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Q&A with Elijah Wood and Jason Gann from FX Network’s Wilfred (Part 1)

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I recently attended a FX network press conference with the charming and talented Elijah Wood and wickedly humorous and talented Jason Gann for their hilariously fun, dark comedy, Wilfred.

 Wilfred is a half-hour, live-action comedy about Ryan, a young man struggling unsuccessfully to make his way in the world until he forms a unique friendship with Wilfred, his neighbor’s canine pet. Everyone else sees Wilfred as just a dog, but Ryan sees a crude and somewhat surly, yet irrepressibly brave and honest, Australian bloke in a cheap dog suit. While leading him through a series of comedic and existential adventures, Wilfred the dog shows Ryan the man how to overcome his fears and joyfully embrace the unpredictability and insanity of the world around him.

We wanted to know if you could talk a little bit about the recent episode that Mary Steenburgen was on.  It was such a great episode and we really got to know a lot about your character, so if you could just tell us a little bit about filming that it would be great. 

Elijah Wood: Yes. That was – actually that was one of the more enjoyable experiences working on that particular episode, made, I think all the more special because of Mary.  She was truly extraordinary and brought such a beautiful energy to the set.  We only worked with her for four days, but we felt this great loss when she left us – it was kind of amazing.

It was four days, but she’d made such an impression on everyone.  It’s a – you know it was an important episode in the sense that it gave a lot of background information for the Ryan character and a really interesting relationship develops also between Wilfred and Ryan’s mom, as well.  Jason?

Jason Gann: Yes, and I got to make out with Mary and –

Wood: You did, by the way I just recently saw that episode – damn, I forgot how much you actually made out with her. 

Gann: Yes, I was really looking forward – I was like – I was like so excited about making out with Ted Danson’s missus, it was like – it kind of overshadowed the rest of the episode for me.  We shot a number of takes of that kissing scene and we thought we had it and I said, “Yes, I think we’ve got it” and I went into the room where the show runner and the director were, Randall [Einhorn] and David [Zuckerman], and I said, “Did you see my tongue go in?”  They were like, “Yes, we know it went in.”  “But, did you see it go in?”  They were like, “You can tell it’s in.”  I’m like, “But did you see it?”  They said they didn’t see it go in.  I said, “Give me one more.” 

So I went back out and I said, “We’ll do one more.”  I made it get the tongue right in there and then I said to Mary, “Look, I’m sorry about that.”  She was like, “What are you sorry for, it’s the most fun I’ve had in ages.”  It was a lot of fun.  She was a really good sport.  We have to bring her back, you know.  We really want to see that character again.  It was so great we got a second season and fingers crossed she’s back.

Wood: Yes, it was a great episode, too, I think in the sense that it explored some of the psychological background to the Ryan character and developing his back story a little bit as well, sort of an interesting multi-layered episode that I think we’re really proud of.

Gann: I’m not really proud of my last comment.  Now that I’ve heard Elijah’s really intelligent answer to that, I mean all I talked about is making out with … I vow to have more intelligent answers for future questions.

Wood: But, but look, I mean ultimately the make-out is a stellar, very important piece to the puzzle that we created.

Gann: Well, yes, yes.  Thank you, thank you.  It is, and it’s also like the humanizing of behavior and I’ve seen dogs just get their tongue right in the mouths of humans. 

Wood: Yes.  And, and, you can also look at that as – is Ryan making out with his own mom?  … is he … ?

Gann: Yes, gee, all right.

Wood: I didn’t mean to open a can of beans.

Gann: Maybe it’s time we move on to the next question. 

Since every episode basically starts off with its own little problem and it gets tied up at the end, we have the little recurring things that happen, but for the season finale, is it going to be something like that or are you guys going to give us a cliffhanger?

Gann: Ooooh.

Wood: I don’t know how much we –

Gann:  … question – yes, I don’t know how much we can say.  Let’s just say that there will be more questions than answers.

Wood: Yes. 

Gann: There will be answers – that doesn’t mean there won’t be answers.

Wood: There will be.

Gann:  Yes, I think we – yes, it’s a lot less packaged.  The last two episodes are a lot less packaged.  You’re right in that the episodes do start with a problem that gets somewhat resolved by the end, but you know, now that we’re this far into the season we’re – and we’ve really created the rules and the parameters of the show we’re able to, I think, stretch those a little bit and play with the form a bit more so it’s a little less packaged.      

Since most of the show that we’ve seen so far is through Ryan’s eyes, are we going to see any episodes through Wilfred’s eyes, like his relationship with Bear and Giraffe?

Gann:  Yes, it will be in black and white.  It will be in black and white.

