Interview: Elijah Wood
6th March 2015
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After becoming a household name for his role in The Lord of the Rings trilogy in the early 2000s, Elijah Wood has been choosing a selection of diverse and interesting works to act in, from serial-killer horror Maniach to dark comedy TV series Wilfred. His latest production is a stylish, beautifully realised look at poet Dylan Thomas's first visit to New York. Wood plays would-be-poet and academic John M Brinnin. Tell us about your character in Set Fire To The Stars. So John Malcolm Brinnin was a poet, he was a professor of poetry and ultimately he was the reason Dylan Thomas travelled to America. It was his brainchild: the idea of bringing him there and introducing who he thought was the greatest literary mind of the time to the US. He was virtually unknown outside of literary circles. John is a complicated character, as he is in the script. There’s a lot of indication of the kind of person who he was: straight laced, quite buttoned up, not very vulnerable. He was uncomfortable in situations out of his control. I did a bit of research on him and found I was hitting dead ends all the time. I found there’s very little biographical information about John Malcolm Brinnin. The only thing I managed to find was a reference to his death in 1998 - he died in Florida, seemingly alone. There was a life partner that he was with and that was it. Everywhere else I would find references to his poetry but no information about the man, which in and of itself was pretty revealing. I think the lack of information was enough information, if that makes sense. The book that he wrote, Dylan Thomas in America, we’ve extracted from that the five days the movie takes place in. That was revealing as well - his reverence for and love for Dylan and the way he wrote about him was relatively telling. Was there a hint of a love interest in Dylan? I think John was a closeted homosexual, all things point to that direction, but he never would have allowed that out; it’s not a defining characteristic but it’s certainly interesting. We’ve toyed with it - it’s in the film, it’s all in the fabric of the character, his inability to communicate with women or find them attractive. He was a person that lacked the ability to just be. Dylan is unafraid of being an idiot and a fool and that changes John and that’s integral to the story. Do you think John was trying to save Dylan? Save him? Maybe. Help him. It was important to John that Dylan get away from his vices so that he could find his centre and it was important to John that he helped facilitate this financial tour for Dylan as well, I think he felt a sense of responsibility to Dylan, that he’d brought him all the way out to the US and was creating a financial opportunity for someone that didn’t have a lot of money. So there had to have been that burden as well. But I also think it was important to John to be the one to introduce him to the US to get him more work and to give him the attention he felt like he deserved. When you read the book you see he kept his distance little bit. He got so deeply involved so quickly and realised it was far more responsibility that he was even capable of accepting and he realised to protect himself emotionally, it was best to help from a distance. Who do you have more in common with, Dylan or John? I think I have more in common with Dylan than I have with John but I don’t relate to the sort of whirling dervish that Dylan is or the lack of control he seems to have or the enjoyment of chaos. I’m not that person but as a human being I feel very free and very open and happy to chat with anyone. I don’t find anything daunting socially, which I think John does. He’s very uncomfortable in his own skin, he’s uncomfortable socially with how he’s perceived, all those things and I don’t feel that at all. In that regard, far more like Dylan than John.
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