and Jason Gann talk about WILFRED on FX

TV Elijah WoodFX by Jim Napier

Wilfred is set to air on FX this Thursday at 10 pm. The cast incldues Elijah Wood, Jason Gann, Fiona Gublemann and a host of other cameos from actors like Chris Klein, Ethan Suplee and Rashida Jones. show is based on Gann's Australian hit show. Wood will play a regular guy named Ryan to Gann’s Wilfred, a mixed breed dog who is part Labrador retriever and “part Russell Crowe on a bender,” said David Zuckerman, who wrote the adapted pilot script and serves as executive producer.

I recently had the chance to interview Wood and Gann about the series. Wilfred is the first TV role for Wood. Here is what he had to say when asked how he chose the role:

I actually don’t get offered a lot of TV roles.  I read a few scripts, mainly dramas.  I was just interested in taking a look at television because I really had never seen what was kind of available and what people were making on television.  It’s changed so much even in the last five years.  I don’t know, I read this script … the last scripts that I was sent, and my manager sent it to me and said it was the funniest thing that she’d ever read.  I loved it and it kind of blew my mind.  It was unlike anything I’ve read or seen on television.  A perfect extreme in funny but also sort of cerebral and strange and difficult to describe, which I think is always a good thing.

Just like Family Guy, Wilfred pushes the boundaries and has a lot of humor that is a littlle controversial for US audiences. Here is what Jason Gann had to say when asked how audiences would react to the show:

Despite the fact that the show is called Wilfred, and there’s a dog called “Wilfred” in it, and I’m in the suit playing “Wilfred,” it’s a really different show.  Maybe the reason why some of those reboots don’t work is because they’re trying to just translate something from one territory into another and the only thing that’s different is sort of some accents and stuff, whereas this is a completely new show. 

David Zuckerman, the show runner, had a completely new vision for it.  When he first told me about it he said he saw a different vehicle for this great character that he loved.  So I don’t even compare the two shows.  This show really stands on its own, and so, look, I’m not worried about any comparisons or failed reboot of the successful show because they’re two different creatures.  

People react to humor in different ways. What I think is funny, you may think is ridiculous and vice versa. Here is what they had to say when asked what a good formula for a comedy series is:

Jason responded by saying:

A good formula—well, people are pretty quick to admit if they can’t dance or they can’t sing, but not many people think that they have a bad sense of humor.  Everyone thinks that their sense of humor is good.  So it’s a really difficult thing to throw open to a large panel of people’s mind, which is what happens in most television.  So I think to get something right you really have to have like a smaller nucleus of comedic minds and then trust that small group and trust your instincts and what you think is funny regardless of what you think what the masses will think is funny.  Because if you try and cater to an audience that already exists, then you’ll just come out with boring old stuff.  You really need to, I think, pioneer what you think is funny and then hope that the audience follows you. 

Then there’s just truth on the actual playing of the comedy.  Aside from the writing is just trying it for truth and I think that’s hopefully what Elijah and I bring, I think, together.

Elijah added his thoughts by saying:

I was going to say the same thing.  From my experience, what I think is a solid base for any comedy is just honesty and truth and it coming from a real place.  As surreal as this show gets and is, ultimately, we’re dealing with a character that most can’t see the way that I can see it.  But outside of that, most of the scenarios, we’re playing them for honesty and I think that that is always an important base, and I think something truly funny will always come out of that.  

Wood's character Ryan, is really struggling with his place in life and the character of Wilfred is one of his stranger coping mechanisms. Here is what the actors had to say when asked how they cope with stress and problems: 

Jason Gann stated:

I don’t know if you really want to go there.  I’m sort of lucky that in that for me, I’m a writer now.  I started out as an actor but I’m a writer, and so things like Wilfred and shows like that are where I escape to.  It’s only been the last two years that I had to sort of force myself to go out and be more involved in the world because I can get a bit cerebral and escape into the characters and the world of characters.  So but now, I guess I escape into stories about “Wilfred” and characters like “Wilfred.”

