Elijah Wood Lubricates Us For ‘The Greasy Strangler’

While we, and much of the world, became familiar with Elijah Wood thanks to Lord of the Rings, he’s kept busy with a number of endeavours since then. Besides acting and DJing, Wood has been releasing films as part of Spectrevision. It was in this capacity as producer that he joined us on the phone to talk The Greasy Strangler, playing as one of Ant Timpson’s Incredibly Strange selections at this year’s NZ International Film Festival.

FLICKS: It’s been really cool to see that slate of yours at Spectrevision just continue developing as you keep fostering this curious corner of filmmaking, and stuff that presumably might not see the light of day otherwise.

ELIJAH WOOD: Yeah, and that’s certainly the case with The Greasy Strangler. That was an opportunity for us to rally behind this filmmaker that we really believed in. Jim Hosking has been developing his aesthetic and his perspectives and his work as a director in various forms from commercials to music videos to short films. And we’ve loved everything that he’s done. So the opportunity to be a part of bringing something to life that was going to be his first film as a feature director was just so exciting, this very [chuckles], this very gross, very funny, difficult to categorize movie, in some ways was even more exciting.

So yeah, this very much represents one of those kinds of films that may not get made had it not been for Tim League and Ant Timpson and us and Ben Wheatley and this sort of group of maniacs that gathered together and rallied around to support this film and this filmmaker.

There were a couple of really interesting things with the way the picture came together.

The first was hearing about the film for a long time, even before it when into production really. You just hear the title and right off the bat, it’s like “I’ve got to fucking see this”.

Yeah, it’s a very evocative title. It kind of immediately bring to mind all sorts of things. You immediately know, especially being a genre film, you immediately know it’s something you want to see, despite not knowing what it’s going to be. And I too, I think like Ant actually, had heard about the film maybe two years prior to reading the script.

I think it was actually through Todd Brown at XYZ that I initially heard about the film and also about Jim Hosking, because he was like “You guys are doing this work at SpectreVision and you should know the filmmaker”. He’s got a lot of really interesting scripts, one of which is The Greasy Strangler, and I just started watching his shorts and his other work and kind of fell in love with what he was doing.

And then it was like two years later that Ant emailed me and he said “we’re rallying around this Greasy Strangler script that Jim’s going to direct, you need to read it”. And he sent it to me, and I literally read it like ten minutes later. And maybe 45-50 minutes after that, I’m texting Ant quotes from the film like “bullshit artist” and “hootie tootie disco cutie” and shit, and I fell in love with it.

And it was just that kind of thing of having known Jim’s work prior and understanding the way that he populates his work with very unique, interesting characters – oftentimes or sometimes, non-actors. And that there’s obviously a very strong visual sensibility that is very much its own world. Then reading that script – it kind of jumped off the page. You go, “Oh, I know exactly what this is going to be like. And some people are going to love this, some people are going to hate it.” But we’re in love with it and we have to get behind it.

One of the impacts that I think the title has, before seeing the film, it’s either going to resonate with you or not. And if it does, it’s going to take you to some pretty deep recesses of your own mind and imagination.

I suppose the challenge is for Jim to live up to that and I think it looks like he goddamn does.

Yeah, I think he does too. I agree with you, I think that the title evokes all sorts of bizarre things, I suppose, as far as your dark mind is wont to go. But yeah, does the movie deliver on that promise or of your own expectations of what it could possibly be? And I think the film really does and it also sort of subverts it in a way.

The movie is so many things, and not least of which is actually that it’s kind of oddly tender and sweet. It isn’t something that people talk about a lot in regards to the film. A lot of the reactions are about how gross it is, how fucked up it is, how bizarre it is, which it truly is, all of those things. But at the core of it, it’s kind of a sort of sweet father and son tale [laughs]. They manage these characters despite the unsavory behavior or choices that they make. They offer it from a semi-innocent, sweet place. They’re not altogether hateable. They’re actually incredibly likable. Particularly Brayden, the son, is a very sweet character.

I think Hosking’s struck this really beautiful balance between being repulsed and feeling awkward and being made to laugh incredibly because it’s very, very funny. And then being grossed out, but then also the undercurrent is sort of sweet, especially, I think, the resolution of the film.

