Everyone’s favorite hobbit, Elijah Wood, takes on his first starring TV role in the odd, funny Wilfred. The diminutive 30-year-old’s tightly wound Ryan, a depressive in the midst of a hysterically failed suicide attempt when we first meet him, gains some perspective from his hot-chick neighbor’s dog. The titular mongrel appears, only to Ryan, as a gruff, water bong–toking guy in an unconvincing dog suit played by Jason Gann, the cocreator and star of the Australian series on which the new FX show is based.
Much of Wilfred concerns the relationship between man and dog. Do you have a pooch yourself?
I don’t, actually. When I was younger, I had a bearded collie named Rascal that was my beloved dog.
Ever have that Dr. Dolittle feeling that devoted pet owners often have of being in communication with Rascal?
I was a teenager, so I don’t know if I was really thinking about him on a metaphysical level. [Laughs] In my mid to late teens, my family had an older dog, a Bouvier, that we had taken in. It was very fascinating to watch: She would be very loyal to us and very wary of everyone else. When someone whom she didn’t know walked into the house, she would follow that person and wait for that person to kind of fuck up. [Laughs] It was kind of menacing but in a very quiet, methodical way.
It’s appropriate that Wilfred is a pothead pup, because weed is part of the show’s creation story, right?
[Laughs] Jason was stoned with a friend one night and they were talking about their friend’s dog who would terrorize her boyfriends. He just started acting out the dog’s character—in human form. I got the pilot script. At the time, I was reading a couple different things for TV, just interested in the world of television, which has opened up so much in the last five years.
It’s become more common for film actors to get into TV. Do you agree with the perception that writing is generally stronger in current TV than in film?
It’s really incredible. I’m a huge fan of things like Breaking Bad and Mad Men and a number of HBO shows. So I was just curious. I’d never really read comedy scripts or gone out for comedy—but I love comedy. So I was reading a couple of comedy scripts, and Wilfred was the last—and easily the funniest—thing I read. It’s so surreal and strange. I’m also a huge fan of the movie Harvey, and I saw a lot of interesting parallels.
Like what exactly?
My take is that Harvey is about a guy who sees the negativity around him and decides to check out, and in doing that meets this six-foot rabbit.
I thought Jimmy Stewart was just crocked the whole time.
Yeah, it could all just be an alcoholic’s dream, too. [Laughs] Every scene he’s drinking quite heavily. In Wilfred, my character is also at an impasse. In that moment of crisis, he meets Wilfred. One explanation is that at that moment of crisis, a side of Ryan’s psyche steps in to push him out of the hole. The lifesaver just happens to manifest itself as a guy in a dog suit with an Australian accent who smokes a lot of pot. [Laughs]
I couldn’t help but think of The Beaver.
There’s a real similarity.
Have you ever turned to something odd as a coping mechanism?
I think my coping mechanisms are pretty average. I’ve definitely explored psychiatry. It’s like opening a window to yourself and having a look around. There’s an attic up there with a lot of boxes strewn about, and you sift through and make sense of it all. I’ve had some great, healthy benefits from looking at myself.
Is that how you deal with people on the street yelling “Frodo!” at you?
I never really felt like I needed to cope with the Frodo thing. I think it’s about having an understanding that it stems from an association with something that’s far larger than any of the parts that make it.
What do you think the furry community will think of Wilfred?
It’s a joke we’ve made on set, looking at Jason in that suit.
I’ve covered Midwest FurFest.
It’s not all purely sexual, is it?
Nah. Some furries dress like Tony the Tiger just for kicks.
You and Jason: FurFest appearance?
Oh, I’m sure we’ll get all sorts of interesting requests.
Beginning June 23, Wilfred airs Thursdays at 9pm on FX.