IFC’s remarkable Maniac, is now on VOD platforms (Brad’s rave review here) with a Los Angeles theatrical run beginning tomorrow. A few days back I spoke with Elijah Wood, who plays the “Maniac” as indicated in the title. We talked about delving into such a dark persona, shooting POV and the overall stylish tone of the film.
In the slasher redo, “Frank (Elijah Wood) is the withdrawn owner of a mannequin store, but his life changes when young artist Anna appears asking for his help with her new exhibition. As their friendship develops and Frank’s obsession escalates and the number of victims increases, it becomes clear that Frank is far more dangerous than he seems. With a pulsating electronic score by Rob, the film is an intimate, visually daring, psychologically complex and profoundly horrific trip into the downward spiraling nightmare of a killer and his victims.“. Nora Arnezeder, Genevieve Alexandra, Jan Broberg, America Olivo, Morgane Slemp, Sal Landi, Dan Hunter, Freedom, Délé Ogundiran, Steffinnie Phrommany and Joshua De La Garza also star in the feature directed by Franck Khalfoun.
It feels like you’ve successfully established yourself as a performer outside of your role in Lord Of the Rings, so with something like Maniac I have to assume you like the horror genre.
The horror genre is certainly a favorite of mine. I haven’t really worked on a horror film before, though I suppose you could count The Faculty, so it was a unique opportunity. I think what was so intriguing about this specifically was the POV angle, I was so thrilled with the idea of shooting it from the killer’s perspective and the fact that the audience would only really see him in reflections and occasionally flashbacks. As an actor I found that interesting and also as an audience member it’s an interesting proposition – that you would sit back and experience what this character is doing.
Also, being a remake, I was thrilled that this had its own unique reason for existing.
Physically you pop up more than I expected, but did you feel like it was a more vocally driven performance?
Yeah. A performance in three parts. It’s the camera operator and me standing behind the camera, occasionally interjecting an arm or hand into the frame. I had a double on set too in case I couldn’t get my left arm around the rig. A lot of the character work was really established in the vocal performance.
There’s some awkward humor there as well.
I suppose there are some moments of levity, I don’t know that it’s entirely funny…
It’s not Evil Dead 2 or anything, but he’s an awkward guy trying to interface with the world.
He is. The first time he meets Anna, for instance, she points out that he has lipstick on his face and he looks at himself in the mirror. It’s kind of a vulnerable, ridiculous moment. That was part of the construction too, when the character isn’t stalking someone he’s incredibly awkward and antisocial.
Was there more pressure on you during the few moments where you’re physically in the frame?
Yeah, I think so. Probably more than normal because if you’re on camera the whole time you’re looking at how you portray the character overall. Those shots probably carried with them a certain need for making sure the character was coming across. It was important to me too that the character look different than me, and that was an interesting line to walk because the character could not be repulsive, he would strike red flags with all of these girls he’s spending time with. But he couldn’t be too normal either, so it was trying to find the balance of the loner isolation but still make it believable that he could spend time with a girl without it making her disturbed.
That’s a tightrope you guys walk well with Nora’s character, making that relationship believable.
There’s a vulnerability to the character that often reads as a sort of sweetness. I think he sees her as a potential salvation, I think he genuinely wants to fall in love with this person and that does kind of manifest in the way he interacts with her. He’s not ever truly creepy around her.
We also deal with that relationship in flashbacks, which are his memory of what occurred and not necessarily representative of what really happened. That was another way to exhibit his though process, with these overly romantic memories of their time together.
In a sense the movie reminds me of Drive, this romanticized story of a weird loner with this Madonna type character coming into our hero’s life. Do you see that at all?
That’s interesting. You could also say that the score is evocative of that film too.
I imagine Franck Khalfoun was helpful in guiding you through the process of POV acting as well.
Totally. The whole process was collaborative and exciting and he had a lot of great ideas and a lot of forward momentum in figuring out how we were going to shoot this. It was a challenge every day, because we didn’t have traditional coverage every scene was a puzzle to figure out how it was going to be blocked.
I was surprised at how beautiful and artful the movie is, and there were a lot of elements that were discovered along the way. Alex Aja was on the set the whole time as well and I’m certainly a fan of his prior work. it felt very creative.