Elijah Wood stars as a severely depressed guy named Ryan who has very vivid conversations and insane adventures with a dog named Wilfred. The catch: he's the only one who sees the pup as a man in a dog suit. A man in a dog suit who's often smoking massive amounts of pot when he's not digging holes in the backyard, fetching things and trying everything to get Ryan to live a little.
That shaggy fetching man is none other than co-creator Jason Gann, who helmed the short film and Aussie series of the same name and concept before reimagining it for American audiences.
I caught up with Wood and Gann to talk about the show (premieres Thurs., June 23, 10PM ET on FX), the amazing guest stars that came to play and what it is they're really smoking in all those many haze-filled scenes.
This is one totally delightfully bizarre show, and Jason, it's all out of your head. Do you hallucinate a lot?
JASON GANN: It's not just my creation -- I mean, the character of Wilfred is, but the world around him ... it's definitely a collaborative effort to create the magic of Wilfred. The wonderful world of 'Wilfred'! I don't think you can sit down and contrive a concept like this. It really was a fluke. We wrote it down and shot it [as a short film], and that was nearly 10 years ago, and the character just grew. I did a lot of childrens theater in my early acting career, and I used to think it was funny seeing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer come off stage and start smoking cigarettes and yelling at Santa. [Laughs] So when I created the character, it just made sense to get into one of those pantomime suits and just not act like a dog. The fact that the character has lasted this long ... well, it's a testament to people relating to dogs.
Elijah, it's a big choice to make the move to TV for the first time. Had you seen the Australian version of the show?
ELIJAH WOOD: I hadn't, no. I was sent the script for this incarnation, and attached to the script there was a reference to the fact that it was an adaptation of an Australian show. So I kind of immediately went onto YouTube to look up clips, which I thought were brilliant. I thought, "Man, if we do anything close to that, then this is going to be such an awesome show." But yeah, never having done TV before, I think I was slightly naive and really just motivated purely by the content. It seemed so unique and difficult to describe and extremely funny ... and extremely layered for a comedy. The world of television has changed so much in the last five years -- there are so many incredible actors, directors and writers who've moved to television, and it's really become a place for great storytelling.
You said it though, Elijah -- this isn't an easy show to describe.
JG: It's a really hard show to pitch. [Laughs] I've kind of made a pact with myself that I refuse to pitch it anymore. People say, "What's that?" "How's it work?" Had it not been this really successful short film that won a bunch of festivals all around the world, and people had not been able to see it, I don't think we would've ever got the show off the page. But here we are ... it's like all my life.
The show is a little different for American audiences, right?
JG: It was different for Australian audiences, too! [Laughs]
[Laughs] I meant to say you've changed quite a bit of the show for American audiences, haven't you?
JG: Oh, yeah, yeah, but in a good way. Personally, besides the conceit of the show being more through Ryan's eyes, and the story being about Ryan's recovery from dissociation and possible mental illness, I love the fact that the Wilfred character has grown in such a way that he ... he used to be mostly negative, whereas [here] he's grown, and has a genuine affection for Ryan. Early on, I noticed that Elijah's and my dynamic, even at those early read-throughs, there was kind of a 'My Bodyguard' type thing happening. Wilfred was looking out for Ryan and wanting to help Ryan.
And you've got an amazing supporting cast: Fiona Gubelmann, Mary Steenburgen, John Michael Higgins, Ethan Suplee, Jane Kaczmarek, Rashida Jones, Nestor Carbonell ... I mean, holy hell that's a long list of awesome.
EW: Our casting department did an incredible job. And really, I'm so proud of our supporting cast, because it's such a diverse mix of actors, and they're all so excellent and bring such a unique touch to each of the characters they play. But they're all so different ... many of them are very unexpected, and I think it fits very much to the tone of the show that we're trying to make. We were constantly thrilled with the people that decided they wanted to join the production and build these characters with us. It was a joy.
And I loved getting a glimpse of Chris Klein as this epic douchebag standing in Ryan's way ...
JG: Yeah, he gets to do a bit more in future episodes. I really like his character -- I'm really excited about Chris being involved. It was one of my favorite things in the show, seeing that character come alive. Having characters that are once or twice removed from Wilfred and Ryan is exciting.
If the show gets a second season, is the door open for all these one-off guest spots to come play again?
EW: We hope so.
JG: They all said they'd come back. Mary [Steenburgen] said on her last day, "Oh I'm just so jealous you get to do this everyday." The guest stars that have come on have all had a ball. If we are to have a second season, I think we'll do more of the same -- create some really cool, quirky, one-off characters.
I actually got a Twitter question from a fan already talking about you all getting a second season. Elijah, if 'Wilfred' gets renewed, will you have time to balance shooting the show and 'The Hobbit'?-- Junior Gonzalez, @JuniorTV
EW: Oh yeah. 'The Hobbit' actually I'm going to shoot in October. I have such a small piece on that film ... and we wouldn't realistically go into production on this until the end of this year or early next year. So no, there wouldn't be a conflict. And it's sort of the perfect amount of time -- it was about 10 weeks of shooting on this first season, and that leaves both Jason and I plenty of time to pursue other films or other ventures.
So another question that keeps popping up: Your characters are getting high a lot on this show. What are you actually smoking all day?
EW: We're smoking weed! [Laughs] We're stoned! 100% of the time! [Laughs]
JG: [Laughs] It's one of those questions, like what am I wearing under the suit. We can't ... I can't ... I probably can't say. It's the magic of television.
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