Back on FX for the summer is America’s most beloved dog and his human friend with the hilarious series WILFRED. Jason Gann plays Wilfred, a dog who is seen by Elijah Wood as Ryan like no one else sees him. Their relationship is complicated and ridiculously funny.
Wood isn’t new to audiences but he is iconic.
As you know, the third season of Wilfred premiered last night, and will continue to air Thursday nights at 10:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific; although, next week, June 27th, we’ll be airing two new episodes back-to-back at 10:00 and 10:30 p.m.
Hi, Elijah; thanks so much for talking to us today.
Of course, hi.
Do you have a hard time keeping a straight face because I know I’d be laughing a lot.
Oh yeah. Yeah and I would say even more this season oddly enough than other seasons. For some reason I sort of busted up more this season because of what Jason [Gann] was doing than ever before. I’m so used to seeing him in the dog suit and to a certain degree the context of a lot of the situations I’m very used to but it’s still definitely serves to make me laugh. It’s a wonderful environment to work in. It’s something that all of us as a crew are kind of constantly laughing so pretty wonderful thing to go in to work to that every day.
Ryan was thinking a lot last night about his own mental illness and how to deal with it. Is that going to be an ongoing thought for this character?
Well, I mean I think we don’t really address head-on any further in this season so much the idea of mental illness, but I think it’s always been there even if we haven’t talked about it. I think it was interesting to see that in the first episode, ‘Ryan’ kind of addressing it for the first time and sort of being self-aware that could potentially be the reason for ‘Wilfred’s’ existence. I think from here on out having established that as a possibility it will always be there as a way to sort of potentially look at each of the scenarios that he gets himself in to with ‘Wilfred.’ But I also think because we don’t outright answer it there’s still a sense of ambiguity as to what ‘Wilfred’ is, and I think that’s kind of important for the show that we don’t necessarily answer that question.
Do you think Wilfred should have a fixed ending point or can it just continue on indefinitely?
That’s a very good question. I think that the structure of the show that’s been created is such that it’s about a guy who is essentially in recovery, and trying to figure out what his path in life is. This manifestation of ‘Wilfred’ has provided essentially a push for him to kind of figure that out. I think that can only really last for so long to believe that we are dealing with a man who is kind of struggling for answers to these questions and in this sort of existential question period of his life and in recovery. I don’t know that we can believe that for ten seasons. I think to a certain degree there has to be a resolve or a move in a certain direction, so I don’t know. I think…to the fairness of the construct of the show I think it can only survive for so long. I would hate to make the show kind of carry on for too long and it not necessarily support what we’ve created, if that makes sense.
How do you see comedy in the future?
Man the future of comedy, I don’t know if I have much of an opinion on it. I think what’s interesting about—I mean on a sort of broad level for films I think that there are exciting things happening. I think where some of the best comedy is coming out is probably online. You know there are so many distribution models now and people are doing some of the more interesting things potentially in smaller avenues. I suppose that’s where some of the most exciting things are happening. I mean cable provides that conduit as well. A show like Louie for instance couldn’t exist if it weren’t for a network that were sort of brave enough to just let it be what it’s supposed to be, and that, I think, hopefully that inspires similar avenues of expression for comedy. I think Louie is probably one of the more inspiring things on television because it’s allowed to sort of exist and be whatever it is without it having to be strictly funny all the time, and I think that’s really exciting.
Do you personally have an idea of why Ryan sees Wilfred?
I do yeah. I have an idea. I’ve kind of made up my mind as to what I think ‘Wilfred’ is. I don’t know that that’s reflective of what the character has decided though, and to a certain degree I think ‘Ryan’—when ‘Ryan’ meets ‘Wilfred’ in the first season it’s really within an episode in a way that he sort of accepts ‘Wilfred’s’ existence. I think from there on out even though there are these questions and he does question what ‘Wilfred’ is—I think there’s a deeper level of acceptance and recognizing that ‘Wilfred’s’ purpose albeit uncertain as to where he’s manifesting from and what it means—his purpose is ultimately positive and that is helping him. I don’t know what ‘Ryan’ has decided because I think ‘Ryan’ is clearly questioning, but I have an idea. I think that perspective probably does help me in playing the character, but I think overall there’s just a sense of general acceptance for ‘Ryan.’
What is it that drew you initially to Ryan and what keeps you going?
Well, upon reading the pilot script I kind of fell in love with the whole idea of the show, both the character and the structure of what this show was being so unique and so unlike anything I’ve seen or read before. I also found it deeply funny. As far as the character is concerned I think the idea of playing someone who has effectively hit a wall in his life and is trying to rebuild himself and help himself it definitely provides a lot to work with. There is a sense of growth over the course of now the three seasons and I think that keeps … excited, but it’s also fun to work in the context of what we’ve created and always exciting to work with Jason. Aside from the characters in development, I find it inspiring and always exciting as an actor to be working opposite him for everything that he comes up with it sort of inspires me.
