In the first “Happy Feet,” vocally challenged penguin Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) got the girl, so it only makes sense that “Happy Feet 2” finds Mumble grappling with fatherhood — something knew for the young actor best known for playing a hobbit. We caught up with Wood to talk about his penguin alter-ego growing up faster than he is and the joys of job security now that his series “Wilfred” has been picked up for a second season. Plus, he gives an update on that other franchise he’s a part of.
I’m pretty sure you’ve never played a father before.
Oh no. (laughs) Only in the digital realm. I mean I’m 30 now, so I suppose it’s not altogether unbelievable anymore.
How was that to take on as an actor?
It was cool. I think it was a natural progression for Mumble. You know, after he sort of cements his relationship with Gloria at the end of the first film, it’s sort of natural that they would have an egg and a baby — the natural progression. So it was cool. It presented a unique, new step in his life. And the relationship between him and Eric was a fun relationship to play out.
How does recording with whole cast — especially Hank Azaria and Robin Williams enhance the animation experience?
Well, having the two of them around is delightful and entertaining, certainly, but they also are inspiring. The things that Robin would come up with vocally for both the characters he was playing, the ideas that he would have, it just kind of elevated everything. He always brings a certain kind of energy to the piece and to the scenes. And I’d say the same for Hank. You know, both of them are so incredibly gifted at what they do. Sometimes their energy can really drive a scene. And I think it lifts up the ability of all the people around them.
“Wilfred” got pretty dark in the season finale. Will it continue that tone in Season 2?
I hope so. I love the whole season, but the latter half of the season, where it started to go with being a little bit more of a blend of the cerebral and surreal with the comedy and the darkness, is kind of my favorite combination of what the show is capable of. What I love about the show is that there are real things happening. Ryan is really, truly trying to recover and is in need of help — as we are keenly aware by the end. And Wilfred is genuinely — well, he’s helping him in his way. And he’s a manifes... he’s potentially a manifestation of Ryan’s own psyche, and there are all these things that are happening that are kind of real. I don’t know, I’m curious as to where their going to take it.
How is having that kind of regular gig?
It’s great. I mean, especially when we got picked up for a second season. It was the first time in my life where I felt like, “Oh! F---ing job security! This is bizarre.” Like, I can come back the same time next year and work close to home. It was a nice feeling. It’s cool, it’s interesting and it’s something that I’m artistically so excited about.
Do you get a lot of dog owners feeling they can confide in you?
Yeah. That happens a lot. People have definitely said that they understand their dogs more. And they’re like, “Yeah, you totally got that behavior right.” I think a lot of people responded in the first episode when Wilfred walks in and does the little spin before he sits down on the couch. Like, that’s a total dog thing to do.
And do you get any ire from cat people?
(laughs) Uh... no. No. Not yet, anyway.
Geeking out over “the Hobbit”
Ever since starring at Frodo Baggins in the “Lord of the Rings” films, Elijah Wood has become a go-to for info on all things Tolkien. And the upcoming two-film adaptation of “the Hobbit” is no exception. “I do have a small part in it, and I was actually just there,” he says of the project, currently in production in New Zealand. “I was there for a month doing my little part and also just hanging out and catching up with friends. It’s going to be incredible.”
So what sort of super-nerdy tidbits is Wood allowed to share? “There are things that I could reveal that I probably can’t,” he says. “There are some subtle things, like there are new rooms in Bag End that weren’t in there before. Granted, it’s because we never had to shoot in those rooms, so those rooms technically existed but we didn’t build them. I think what’s going to be exciting for fans is how they’re telling the linear story of ‘the Hobbit,’ but they’re also telling things that are happening chronologically at the same time that are in the appendices, that are in writings, but aren’t necessarily in the text of ‘the Hobbit.’ I don’t think there’s any way that Peter [Jackson] and Fran [Walsh] and Philippa [Boyens] ever would’ve written an adaptation that’s a standard adaptation of ‘the Hobbit.’ It’s not in their style. Where they’ve taken it, I think, is really exciting. It’s going to be awesome.”