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Elijah Wood swears Vin Diesel isn't as scary as he looks

"The Last Witch Hunter" actor Elijah Wood talks about what convinced him to return to big budget fantasy and how Vin Diesel is a secret softie.

Like his fellow “Lord of the Rings” costars, Elijah Wood has the luxury of being picky. He could have settled for a string of neverending fantasy knockoffs. Instead, like Viggo Mortensen, he’s done what he wants. The last decade have seen him lending his presence to smaller and/or unusual fare: the first-person horror “Maniac”; “Open Windows,” set entirely on a desktop; the TV show “Wilfred,” in which he acts opposite a talking dog. Wood comes back to both big budgets and fantasy with “The Last Witch Hunter,” a super-sized Vin Diesel vehicle in which he plays the new priestly sidekick to the star’s immortal slayer of the supernatural. He didn’t take the job lightly.

What convinced you this was a worthy return to big budget genre fare?

It’s weird to even say this, because it wasn’t the case 20 years ago, but it was interesting to read something that was not based on a pre-existing source or was a sequel. It’s bizarre that we have to say one of a film’s merits is that it’s original. F—ing strange. But it is the case. So it was interesting to me that something was going to be made on this scale that was entirely original. And I was just surprised by the script. I found the mythology to be really detailed, the world-building to be really interesting.

I imagine, being in so many horror films lately, that director Breck Eisner’s previous film, “The Crazies,” was a big draw for you too.

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I haven’t actually seen “The Crazies.” [Laughs] I’m embarrassed to say that.

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Still, both that and this film are strong on visuals. The sets, for one, appear to be mostly real, as do many of the effects.

Some people are asking questions about what it was like to deal with the CG. In reality it was almost imperceptible to us — save for the witch bar where there was quite a bit of CG effects. But even there, there were a lot of practical effects. Most of the time we were surrounded by real things. Even the sentinel at the end, there was a sentinel there. There was a real thing that was ultimately embellished. A lot of the sets and environments we were in were real. That goes a long way to making you feel rooted in the space.

Is it typically for you to get so involved with looking at all aspects of a production?

These are all questions I ask, honestly. When I read something I want to know what the approach is, who’s going to shoot it, how it’s going to be shot, what is the visual tone of the film and what are the designs going to look like. I’m a nerd, so I always ask these questions.

You produced your first film recently, the Iranian vampire movie “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night.” Do you find you’re even more hands-on with productions since adding that job title to your résumé?

I’ve been thinking like that for a while. Especially as I’ve moved into my 20s and now into my 30s, I think every aspect of filmmaking matters to me in regards to the work that I do. I think this is probably true of many actors, but I’m not just signing up to play the role I’m playing. I don’t want to just come in and do my bit. I want to know about how the whole thing is going to be put together. I’ve always loved the process. I love filmmaking. I think it all matters.

Do you tend to bug the crew on set?

I rarely spend time in my trailer. That’s always felt weird to me. If I’m in my trailer I like to leave my door open. I don’t like to separate myself.

“I’m the diva, don’t talk to me!”

[Laughs] I hate that s—.

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In terms of fantasy, the film's portrayal of witches is unique. It doesn’t subscribe to the usual thing of hideous hags who men have to beat down.

I think what’s interesting about the mythology is it posits that witches come before man. It’s a detail you wouldn’t be able to see, probably, but when we walk down to the witch consul, along the staircase is a carving into the stone which relates the history of witches. Man comes later; witchcraft predates man. Witches, especially from a female perspective, represent strength, albeit of obtaining power, and some of it is power over man. A lot of imagery of witchcraft from centuries past is primarily of women, and very powerful women. They’re exorcising their own connection to nature and to their own sexuality.

I should ask about Vin Diesel, because you spend so much time as his nervous right-hand man. He seems like he might not be as intimidating as his screen image.

He’s many things. He’s lovely. He’s friendly to everybody. He’s got a big personality. He’s also kind of not intimidating. I think people would think he’s intimidating. He sort of isn’t. He’s a softie. He’s also a big D&D fan, and he’s a big Tolkien nerd and a fantasy fan. In a lot of ways this character is closer to him than anything he’s done in the past. That’s cool to know there’s this side to him that doesn’t get expressed much in cinema. But it’s a big part of who he is.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
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