Elijah stated:

Coping mechanism?  I don’t know.  We all deal with a certain amount of stress on a day-to-day basis.  I probably smoke too many cigarettes, which isn’t a very good thing.  I don’t know.  I don’t have any extraordinary sort of coping mechanism.  I certainly don’t talk to a dog.

Here is what Wood and Gann had to say when asked about their characters and if they had picked up any bad habits from playing the roles:

Elijah responded by saying:

Intriguing characters—I certainly haven’t picked up any of “Ryan’s” bad habits.  “Ryan” and I are very different, thankfully.  I think I’m a lot more pulled together than “Ryan” is.  Yes, no bad habits have entered into my life as a result of playing him.  

He’s a constantly interesting character to play.  He’s sort of in constant struggle.  It’s an interesting character to play.  On the surface level, he is interacting with “Wilfred” and kind of takes that, as we as an audience, I think, take that for granted and accept that relationship.  But throughout the show as we’re filming it, I’m constantly thinking about what’s happening in reality and what he’s really going through.  I’m not necessarily playing that and I don’t have to play that, but I think there’s a lot of depth to what “Ryan’s” experience is, and he’s kind of broken and he’s constantly in the state of trying to repair himself and he’s working really hard to sort of stay above water, and it’s constantly interesting to play.

Jason responded by saying:

And “Wilfred” actually picked up all of my bad habits.  I just kind of converted them into that character, and thankfully I don’t really have any of those habits anymore.  I smoke, but I don’t take drugs or anything like that, but anything—I suppose I still do like to screw anything that moves, but apart from that, if anything, “Wilfred’s” stolen my moves. 

When I first heard of this show it reminded me immediately of Jimmy Stewart’s Harvey.  There’s obviously a big difference between Wilfred and that, but there it feels similar. Here is what they had to say about that aspec and if they pulled from any other films or life experiences, when crafting the show:

Jason responded by saying:

Personally it is a role a lot of life experiences that poured into the creation of the Wilfred character, but it’s interesting.  The Harvey reference has come up quite a bit.  That wasn’t in our minds when we first created the character or the Australian version.  But it’s interesting, like I just had a thought then like about like Jimmy Stewart like just how much—what it is I love about him as an actor and how he brings this incredible authenticity to his characters, unique authenticity that we actually as an audience.  We’re sort of prompted to believe in him even though we can see that there’s no rabbit.  We can see what everyone else is thinking, but we believe in him. 

I don’t want to embarrass Elijah, but I think that Elijah brings something really similar and he really makes my job as playing “Wilfred” a lot easier, because seeing through his eyes it’s easier to believe it and so we’re ready, as an audience, hopefully ready to suspend our disbelief.

Elijah answered by saying:

Thanks, Jason.  Yes that’s interesting that reference to Harvey.  Jason and I immediately thought of that as well.  I’m a huge fan of that film.  I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it, and it was interesting the parallel.  I mean the parallel, it’s obviously similar but it’s extremely different, but that notion of our sort of imagined friend is quite similar and I think there’s something kind of beautiful about that.

I have been a fan of Elijah Wood's since his early career. His roles in The Lord of the Ring's trilogy and Green Street Hooligans are at the top of my list. All of his roles have been unique and challenging at times. Here is what Wood had to say when asked if there were certain types of projects that he gravitates towards and what he looks for in a script:

I think I’m always just looking for something—I mean, look, on the basest of levels I’m looking for something that I just respond to.  I think it’s hard enough to find quality scripts and work that you just respond to on a gut level.  But more than that I think I’m also always looking for something really different.  Something that is unlike anything I’ve done before both in terms of the project as a whole and also in terms of what the role would entail.  To continue to challenge myself, but also to work on projects that are unique and different. 

I’m definitely attracted to things that are less easily defined, and this is a perfect example of that.  It’s never interesting, I don’t think, to do anything truly conventional.  I think convention can have its merits, certainly, but I think it’s far more interesting to travail roads that are less traveled and that are a bit more fascinating and certainly more challenging.  For me, with this as well, I’ve never done comedy before and I was very interested in the notion of delving into comedy and working within a medium that I’ve not worked in before.

