Elijah Wood, best known for his turn as Frodo in Peter Jackson‘s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, has been working as an actor now for nearly 20 years, and his work has grown increasingly eclectic over the past decade. From his performances in shows such as the bizarrely funny “Wilfred”, horror films like “Maniac” and voice work for the charmingly offbeat animated series “Over the Garden Wall,” he’s had no shortage of interesting career turns. On top of that, his production company, SpectreVision, has carved out a space for niche horror films with work such as “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night,” “Mandy,” and “Color Out of Space” put out under his label. In his latest role, he plays Bill Hagmaier, the FBI agent assigned to the case of Ted Bundy (Luke Kirby) in “No Man of God,” which was directed by Amber Sealy and written by Kit Lesser.
The film takes pains not to go down the route of glamorizing Bundy and instead focuses on the dynamic he and Hagmaier created in their interviews and conversations together. Our critic wrote that “’No Man of God’ is by nature about soullessness, of course, but Sealey’s direction isn’t without humanity because otherwise, she’d betray Hagmaier’s character and intentions.”
We spoke to Wood about the process of getting into character as Hagmaeier and creating the tension between he and Kirby’s Bundy.
For a role such as this, where you’re playing a real person amidst a case with so much history, is there an extensive amount of research that goes into it? Or is it on par with a fictional role?
Elijah Wood: I didn’t have to do a lot of research because we had a lot of information at our disposal. So much of the script was so heavily researched to begin with in regards to the accuracy of what was said between Ted and Bill, and those interactions were based on interviews with Bill and having transcripts of those conversations. The framework of the research that goes into making these things come to life had been really well handled.
As far as my own personal research went, I really had Bill as my primary resource on the side of the script. When I did speak to Bill, he was incredibly generous to provide so much information to make it as accurate as possible. My primary interest though – because there wasn’t much to research because so much of it is those two people in conversation – was just things like what is it like to walk into a room with Ted for the first time or what kind of research did he do prior to that. Those were the questions I had for Bill that he was really forthcoming with. But I was also really surprised, because a lot of the questions in our conversations reflected so many times on the script itself, which goes to show just how accurate the screenplay was.
To answer your question though, I spoke to Bill and that was extremely helpful, because I certainly felt the pressure of playing a living, breathing person. The expectations were that we made something true to the person, which was really important to all of us. There was also this wonderful screenplay document that I had to work off of and interpret, and that was incredibly helpful as well. And I think another part of it was kind of articulating Bill’s internal life. There’s a bit of artistic licensing being taken with that, because I think Bill, understandably, keeps a lot of parts of his personal life close to his chest. I think it’s part of his job to compartmentalize and keep his private life separate from the darkness that he encounters through his job. It was really important to us to depict that journey Bill goes on emotionally, so that was also something that was a part of the process. It didn’t necessarily require research but rather an adherence to understanding [what] that emotional toll could potentially be.
This film is primarily a two-hander between you and Luke Kirby, who plays Ted Bundy. I read that you first rehearsed over Zoom – what was it like then building that chemistry between the two of you that’s instrumental to the film?
Our rehearsal was over Zoom, but it was incredibly productive. Those meetings and interviews are the bulk of the movie, so it was extremely important to get those right. Most of our rehearsal was just spent breaking those scenes down in terms of what’s being said, what’s behind what’s being said, you know, what’s being said versus what is actually being said, the dynamic shifts or the power shifts in the conversations and trying to identify those moments. So really just working on the structure of the scenes and identifying all of those elements so that when it came time to shoot, we kind of had the architecture all mapped out and we could move within that framework.
And as far as that relationship is concerned, we did shoot one scene that was out of sequence, but for the most part, those interviews we shot in sequence, which was incredibly helpful because obviously they start not knowing each other and then over the course of the film and over the course of these meetings they get to know each other more and more, and that was really helpful in getting to see the growth of that relationship. Honestly, Luke made it easy. He is such an incredible actor and he embodied Ted so beautifully and hauntingly that the dynamic between the two of us became apparent really quickly and it was really fun too to explore that together.
I loved that the film never tries to sympathize or sensationalize Ted Bundy – which some films have been guilty of. However, I’m curious if you played Bill as someone who did sympathize with him at some points or just as someone who was affected in some way by their meetings?
I don’t think that Bill sympathizes with him, but I do think he saw him as a human being and came in with no judgment. I think what makes Bill so extraordinary is that he was able to walk into these rooms with these people who had done really horrendous, unspeakable things and can kind of not go in with any judgment and thus see them and treat them as human beings and not treat them like monsters. And that is incredibly disarming to those folks because by and large, prior to that, Ted’s experience with law enforcement were people who had an agenda or were looking for something or who felt like they were more intelligent and had the upper hand. Bill walked in without ego, without projecting any sense of power, so he presented a kind of even playing field.
There was never a goal that there would be a genuine interplay between them. Ted considered Bill his best friend. Bill certainly did not consider Ted his best friend. But he did see him as a human being and treated him like a human being, and I think again without judgment. And I think that’s what makes him special and ultimately what makes that dynamic so unique. And it’s a dynamic that he continued to use for his entire career.
Lastly, obviously, you’re a big horror fan and your production company SpectreVision has put out some of the more interesting horror films in recent years. If you were to put on your own Halloween-centered film festival, what would your opening and closing films be?
Oh, fun. I think I would probably close with “Halloween” – I was going to say you could open with it but it’s probably a better closer. It’s just so delightful and so specifically Halloween and just a wonderful classic horror film. For an opener, maybe – it’s a fun opener because it’s so silly. There’s a great film called “Truth or Dare.” It’s a very meaningful horror film for me because I saw it when I was very young and I’ve introduced it to so many people, but it’s a direct-to-VHS horror film from the 1980s written by Tim Ritter. It’s about a guy who is clearly mentally deranged, and at the start of the movie he witnesses a colleague sleeping with his wife and he spins out and drives off in a huff and ends up camping overnight and basically imagines this person next to him and they play truth or dare, and it ends up getting very violent because the dares get very violent very quickly. And it’s just wonderful and unintentionally funny and very much of the era. It was super low-budget and, as I said, direct-to-VHS and it’s just awesome, I love it so much. I’ve recommended it to a bunch of people but that could be a very fun jump start to your Halloween movie playlist.