Elijah Wood left his unfading fingerprint on film as the lead hobbit in Peter Jackson's box office breaking Lord of the Rings trilogy, Frodo Baggins. At 33, his career now expands over two decades, miraculously avoiding the pitfalls of less fortunate child stars who achieved blockbuster glory. But post-LotR, he's embraced his boldest reinvention yet: Horror and thriller maestro. By working with genre darlings like on the remake of 1980's Maniac, in which Wood plays a serial killer searching out women to scalp, to Saw writer and director at his independent production company, SpectreVision, he's successfully rebranding himself as an unlikely genre hero.
"He has beautiful eyes," says , the director of Wood's latest project, Grand Piano. "But what the fuck is that by itself? He wants to explore the world of making movies. He's a responsible artist." Wood plays Tom Selznick, a classical pianist and prodigy, returning to the stage after a five year hiatus after a botched performance. He's informed by a phantom voice via ear piece that he must play his comeback recital perfectly or get shot to death. It's being touted as Speed or Phone Booth at a concert hall, but in reality comes across as a mostly non-violent giallo mashup inspired by visual directors like , , and . It's regimented and structured in a way that few movies today are despite its kitschy premise.
Mira believes the ultimate responsible artist is someone like , a person who supported the growth of , , and . Mira argues that Wood, like Spielberg, only does projects that fulfill him and those around him. "I'm very fortunate that I've met him at this stage in his life," Mira says. "He's done everything, he's incredibly young, and he does completely different movies." Mira remembers when Lord of the Rings came out because he was a big fan of Peter Jackson. But he knew that Woods' take on Frodo was not the beginning, middle, and end. "I'm not the kind of guy who thinks Lord of the Rings is Ground Zero," Mira says.
Their union came after meeting at Fantastic Fest in 2010 while singing karaoke. Mira sang "Lady In Red" by Chris DeBurgh, while Wood belted New Order. Fantastic Fest to Eugenio Mira was like an open, secret society. It's like being a freemason. The only difference is that everything ends up on YouTube. "It's a very powerful thing," he says. "It's a place where the boundaries of film lovers and filmmakers are completely blurred. There is this beautiful interaction. We talk about movies. But we don't talk promoting shit. It's a great environment to find collaborators." Wood and Mira hit it off. It didn't hurt he was a fan of Mira's earlier film, The Birthday, a fever dream about a man () who attends a celebration that's really for the for the birth of a cult's god.
But the fact that Wood has a horror production company and is starring in notable thrillers and hard horror movies is happenstance, at least to him. He's happy to explore all genres and would be interested in everything from this to a Busby Berkeley-style musical. He also doesn't acknowledge his longevity as a force to be reckoned with. He doesn't think he's the reason these movies are being made. "I don't feel like I'm ushering anybody," he says. "I have the privilege of working with people I admire." However, as it pertains to genre, that's what his production company is all about. "What interests us is trying to push the genre forward at its best. It's obviously an ambitious thing and not everything we produce is going to be breaking some kind of horror ground."
Wood argues he could push the genre forward by the standards he sets for himself, which include making movies that are outside the box and unfamiliar. His example? "There's a film that we produced called A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, which is an Iranian, Western, black-and-white film," he says. Other projects in development at SpectreVision include Cooties, a film Wood will star in about a virus that turns a group of high school students into savages, as well as the genre films Curse the Darkness, Henley, Harrow, and It Was Cruel. His next horror project, Open Windows, will play at SXSW in Austin, the same city he formed his bond with Eugenio Mira and filmed The Faculty. He'll portray a man obsessed with an actress, played by former adult film star . Like Maniac, which was told in the first person, this film follows Wood in an unconventional way: Most of the narrative is seen through his laptop.
Grand Piano is available to watch on VOD and in select theaters today.