Elijah Wood's character seems to mentally be in a coma and is very depressed. He is essentially the straight man of the series. Here is what he had to say when asked if his character was indeed the straight man:

Do I feel he’s a straight man?  Yes, I think he is.  I mean ultimately I think “Ryan’s” just trying to get everything together constantly.  So he’s essentially reacting to the world around him and to the scenarios that “Wilfred” is trying to put him into and the direction that he’s being pulled constantly.  So straight man, yes, but he’s also just in this time of crisis in his life and he’s just trying to hold it all together  all the time.  Having a genuine relationship with this man in a dog suit and then also trying to balance that relationship with the real people who he knows can’t see that man in a dog suit, and then in the midst of all that trying to rebuild himself and to be the best person that he can be.  

I love watching comedies and always think how hard it would be to star in one becasue I would always be cracking up and not be able to deliver all of my lines with a straight face. Here is what Elijah and Jason had to say about what it was like on the set and how they got through a full episode:

Elijah responded:

You know it was funny.  I was actually at an interview the other day where I was asked how difficult it was to get through a scene just without busting into laughter.  The funny thing is is that I think it was only—what was it like the day before the last day or the last day, Jason, I mean I totally lost it, but up until then I hadn’t.  It was just that one line that you had that was so weird and good, but you know—


J. Gann                        What was it again?


E. Wood                      It was when you said, “I wasn’t finished, Ryan.”


J. Gann                        Oh yes, yes, that’s right.


But it’s not to say that every day I we were working on material that I found hilarious, but I think we were all so—the atmosphere on set was extremely fun and very funny.  We were having a blast every day, but at the same time, you know, we were also taking what we were doing seriously.  Like say in the context of that work we kind of, you know we sort of buckled down and didn’t let ourselves lose it too much just to focus because we had so much to get through every day.  I don’t know, what do you think, Jason?

Jason answered by saying:

For years people have said to me, and I’d done a lot of comedy at that time, and people have said to me … surprised how I can keep a straight face, and I really rarely crack up, like really rarely, but that’s not to say that I’m not like having a ball, like, I don’t know.  I’m good at keeping a straight face, and Elijah seems to be the same.  I mean I probably cracked up once in the whole season as well, but when we’d be rehearsing the scenes, like when we’d do table reads, and then in rehearsal leading up to it we laughed as hard along with everyone else, but at the time we’re actually shooting…  So we knuckle down and get it done because we had such a tight schedule.

I think that this show is really going to be funny and is a great addition to the comedy lineup on FX. For more information read the full show description below and head over to the official website to watch clips and learn more about the show!

Are you excited for this new series? 

About The Show:

Wilfred is a half-hour, live-action comedy about "Ryan," a young man struggling unsuccessfully to make his way in the world until he forms a unique friendship with "Wilfred," his neighbor’s canine pet. Everyone else sees Wilfred as just a dog, but Ryan sees a crude and somewhat surly, yet irrepressibly brave and honest, Australian bloke in a cheap dog suit. While leading him through a series of comedic and existential adventures, Wilfred the dog shows Ryan the man how to overcome his fears and joyfully embrace the unpredictability and insanity of the world around him.

Wilfred is based on the critically-acclaimed Australian series of the same title and was adapted for FX by David Zuckerman (Family Guy, American Dad, King of the Hill). Zuckerman also serves as Executive Producer along with Rich Frank, Paul Frank and Jeff Kwatinetz of Prospect Park and Joe Connor and Ken Connor of Renegade, producers of the Australian version of the series. Jason Gann serves as Co-Executive Producer. Co-Executive Producer Randall Einhorn directed the pilot plus nine additional episodes of Wilfred’s first season and Victor Nelli, Jr. directed three. Wilfred is produced by FX Productions. The Australian version of Wilfred was written by Jason Gann and Adam Zwar, directed by Tony Rogers and produced by Jen Livingston.

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