Some of the most fascinating series premiere during the summer … and I’d definitely place FX’s newest offering, Wilfred, in that category. Based on the Australian series of the same name, this comedy is about Ryan (Elijah Wood), a down on his luck guy that can’t even off himself right. When asked to dog sit for his beautiful neighbour, something odd happens: while the rest of the world sees an adorable dog, Ryan sees Wilfred, a crude, cigarette smoking man in a shoddy dog suit. Reprising the role of Wilfred from the Australian series is Jason Gann, who also created the original series and serves as co-exec producer on the FX version. Not sold yet? We got to sit in on a conference call with Elijah Wood and Jason Gann – a call, I might add, that was laden with so much laughter – and here’s a bit of what we learned about the series and its two stars!
Can each of you tell us a bit about your role on the show?
Jason Gann: Well Wilfred is a dog. The world sees a dog. Ryan sees a man in a cheap dog suit who smokes bongs and pretty much terrorizes him. But you know, we sort of think that after a while that maybe Wilfred is an angel and a devil on his shoulder, giving him advice and trying to bring him back into the real world. That’s Wilfred’s character. Elijah?
Elijah Wood: Yes, Ryan is essentially a guy who had followed a path that was ultimately not of his choosing for far too long. He listened to his family, listened to his father, did kind of what he thought everyone else wanted him to do as opposed to following his own interests. As a result of that in this pilot, we find him in a place where he’s hit a wall, essentially, and it’s made him suicidal. He’s kind of a broken individual. He’s someone that hasn’t really busted out of himself to live freely and to live with confidence and to define himself, and ultimately that’s where Wilfred arrives. He arrives sort of in that moment of crisis to push Ryan outside of the self-imposed and sort of family-imposed boundaries that have been created around him.
Wilfred seems to force Ryan into situations that he normally wouldn’t venture into. Will we see the tables turn at all during this first season?
JG: Yes. You need to stay one-step ahead of the audience, I think, without being two steps ahead and have them sort of lose interest. I think that with story telling you have to play with the audience. So just when they think they know what is coming next, you surprise them. David (Zuckerman)’s worked really hard, and we all have worked really hard to keep the audience on their toes and to keep them thinking. So yes, we definitely don’t stick to the same formula all the time. There are many twists and turns.
Is Wilfred a positive or negative influence in Ryan’s life?
JG: As long as Ryan’s not killing himself, I think he’s got to be positive because that’s where he started.
EW: I think you’re right, and I think that it’s always going to oscillate. What I think is interesting is that the results, regardless of where it feels that the motivation is coming from, whether it’s a negative one or a positive one, the result tends to be a positive one for Ryan despite the fact that it may be cloaked in Wilfred’s self-interest for instance, or sabotage. The end result tends to be that Ryan does take something positive away from it, but I too love that ambiguity. You’re never quite sure where Wilfred stands and kind of what Wilfred really is to him, and that carries on throughout the season. It’s always sort of oscillating. There’s a slight bit of danger in that relationship and discomfort.
Elijah, was it challenging for you at all to be acting against Jason in a dog suit?
I have to say that we have become so used to the environment that we’re working in and for Jason and I as actors we’re playing these characters. We’ve become used to that relationship and work within that relationship. So honestly, I’ve almost literally forgotten that he’s in a suit. I don’t see Wilfred like that. Me, personally working as an actor against a man in a dog suit, I have ceased to see that. It’s actually really funny. We went to American Idol and sat in the audience to sort of cause of a bit of a stir and to be sort of a strange placement, and when we were there, again because I’m so used to seeing Jason like that – and it almost sort of means nothing to me anymore – it was really interesting for me to be in an environment where he did stand out, where people saw him and would look at him as a man in a dog suit. It was a really interesting thing for me to kind of take a step back and actually look at it from a different perspective because I’ve become so used to it. So acting with him, we’re literally just two guys playing these characters. I don’t really think about the way he’s perceived or the fact that he’s in a suit anymore. He’s become real to me.
There’s a great online component to the series on the FX website, in particular the “My Dog Smokes” feature. Jason, will there be any additional online goodies?
JG: I think there’s a still a few that the marketing department have got up their sleeve, but I mean, they really have been great in the creative element of it, separate from the show. They’ve been true to the show that we’ve been careful to create, but they’ve also extended beyond that in a really interesting way.
In a way, the series comes across as Ryan being the pet that Wilfred is training. What are your thoughts on that idea?
JG: I think that a lot of teachers say, “I learned more from my students than they learned from me,” and we learn from the innocence of children. We learn from just watching the primal innocence of a dog of just how to enjoy life, and as people we can get so cerebral that we forget how to live. What Wilfred brings in that pilot is this sort of pushing Ryan to get out of his head and actually just sort of be really primal. So if anything, I think if there’s a flip, I think that’s it. We’re sort of seeing Ryan see this dog and just go, “Yes, I’m going to shoot him …”
Escape to the world of Wilfred tonight at 10pm on FX, and enjoy the ride!