Did you add anything to the character of Ryan personally?
That’s a good question. I don’t think so. No I don’t think so. Beyond what I interpret in terms of what’s written to how it’s played I don’t know if there was anything specifically that I’ve added or suggested to be added to the character. But I think I bring myself in to the character as much as possible and kind of bring him to life in as a unique a way as I can that’s it.
Do you see yourself in Ryan at all?
No not really. I think I can related to elements of the character but no I’m relatively well-adjusted and mentally sound so I’m not entirely like ‘Ryan.’
Is there something that sticks out in your mind from the first WILFRED episode?
Well, it was completely new territory for me. I’ve never really worked on a television show before. I mean I’d kind of done guest appearance and things but I’d never made a show from scratch so it was a brand new experience. Working on a comedy I found it deeply exciting because it was something that I really believed in and it was exciting to work on something that felt really unique and really different. What was the other part of your question?
Sure. Well, I’d never really worked in comedy before so the idea of playing a character that does—you know there are sort of comedic elements to the performance and not having worked in that space before was definitely challenging. I suppose I—I’m not really fearful but any time you sort of jump in to something that is a little less familiar it comes with it, you know that sort of exciting anxiety about pulling it off in the right way. But I think I was also always comforted working with Jason because it always felt so comfortable even initially a working relationship.
Are you looking forward to anything specific in the future role wise?
Well, I feel like I continue to try and challenge myself to do things I’ve not done before. It’s difficult for me to speak to how I’ve changed as an actor. I think I’ve changed as a human being and I’ve grown as a human being, and I think that’s probably reflective of what I do as an actor. Hopefully, I’ve learned and grown along the way. As far as aspirations I think they sort of remain the same as they have for a long time, which is simply to continue to push forward my abilities and to grow and to do things that I’ve not done before, you know as it pertains to working as an actor. To take roles that provide new experiences and new challenges.
Do you have any favorite scene from this season so far?
I think you’ve all seen episodes one through three. In episode three the kind of caper aspect of that episode between ‘Wilfred’ and ‘Ryan’ kind of working together that was something that we sort of experienced for the first time this season and it was something that we all really loved. I love the idea of ‘Ryan’ and ‘Wilfred’ not always being in sort of a combative relationship but rather actually working toward something together. It was a blast. It was really fun, particularly that scene where we bust in to the guys car, and we’re sort of in this thing together in like a sort of caper scenario so that was really fun. I think it’s something that we’d like to continue doing.
Why is ‘Bear’ important to the story do you think?
Elijah I think ‘Bear’ is an important character for ‘Wilfred.’ The fact that ‘Wilfred’ has an independent relationship that is not reflective of his relationship with ‘Ryan’ adds something to the show and it adds something to ‘Wilfred’s’ own existence. I mean it’s obvious that it also provides a great amount of comedy because it’s a hilarious relationship that is extremely curious and strange, and it’s also, I think, reflective of that sort of notion of dogs having an obsession with a certain stuffed animal because that happens with dogs. It sort of works on all those levels, but at the end of the day it’s also just really funny that he’s carrying on these conversations that in some ways also mirror ‘Ryan’ and ‘Wilfred’s’ relationship. It’s like we never get to see the outside perspective of ‘Ryan’ talking to a dog and in some ways we get to see what that perspective is like…that ‘Wilfred’ is talking to a stuffed animal that can’t talk. It’s kind of a mirror a little bit to the ‘Wilfred’/’Ryan’ relationship from that outside perspective.
Is there a deeper meaning to all this?
No. I mean I think it actually sort of shows the very thing we can never see, which is the absurdity of ‘Ryan’ talking to something that can’t talk back. We actually do get to see that and recognize how absurd that is as it’s sort of reflected through the relationship between ‘Wilfred’ and a stuffed bear that can’t talk.
Recently you did a film called MANIAC where you play a killer and your forming a production company to make horror films. Is this what happens when you start out as Frodo?
I don’t know…I think everything that I do is reflective of my different interests and the variety of things that I’m passionate about and enjoy. As it pertains to the production company I, for a long time, wanted to develop films and product films from their inception point and be involved in film making from a different perspective. As the idea sort of percolated and I ended up meeting my two producing partners. We were working on an entirely different film that we were developing, and in that process we sort of realized we have a shared mutual love of the horror genre. It really was just born out of that and wanting to, I don’t know, make horror films; the kind of horror films that we love that aren’t necessarily being as widely made. But life is a varied experience and I have a lot of interests and I feel very fortunate actually to be allowed to explore those interests, and to be in a place in my life where I can do that.