Wood: That’s awesome.

Gann: Will we see through Wilfred’seyes?  Well, I mean you could say that we – that part of Wilfred is Ryan in this case.  We are – look, we may do that.  We may do that.  Right now the formula seems to be working for us.  There is an ongoing … with … and the beginning episodes require like a trust or … different arms.  You know we’re going to run out of those eventually.  There are only so many different human emotions that there are before we start repeating ourselves.  It’s kind of like how long we’re good for, but I hope so. It’s more of a question for David Zuckerman, but you know we’ll try.

Jason, at the beginning of the season you talked a bit about the differences between the original series and the American take and how Wilfred, this Wilfred would be a deeper, richer show in terms of emotion and psychology.  I’m just wondering in terms of what you set out to do, how do you think things went over the course of the season in terms of meeting or surpassing your expectations and hopes?

Gann:  It has surpassed my expectations.  David had a really good idea for the genesis of this version of the show.  I was really excited by it, but yes, I’ve got to say that I think it’s – I also think that the ending is pretty tremendous.  I’m really looking forward to seeing where we can take that in Season 2. 

It’s been good for the show, but it’s also been great for my character, as well.  Like, I’ve had a lot of fun with “Wilfred” and I think that he has expanded and there are a lot more layers to “Wilfred” that I didn’t foresee, but I really love.  It’s been great fun for me on the set.

When the season is all over and people go out and buy the DVD of Season 1, what do you want to be on the bonus features?

Wood: Well, there are actually some – there are deleted scenes, some of which I’m — you know, I was a real fan of.  There is actually a great deleted scene that I won’t reveal because it will likely be on the DVD from the mother episode that is quite hilarious. 

Gann:  Yes.  There are a lot of scenes –

Wood: I imagine – yes, I’ve got to say there has to be a fair amount of bloopers, right?  I mean –

Gann:  Yes, I’m more like – I’m sort of more aware of what I really don’t want to be on there.  Like I’m not – it’s funny like I watch behind the scenes – the making of movies, but at the same time I kind of wish they weren’t there because if it’s a really fantastic movie that’s kind of got a magical element to it, it’s very rare that I get transported into another realm by TV because I’m so desensitized by being on film sets all the time.  So on the rare occasion that I am drawn into that world, I often don’t like seeing how different things are made. 

We’re really careful to try and not have me like Wilfred scenes sort of half in/half out so I’m not a big fan of like behind the scenes stuff.  I like interviews.  I think we should do interviews.  And I like bloopers and we certainly have – because our show is so precious of time we do have a lot of extra stuff that unfortunately had to be cut.  Hopefully that will be in there and people can get to see some alternatives, maybe just see maybe a few scenes that are a bit more stretched out that we didn’t have the benefit of the time with.


What do you look for in a script; whether it’s TV or film?

Wood:  Jason, do you want to take that one first?

Gann: I don’t get that many scripts.  Normally they’re scripts – I mean the last few years I mean I’ve pretty much back in Australia done my own shows and really no work outside of that.  It’s kind of – it’s only now that I’m starting to read some like Hollywood film scripts and stuff.  I’ve read some really great ones, but I mean I just like stuff that says there is a character in there that says sort of Jason Gann in it, you know?  I like doing roles that I can do in my own way, so it’s pretty tough.  I see something that seems like kind of standard fare that I can imagine any number of actors playing then I’m generally not interested.

Wood: Yes, I think I’m always looking for something very different from anything I’ve done.  I think – and I’m equally attracted to just simply a great script and not necessarily a great character.  I mean you can find sometimes great characters in the context of a script that isn’t as interesting, but I suppose I’m almost just as interested in just being a part of an entire piece that I think is brilliant even if it’s a small part to play in that entire piece, you know.

I think, yes, I guess I’m just always looking for something that I’ve never done or something that feels unique and special.  I think a lot of it is also just gut, you know, what you emotionally connect with and that can be a variety of different things, I suppose.

Is this melancholic gut-busting humor to offset the kind of sad little undertone, is that going to continue in the second season?  Can you give us some more insight into the therapy aspect of Wilfred and Ryan’s relationship?

Wood: Hm.

Gann: Hm, that’s a good question – how to answer.  Do want to try first, Elijah? 

Wood: I mean, I think you know the foundation of the relationship is based on the recovery of Ryan and I think that that – for “Wilfred” to exist Ryan has to need him, I think, so I think that that component will always be there, but I think it will ebb and flow, you know?

