Performer for Our Time
From LIFE Magazine
September 16, 2005
Shoot First, Ask Questions Later
article by Jay A. Fernandez
Shoot First, Ask Questions Later
Transcript, Life Magazine article by Jay A. Fernandez
Something surprising happened on the way to Elijah Wood’s becoming the most famous hobbit on earth: He turned into a pretty deft photographer as well. Wood, 24, looking less Frodo-like these days with close-cropped dark hair and shades, starred honing his shutterbug skills on location in New Zealand for the Lord of the Rings in 1999, using a manual Leica M6. For his new movie, Everything Is Illuminated, based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s best seller, he packed his digital Canon PowerShot SD400 and captured the quirky characters that populated the Prague set. Wood gave LIFE an exclusive peek at his photos from Illuminated’s two-month-long shoot and talked about his latest quest: taking—and safe-keeping—memorable pictures.
What’s it like, looking at your photos from the Lord of the Rings set?
I have boxes of them. They’re sad, in a way. I was 18 years old when we first started shooting (LOTR), and it had such an impact on me as a person—it was massive. So looking back now is somewhat nostalgic.
Do you keep in touch with your fellow hobbits and such?
Oh, yeah. Dom (Monaghan) lives out here (in L.A.), though he lives mainly in Hawaii now because of Lost. Billy (Boyd) I see whenever he’s in town. I spoke to Viggo (Mortensen) a couple of weeks ago. Sean (Astin) lives out here. Even if we don’t see one another a low, we keep tabs on one another.
You took a lot of photos on the set of Illuminated. Did you approach that photography any differently?
Prague is such a Gothic, picturesque city. I was constantly taking photos there. I relied more on my digital camera, because it’s so portable.
Is it hard to take candid pictures with a bunch of actors around?
I generally don’t tell people I’m taking photos of them. I’ll just capture moments. If someone starts laughing during a conversation, I’ll take a photo, so that it’s spontaneous. And the camera is so small, I never make a big deal of it.
You seem to take a lot of self-portraits.
It’s not an obsession with myself. (Laughs) I just like the quality of reflection. It’s as much about the surfaces that I’m reflecting off—the water, a mirror—as it is about me.
But it also gets you to look at someone—such as yourself—indirectly.
Yeah, it’s also capturing a moment with myself. I never smile. I don’t know why that is, but my expression is always kind of stone-faced. If I were to smile, it would ruin the whole point. It’s not suppose to be about how I’m emoting. It’s about nothing but the blank expression and the reflection.
What photos have inspired you?
Old black-and-white photography. There’s an album that Muddy Waters did in the late ‘60s called Electric Mud. There’s a photo on the back of him standing in a white robe with a small guitar and his hair kind of in a pompadour. For the inside shots, the same photographer followed him to a local barbershop and photographed him getting a haircut. I do love rock photography: Annie Leibovitz, Mick Rock. He shot T. Rex, Bowie, Blondie, a lot of classic Lou Reed. That (Michel Linssen) shot of Kurt Cobain in the recording studio over an acoustic guitar, lost in thought—just beautiful.
In Illuminated, your character inspired by a photograph, travels to Europe to learn about his heritage. Have any photographs had an impact on your own life?
I was in my first real relationship when I was 16—total puppy love, romantic, beautiful. We had letters and emails and pictures between the two of us. And for whatever reason, I decided when the relationship was over to get rid of it all. It’s one of the most foolish things I’ve ever done, because it was the first relationship of any significance in my life.
Why did you do it?
I don’t know. Maybe I felt like that was what I was suppose to do. Or the fact that I was unhappy with the way things ended, and it was like the last bit of finality to the relationship. Then years passed. I started talking about it with somebody, and it was like "Why’d I do that?" It made me really sad. All evidence of that relationship had died. Shortly thereafter, for the first time in two years, I contacted that girl.
What did you say?
I told her, "I don’t have anything anymore." She said she had kept everything. I vowed that moment to never, ever do that again. It was comforting to know that someone had a record of what happened.