Is there any music that influences you and your character?
Not really. I mean I’m constantly listening to music and constantly inspired by music, but I don’t think I’ve ever really made a play list specific to a character in terms of getting in character. I think that’s something that could actually be extremely effective depending on the role, but as it pertains to ‘Ryan’ I don’t really listen to anything specifically that would pertain to the performance or the mindset of the character.
You danced last season. Are you going to do anything to outdo it this season?
Elijah I don’t think we do anything to outdo the dance, no.
Is there a difference in the way you take on a character that is in film versus television?
Not really. I mean the only real difference between television and film—I mean there are few I suppose, but predominantly it’s the pace to which you work. But the development of the character or the process for playing the character isn’t necessarily different. The other main difference between film and television is that you have the opportunity to flush out a character over a longer period of time whereas a film you’re confined to two hours, three hours, whatever it may be. But really it’s very much the same approach that you would play a character in any medium I think.
Have you had any funny fan experiences?
I actually haven’t. I’ve seen photos of people dressed as ‘Wilfred’ on like Instagram or on various social media, but I’ve never—like I haven’t been out during Halloween and seen people dressed up so I have yet to have that experience. I think Jason has. I think Jason actually went to a Halloween party—I think this was last year actually—and saw someone dressed as ‘Wilfred,’ which must have been really surreal for him just given the fact that he’s been playing that character for so long, but it’s great. People definitely have embraced the show and it’s always fun to see it sort of bleed in to kind of pop culture a little bit.
Is there an episode that you know really stood out with fans?
The Jane Kaczmarek episode from the first season stands out and that definitely as a little shocking and extremely funny. Yeah that episode stands out particularly for me the kind of sex montage between what Jane and I are doing, and then what ‘Wilfred’ is doing with the giraffe. I remember shooting that and thinking, “Wow we’re doing this. Are we going to get away with this?” I mean I think I’m constantly surprised at the things that we get away with, and I think it’s part of what makes our show fun to watch too.
Wilfred goes after Ryan and Ryan goes after his sister and Jenna – sabatoging?
Well, I think no, I don’t think so. I think that the…behind the sabotage as it pertains to ‘Wilfred’…‘Ryan’ is always to get him to open his eyes to a specific, I don’t know, lesson or something that he’s not seeing. As much as it’s sabotage it’s really about kind of trying to push him forward in a good direction albeit in a sort of screwed up way. As it pertains to ‘Ryan’ and his sister and ‘Jenna,’ I think that his sabotage, if there has been, which there has been, it’s always been relatively well-meaning. It’s him trying to do the right thing but going about it in the wrong way. I think one of those particular circumstances had more to do with the horrible things, the sort of unsavory things he was doing as a lawyer that he was capable of. You can see a little bit of that darkness but I don’t know that it’s necessarily a reflection of human nature. I think any time that he’s gotten himself in that situation with ‘Jenna’ or his sister it’s really been making a mistake and then trying to fix it but kind of going the wrong direction to fix it more than anything.
It made me nervous watching Ryan carry a baby around. Can you maybe talk about more interacting with ‘Joffrey’?
I love that, ‘Ryan’ in his condition should he be carrying around a baby…that’s a very good question. Well, actually it was a mixture of working with a real live baby and also having a fake baby as well. For the majority of that work we didn’t have a baby on the set but we did have a baby on the set for some of it, and we were very lucky with the baby. We actually had twins and they were amazing and really easy to deal with except for one of them, oddly enough only one was sort of petrified of Jason in the dog suit. If we wanted tears it was kind of easy because we could put that baby in … and he would be petrified, but it was easy. It was really easy because I think when you work with babies and sometimes animals too it’s always a little unpredictable and you sort of almost anticipate it being difficult and it really wasn’t. We were really lucky.
Are you going to do more scenes with the baby?
It will feature more. We’ve definitely established some relationship between ‘Joffrey’ and ‘Wilfred’ at this point so we definitely explore that and with that a little bit more. I mean the reality is that ‘Kristen’ has a baby and in so much as she’s my sister the baby will be around.
Is there a theme this season?
Well, I mean I think every end of season we’ve addressed scenes and elements of the entire season towards the end. We’ll kind of continue on a sense of searching and questioning so I think we do that. I think that there are certain things that kind of get a little bit tied up, and then new questions kind of arise out of that. In that same way that we’ve dealt with this final episode kind of tying up elements of what the characters have been going through we continue that in this season as well.
Do you think WILFRED could have worked with any other animal?