I think over the course of this season we’ve seen Ryan start to recover.  I don’t know that the foundation will always be built on a sense of melancholy necessarily, but I think that that dynamic will continue to exist.  I feel like it has to exist for that relationship to play out because ultimately it’s about Wilfred is engaging Ryan in a way of life that he was unfamiliar with and ultimately trying to push Ryan to live a stronger, better life.  I see that definitely progressing.  Jason?

Gann: Yes, I think towards the end of this season where we’ve kind of gone there first, we’re going there eventually, but we needed to set up a kind of comedic premise first.  Because we’ve done that I think we’re able to afford ourselves some space to be able to deal with some heavier things.  I don’t think we could do that continually throughout every episode. I suspect, even though we haven’t blocked it out, I suspect that the second season might be somewhat similar because anyone that is in recovery in real life they don’t spend their whole 24 hours a day in recovery, otherwise they’re not recovering very well.  Part of recovery is to be able to enjoy your life.  So I think that there will be a lot more funny, maybe one-off episodes that don’t hit as hard on the head the whole therapeutic element, but yes, it will always be there, I would agree

Now with the season finale and how everything wraps up, did you write that and did you know how it was going to end before or after you knew that there was going to be a Season 2?  Then how is that really going to play into Season 2 because it was kind of ambiguous, like you said.

Gann: Look, we were so pressed for time with Season 1 I had to leave the writer’s room before – I mean all the stories were mostly broken, but there were still about a number of, say maybe three written and so they did change a lot.  I do know that with the ending we had to – I mean we were all really excited about the way it ended. 

When we heard about it we were on set and we all loved it.  We had to get that – once that was approved by the network then it was – then we were all really excited.  Yes, it’s, I mean there are arguments for and against having a cliffhanger and I think that it’s done really, really well; but no, I didn’t write that.

Okay here goes – it’s so intoxicating to watch the interaction between Ryan and Wilfred.  Since Ryan is rather broken and doing his best, what struggle would you like Ryan to overcome and address?  And what role would you like Wilfred to play in it?

Wood: What struggle would I like him to overcome the most?  I mean I think that he’s – well I suppose one of his larger issues is being able to socialize with other people.  I think that’s something that I would like to see him overcome.  We’ve addressed that – it kind of succeeded, but it kind of failed.  I don’t know.  How would Wilfred best help Ryan in that scenario, Jason?

Gann: Well, look I think that ultimately if – what I’d like to see Ryan overcome would actually probably mean the end of the show and then I’m unemployed so I don’t really want to see it, but if I think of Ryan as a character then I’d like to see him kind of not need Wilfred anymore as this talking Australian man with this …

Wood: Yes.

Gann: Then, I imagine that you’d probably see him sitting on a hill or something with a real dog and that would be kind of sad, but it’d kind of be good for the character.  Whether I want to see that in the show, I don’t know.  

Yes, like I guess going back to what I was saying before about recovery is I think a really strong side of recovery is when the individual is not aware that they’re recovering, that they’re actually just living their life day-to-day without thinking about it.  So, I guess I’d like to see him in the meantime sort of have some periods where he’s actually doing okay and him and Wilfred are just kind of buddying around getting into hi-jinks.

Wood:  Yes, I’d also like to see Ryan get to work, you know.  We’ve never really seen him – he’s a lazy ass.  We’ve never seen him in a work setting and with other responsibilities.  You know his responsibilities thus far have really been about himself and sorting himself out.  I think to throw him into the context of a working environment where he has to answer to other people I think would be the next step for him.  I would like to see that.

I was wondering if in Season 2 Bear will get a mention in the credits, and have you gotten her into any therapy since you don’t treat her very well?

Gann: Well, how do you know it’s a her? I mean – yes, look, I think that Bear is starting to, which I’d hoped he would, or she, would take on a real character of their own and it’s a great opportunity, you know, and cheap for us, too, as far as characters go to employ someone.  Yes, like I don’t know whether Bear will go into therapy, but look, I really see Bear being in the show for some time.  I mean hopefully you’ll see Wilfred maybe start to appreciate Bear a little bit more.

Wood: I’d like to see her –

Gann: I’d like Ryan to interact with her, as well.

Wood: Me too, me too.  I think that Bear has a lot more to say about Ryan.  I don’t think Bear is a real fan of Ryan and I’m curious as to what it will have to say in the future.  I’d also love to see a dream sequence of sorts where we get to see an animated Bear, maybe like an animatronic Bear that comes to life.

Wilfred airs Thursday nights at 10 o’clock, Eastern and Pacific, only on FX.  The Season 1 finale is scheduled to air September 8th.

Click here to see a teaser for the season finale of Wilfred.

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About Diane Morasco

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