Elijah Wood on What It's Like to Work with Nicolas Cage on 'The Trust'
The actor and producer takes us through building a character in five weeks, working opposite a film icon, and much more.
Image courtesy of Saban Films, Lionsgate and DirecTV
In The Trust, a dark comedy thriller that follows two crooked Las Vegas cops attempting a misguided heist, the central highlight comes from its two brilliantly cast leads. Nicolas Cage and Elijah Wood are the cinematic cop duo you didn’t know you wanted, and in directors Alex and Ben Brewer’s hands, they’re given plenty of acidic dialog and genre tropes to twist and dismantle. For Wood, it’s just another unique role in a list of many, well past the franchise worries of Lord of the Rings and into endlessly varied projects: just as game for playing serial killers in Sin City and Maniac as he is voicing a character on the animated series Over The Garden Wall.
Wood has expanded his reach lately into producing genre films, starting the Spectrevision label with Daniel Noah and Josh C. Waller. Together they’ve brought Cooties, Nacho Vigolondo’s Open Windows, and most prominently Ana Lily Amirpour’s vampire hit, Girl Walks Home Alone At Night to the big screen. It’s a run of projects that show the same type of experimentation in producing that he brings to his acting career, and recently we got the opportunity to sit down with Wood and discuss his approach to both disciplines:
The Creators Project: Your character in The Trust hits brash, sometimes nihilistic notes that we don’t often see from your performances in other films. How was it taking on those new directions, and also working opposite Nicolas Cage?
Elijah Wood: There’s a reluctance from moment one with my character [David Waters]. He thinks the heist idea is insane, and ultimately he gets wrapped up in the fantasy that Nic's character [Jim Stone] provides. But quickly the reality of what this plan means, and the realisation that they're in over their head, becomes very apparent. My character's always in that place of, "Is this a good idea, is this financially smart, is this ethically right?" He's sort of in that mode the entire time.
With Nic though, I've been so fortunate to work with people I admire, but working with him was different. He’s one of those guys though that is so fascinating to watch, and I think that speaks to his level of commitment to everything. He never phones anything in, and he's filled with a desire to make everything strong and meaningful. It's interesting because his reputation, at least in internet culture, is that he's so broad and known for that wackiness. But he's always serving his character. He’s also just such an icon — I kept having these almost out of body experiences during scenes.
Was there a moment that you remember stepping outside of yourself?
There's one that immediately comes to mind. It’s really specific: it was a musicality to the way that he said a line. There's a scene halfway through the film, where final preparations for the heist are being made. We're in Stone’s garage and getting our tools ready, and he makes a joke where it seems like he hasn't gotten a van. I freak out, and his response is to pull out the van keys and say, "It was a joke." And the way he said that line killed me. "It was a jooookke." I don't know anyone else who would've known to fuck with the musicality of that word. It was so specific and unique.
I felt like Alex and Ben Brewer were directing him in ways that a diehard fan would love to see.
Yes, but Nic is super aware of his proclivities, and the fact that he might come up with something that Alex and Ben may think is too out there. It was a great working relationship because he would try something different, just to see. And then the directors would come over, maybe ask him to a tweak a certain part, and he would do that. He was malleable and respectful to what their ultimate vision was, and they him, of what his process was.
I think if you talk to Nic he’ll say that he always has a secret intention for a character. In this particular film Stone has a perspective that doesn't quite need to be revealed, but Nic knows what's motivating him. Whether it's perceivable or it's written into the script, I think you always have to have that on some level, but it was so fascinating to see Nic and know his decisions — maybe not know why he's doing something, but know that he has a secret internal truth.
You joined the project very close to the start of production. How do you prep a character that quickly?
It’s true, we didn't have a long lead-up. I think I read the script in November or December and then we were shooting in January, so it was literally like five, six weeks of prep. It's always daunting to read something and shoot something so quickly, you just want to have that sense of being prepared. But it can also be exhilarating. In this case it was maybe beneficial. I drove to Vegas from LA on a Friday, we shot on a Monday, and between that it was two days of meeting Nic for the first time, and then Alex, Ben, and I running through the entire script and working it out.
It was totally exhilarating, and Nic and I jumped headfirst into it. The first scene we shot was the scene where Nic’s character reveals this $200,000 cash bail receipt, insinuating something more. It was like a six-page dialogue scene, and I don't think either Nic or I could've done it with as much excitement and confidence if we hadn't had the two days to get to know each other, and also know who these characters were in a practical, applied sense.
What role do you have coming up next?
I'm about to start a film in April. I don't think it's been officially announced yet, but Melanie Lynskey and I are working together on a film [actor Macon Blair’s directorial debut]. I think she's an exceptional human being and a great actress, and I'm a long admirer of her so I'm just fucking thrilled.
In terms of the films you develop with Spectrevision, like thriller Harrow or WWII horror It Was Cruel, they seem to always have a layer of political or social relevance on top of the genre format. Is that focus a key aspect for you?
Well, I really can't wait until we eventually get to make It Was Cruel. It's essentially a Holocaust film, but where vampirism runs rampant among the Jews in a concentration camp. It was kind of an internal idea that a novelist friend of ours, [Peter Charles Melman] wrote, and it uses a genre element as the means to explore liberation. It's such a beautiful idea, but I don't think we have a particular stake in a political viewpoint or exploring socio-political elements within our films.
There have been a few, certainly. When people saw A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, they felt like that was a political film. But it wasn't [Ana Lily Amirpour’s] intention at all to make it political. I think there were elements of the movie — it being an Iranian movie that couldn't be made in Iran, a strong female character — that were all things you could extrapolate being political choices. But I think that's just the fabric of the piece, rather than it being a specific intention.
They’re going more after a certain emotion or theme that you find interesting.
Exactly. And that's one of the reasons why I love genre, and horror. At its best it can actually explore real human experiences, real human fears, and, yeah, political issues through a slightly different lens. It's funny, we talk internally about how Ordinary People is the same as Poltergeist, if you think about it. Poltergeist is a movie about a family dealing with demons, and crumbling, and having to face those demons -- and so is Ordinary People. We talk about that a lot: if a film has genre elements, it still has to be compelling if you remove them.
The Trust hits DirecTV on April 14th, and opens in select cinemas and VOD on May 13th.