Well, I think there is something inherently funny about it being a dog and everything that a dog embodies. I suppose a cat could work as well, but a dog is also very close to their owner, like that relationship in life, people’s relationship with their dog is a really close relationship. People have less of a close relationship with a parrot perhaps, although I’m sure somebody who owns a parrot would argue. The real thing is that this character was literally inspired by a real dog. Jason, when he initially created the character he was sitting at a friend’s house and his friend was telling him how a maid of theirs had a dog that was basically … blocking him and not letting him be with this other girl. They just found that so funny and so Jason just kind of riffed as if he was the dog, and that’s when the character was created. It was really based on—it wasn’t as if he tried to create a character and wanted to put sort of a human perspective on any kind of animal; it was inspired by a real dog who kind of had ‘Wilfred’-like attributes.
Moderator: We have a follow-up from Steve Eramo with Scifi & TV Talk.
Steve: I wanted to find out—I hope I phrase this correctly—what would you say makes a career in this industry rewarding for you so far?
Elijah: Well, it’s rewarding to simply continue to work but I think a rewarding career is that of which allows you the freedom to try new things and to be accepted to try new things. My favorite careers, the careers I admire the most are those that have a lot of variety and actors who are capable of a lot of different roles and are sort of seen in different things, those are the careers I admire. To be 32 and still working and having the freedom to try a lot of different things is incredibly rewarding.
Moderator: Our next follow-up is from Jamie Ruby with Scifivision.com.
Jamie: Going off of that, taking about diversity in roles and everything, is there still a specific type of dream role you have, something that you’d still love to do if you could?
Elijah: I don’t know if I really think in terms of dream roles, but I haven’t really played sort of a romantic lead; that would be something that I would enjoy. I guess when I look forward I don’t really think in terms of specific roles that I’m looking for beyond looking for things that I’ve never done before or new challenges. Sometimes my interest in working on a film is not always dictated specifically by the character. Sometimes it’s simply wanting to be a part of a vision that I love or a script that I love. Thinking back years ago getting a chance to work with… in some ways I would have done anything to be a part of that move just simply because I loved his work. Sometimes it’s not even looking for a role specifically as it is looking to be a part of a film and kind of a collective vision that I find exciting and gratifying.
Have you ever tried on WILFRED’s suit?
For the first time this year I did it. It’s funny…I don’t know why I had never tried it on before, and I think I always was curious but there’s something a little bit sacred about the suit is how I felt. Like maybe respecting Jason’s character and respecting that it’s Jason’s suit that I didn’t ever try it on or wasn’t moved to try it on before. We actually filmed a little behind the scenes kind of thing this year and Heath…behind the scenes footage, wanted me to put the suit on for a specific thing that we’re doing. He asked Jason if it was okay and Jason was like, “Yeah it’s fine,” so I got the go ahead, and then that’s why I ultimately tried it on, and it was surreal to kind of see myself in that suit. We talked about the idea actually of maybe doing a dream sequence. I mean I love the idea of the tables being flipped a little bit and what if ‘Ryan’ sort of sees himself as—you know suddenly wakes up and he sees himself as ‘Wilfred,’ there’s something there in his sort of exploration of what ‘Wilfred’ is. Potentially there’s a sort of melding of the two, I don’t know.
What will it be like having Wilfred and Ryan talking to a therapist this season about Wilfred?
Well, it’s ‘Ryan’ in front of Lance’s character himself so ‘Wilfred’ isn’t even in the office. He does go without ‘Wilfred’ but it provides a really fun and interesting exploration of ‘Ryan’s’ psyche. That’s an episode I’m really excited about and working with Lance was fantastic, especially being from The Wire and everybody was very excited to have him on set. I think he was really psyched as well so that was fun, and cool to have ‘Ryan’ in a kind of therapy situation to recognize that he might actually need some outside help, some outside perspective, which makes a lot of sense. It provides a really fun conduit for some mental exploration.
Do you play Ryan pretty straight or does it change accordingly?
I suppose it changes depending on what’s required for the individual role. Some roles even require one to have a specific you know—well, for instance I played a pianist last year and I had to learn how to play piano for the film so there are certain characters that do require research or learning something specific to the character. But overall I think my approach has remained the same for the most part. I think I’ve always taken—I don’t know if it’s naturalistic. I don’t know if I’ve ever even analyzed my approach or put it in to words, but I think I try and understand who the character is and play him truthfully and honestly. Beyond that I don’t think that there’s anything that is necessarily changed.
Does the character follow you home?
Oh I leave the character at work. Yeah I never feel like I occupy the character’s head space fully and entirely throughout the day. I mean I think it’s there in the context of the work and on set, and I think it’s gone by the time I’m home. I think that there’s definitely a separation.
And that’s what the man who grabbed audiences at a very early age, made Frodo and Middle Earth memorable and beloved and has moved on to a dog making havoc in his life in WILFRED. Not a bad career to my way of thinking. Check out WILFRED on FX Thursday nights at 10:00 p.m.