Elijah Wood

On Everything Is Illuminated.

"Frodo, your mother and I are very concerned about your smoking." Elijah Wood looks so young, cigarette dangling from his mouth during a recent Seattle visit, that I had to restrain myself from tossing the pack out the window. Our favorite hobbit was here to discuss Everything Is Illuminated (see review), which was actually shot in the Czech Republic, not Ukraine, where Jonathan Safran Foer's source novel is set. So did Wood view the land with the same fresh eyes as Foer, his tourist character? "Very fresh. I'd never been to Eastern Europe. [Prague] is a city that's in flux. You've got these people from the old Communist regime that almost wish that it was still there, and you've got the young people that are glad it's gone. There's this interesting, strange identity issue at play. For me, that was the most fascinating element of being there." In the multicultural production, he, like his character, also had to work across a translation barrier, Wood recalls: "It's a film that is both in English and in Russian. So these scenes had to be relatively well worked out before we shot them, because it was all about timing and rhythm, because I obviously can't understand what they're saying. Thankfully, I didn't have to fake understanding it. My cues often were in Russian. It was a great challenge and quite a lot of fun. "One of the elements of the character and the film that I was most drawn to and excited about was the comedy. It was such naturalistic comedy. It's comedy born out of common misunderstandings—language-barrier comedy, observations, things like that that don't require you to be funny." Since the passively observant Foer character doesn't talk much, Wood explains, the goal was to make him "not boring but deliberately strange. He's always kind of logging and thinking and taking things in. He can get easily agitated. He can be in a situation where he's relatively quiet, but given whatever may be happening, he could be having a strong reaction to it—or a weird reaction to it." Although Foer is digging into his Jewish family's history during World War II, Wood doesn't consider the film a Holocaust movie. "It is a period of history with which I'm relatively familiar. I've done some voice-over work for the Shoah Foundation. I think what makes this movie really extraordinary and powerful . . . is that it's not trying to display the greater scope of the Holocaust at all. What it's telling is a very personal story of one man that was in one particular town that got wiped out. You don't get a sense of the larger picture. And I don't think that I've seen that in a film before. The Holocaust is largely irrelevant." bmiller@seattleweekly.com

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