You started with quite a notch of uncertainty in your voice as you were talking about the heart of the film, but then really hit a groove there, actually being able to kind of sell it as more than just a gross fest.

It is. It totally is. And I think that it’s there for you to see it, if you’re willing to get past the things that repulse you. But they are genuinely sweet characters. And I think it’s something Jim has certainly highlighted. And I think it’s important to Jim. If it were just a gross-out film whose aim it was to simply just get a reaction out of you, I don’t think it’s something that we would ever be interested in making.

Jim loves these characters and loves this world and treats it with as much respect as any other filmmaker would in any other world. And that’s an important thing. I don’t think Jim is a provocateur. The movie is not aiming to disturb you, the movie is just a very different world that presents you with a very different rhythmic sensibility that happens to be a little bit gross and really funny.

The other interesting thing for me seeing the production come together with all of those really singular voices, filmmakers and producers, coming together to get this thing made.

People that I guess you’ve met on the genre circuit?

Yeah, totally. I met Ant Timpson at Fantastic Fest, Tim League, obviously at Fantastic Fest and I’ve known Tim for years. Ben Wheatley, I met at Fantastic Fest with A Field in England, I believe, the year he brought it to Fantastic Fest. So, in a way, it’s kind of a Fantastic Fest film because all of these people kind of came together as a result of their love of genre and working with the world of genre. And that also, by the way, was not lost on me. It was very much an intriguing notion to work with, effectively, our friends.

Ant Timpson sent me the script. I fell in love with it. I’d previously come to understand Jim’s work through Todd Brown and Twitch and XYZ. And so the conduit for this whole thing was Ant, and just that notion of this group of maniacs getting together that are also friends and friendly within the context of the genre world – it just felt really exciting to do something really on the ground creatively with this group of people who I’ve certainly had a great deal of admiration for. It was just a fucking shitload of fun.

Were there moments reading through it, where you were going “this isn’t filmable” or “how is this going to get done” or “are audiences prepared to watch this”?

No, the only thing that kind of was entering my mind was “is this possible to do without making it NC-17?” I think that was the primary thing, which didn’t scare me. That wasn’t at all a consideration. But yeah, there was a version of the script that didn’t totally get filmed that I think would have elicited a pretty intense rating for us. I mean, I think it has an intense rating as it is. Yes, it was very much apparent to me that it was a movie that was not going to be for everybody and that it would upset people, but also make certain people really laugh. That was always apparent to me and I thought, to me, that was the strength of the script and ultimately what Jim was going to do with it.

I think we saw you last at the NZIFF with ‘Maniac’ a few years back. You’ve got to wear the banning of that film as a badge of honour, right?

Totally, totally. I mean, technically, I think it’s the only film that I’ve been in that’s been banned, although I think The Good Son was banned in certain countries as well because of the children eliciting violence. Yeah, I mean it was a shame. My heart was with Ant Timpson on that issue. I thought it was ironic that it was – well not ironic, but unfair – that it was banned throughout the country, yet if you had access to the film festival, well, you could go and see it at the film festival.

I thought ultimately, in truth, I thought it gave very little credit to the degree of separation to which an audience has with the material that they’re seeing. And the intelligence that the people of a country have to not see something in a film theater and then go and mimic that behaviour in life. So it seemed to me a sort of silly rule that very much took for granted the intelligence and wisdom of the people of New Zealand that have a healthy separation between cinema and psychopathic actions. But, at the same time, I also found it really funny and kind of great [laughter]. It is a bit of a badge of honour.

One of the things that really struck me about that film was that it was so profoundly affecting and I just thought the banning really missed the point – that you walked out feeling really fucking accountable about what you watched and so you should, as you essentially watch yourself killing women.

I totally agree and that’s the intention and the whole idea of shooting the movie with the POV perspective. What was so exciting about that, is that it would put people in a very uncomfortable place, and that they wouldn’t feel good about what they had seen. And if anything, maybe there’s a slight bit of empathy for the character, ever so slightly, but I agree. I think it was supposed to elicit that response. You’re not supposed to feel excited about it. You’re supposed to feel really uncomfortable.

Speaking of uncomfortable, I’m quite conscious of using up your time, but let’s see if this person on the street can handle having you pitch ‘The Greasy Strangler’ to them…