When Elijah Wood took on the role of the hobbit Frodo Baggins in the famed "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, he was plunged into the world of Middle-earth where he had to contend with dragons, Orcs, Ents and a Gollum.
Wood's new project, BBC America's "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency," finds him in the real world, but its weirdness could rival Middle-earth. He plays Todd Brotzman, an unlucky hotel bellhop who is suddenly thrust into a sci-fi flavored mystery populated by an assortment of bizarre characters, including Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett), an eccentric, fast-talking sleuth who believes in the "fundamental interconnectedness of all things" and sees Brotzman as the Watson to his Sherlock.
"Gently," based on a popular novel by Douglas Adams ("The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"), marks a return to series television for Wood, who spent four seasons starring in FX's "Wilfred," about a young man who has a unique friendship with his neighbor's dog, played by Jason Gann in a furry dog costume.
In recent years, Wood has put much of his focus on offbeat fare. His extensive gallery of characters includes a technician who erases memories ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"), a concert pianist terrorized by a sniper ("Grand Piano"), a horrific murderer who scalps his victims ("Maniac") and the voice of Mumble the dance-happy penguin in "Happy Feet."
His other activities include heading up a production company specializing in genre fare ("The Greasy Strangler") and DJ'ing as half of the duo Wooden Wisdom.
Wood sat down last week to talk about choosing roles on gut instinct, life after Frodo and his new series, which premieres Oct. 22.
What attracted you to "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency?" Were you familiar with the novel?
No. In fact, I've not read any Douglas Adams. I'm certainly familiar with him as a pop culture reference. My entry point was quite literally the pilot script that [creator] Max Landis had written. I had never read anything like it — certainly not seen anything like it on television that resembled it..
Were you looking for another series?
No. In fact, initially there was a little reluctance. I had an amazing time making "Wilfred" for four years, but it was not on the list of priorities to do another series. But this was just one of those things I couldn't deny.
What was the element that most appealed to you?
How funny and surprising it was. The thing I was most impressed with was thinking about how you're constantly being thrust in different directions. I thought that it would be a distraction. But I didn't find it irritating or overwhelmingly confusing. I just found it exhilarating and I wanted to know where it was going to go.
You could see a parallel with your situation in "Wilfred," where you were dealing with very strong forces.
Yes, Todd is kind of like my character in "Wilfred," where I'm having to combat a dominant force of nature. That dynamic shifts over the next two episodes on "Dirk Gently," but yeah, I can see that parallel.
How much of your choosing roles over the last few years has had to do with wanting to do something different after being part of one of the most popular film phenomena of all time?
Not at all anymore. Closer to the proximity of the release of those films, that occupied more of my mind in the sense that those films loomed so large, and I just wanted to continue in things that were very different, particularly smaller films. But it's been over 15 years since the first one came out, so it doesn't occupy my mind anymore.
Do people still approach you about those movies?
(Laughs) All the time! They will be a part of me for the rest of my life. They're part of pop culture, and they are people who watch them over and over again. There are new fans all the time.
What's your feeling about the impact of those movies?
It's extraordinary. Those are some of the best experiences I've ever had making films, and I'll never have another experience like it. At the time we shot them, it was with the spirit of an independent film. We were in New Zealand, so far away from the industry and Hollywood. There was an intimacy that felt very special that seems even more extraordinary looking back on it now.
Since then, you've done basically every type of movie.
It's not entirely my intention to be un-peggable, but my taste is broad and varied. Often what I do reflects the kinds of movies I want to see. I have a production company called SpectreVision, and we're working on any number of projects at the same time. We just released "The Greasy Strangler" a week ago
I'm a little scared to see it.
It depends on what your standards are for disgusting midnight fare. It's really not that bad, it's really more of a comedy, a twisted father-son tale. I like supporting interesting, sometimes bizarre, genre fare. It divides people and I really like that, movies that elicit a strong reaction either way.
And then you find time to do your music thing.
Whenever I get some free time, I DJ with my friend Zach Cowie. We're going to Europe in November for 10 days and play records. The nice thing is that it really doesn't relate to anything else, it's just playing records.
Did you know that Autograph Collector Magazine once named you as the seventh best autograph signer?
It's probably because I rarely refuse. I don't even say no to the people who will sell them, which is something I'm morally against. I will still do it because I hate to say no — I like to be accommodating.