Elijah Wood talks to TimeOut's David Skipwith about his role in Kiwi filmmaker Ant Timpson's dark thriller comedy Come to Daddy.
Almost 20 years after Frodo Baggins freedom camped his way around New Zealand, Elijah Wood has rekindled his love affair with Kiwi cinema in the dark thriller comedy Come to Daddy.
Wood will forever be connected to Aotearoa through his iconic Hobbit character in the Lord of the Rings trilogy but his new film has more in common with Peter Jackson's comedy horror cult classic Bad Taste than a blockbuster fantasy franchise.
As for what attracted him to the lead role in Kiwi film-making champion Ant Timpson's off-beat directorial debut, Wood tells TimeOut, "It was really that the script was super-entertaining and it constantly subverted my expectations.
"It was always surprising, it was always really funny but then it had this kind of emotional chord to it as well, that felt super-authentic despite the fact that it keeps going down these pretty intense genre roads.
"I'd never really read anything quite like it. I loved it."
Come to Daddy is a roller-coaster ride that begins as an eerie mystery when we meet Wood as Norval, a privileged Beverly Hills hipster looking to reconnect with his estranged father at his remote waterfront home in Oregon.
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The next hour and a half is a bizarre journey through a morbid family reunion before the plot twists into a psychological thriller, with Norval's fight for survival punctuated by moments of excruciating violence, kinky sex, full-frontal male nudity and more than a dash of gross-out toilet humour.
Just as jarring is the revelation that the film's script, written by Toby Harvard, was inspired by real events that occurred in Timpson's life.
"Ant's father passed away in front of him and he ended up spending a week in the house with his father's corpse while family and old friends visited," Wood explains.
"And it was during that time that he had conversations with his father that he wished he'd had and he had this very personal, intense experience that was a mix of emotions.
"It was from there that the idea sparked for the film and a way that also paid tribute to his father. So there's a lot there."
You could be forgiven for thinking Wood has intentionally taken a step back from the Hollywood mainstream in recent years, as Come to Daddy continues his tendency, in the wake of The Lord of the Rings, to take on grittier and more unsettling roles. He played a creepy technician in Michel Gondry's 2004 indie flick Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a relentless cannibal in the 2005 adaptation of Frank Miller's Sin City and a serial killer in the 2012 remake of the psychological slasher movie Maniac.
"It's really just that as an actor I'm constantly looking for things that I'm excited by and I have a strong response to," he explains.
"I don't really think strategically, I just react to film-makers and to ideas and to scripts. And I started a production company [SpectreVision] 10 years ago and that keeps me very busy as well. We're constantly producing horror and genre films.
"So, no, I'm very much a part of the system and working a lot."
For Timpson, the man behind New Zealand's 48 Hours film-making competition and Auckland's Incredibly Strange Film Festival, Wood was always his first choice to play Norval.
The pair first met at a Lord of the Rings wrap party and previously worked together as co-producers of the 2016 black comedy horror film The Greasy Strangler.
"It was really Elijah [who] Toby and I would talk about, that he'd be perfect for the role on so many levels," Timpson explains down the line from New York, ahead of the film's premiere in the Big Apple.
"And friendship will only go so far – no one's going to star in a movie they don't think is very good. His time is too precious to do that, for any friendship. So it was a great piece of encouragement that he really loved the script and it took off from there.
"What I think is really impressive about the film but also more so Elijah's performance, is that we've taken the most hated person on Earth - a rich, white, entitled millennial who's also annoying and a bloody prat and, at the end, the audience feels completely for the guy and wants to see him succeed."
The film opens with the New Zealand Film Commission banner appearing over what looks like a familiar Kiwi landscape, however Come to Daddy was shot entirely on Vancouver Island, off Canada's Pacific Coast.
Despite the foreign location, Timpson employed a dozen Kiwi crew members. The film also co-stars Madeline Sami, while Auckland musician, composer and former Supergroove vocalist and keyboardist Karl Stevens delivered the stunning score.
"It's very much a Kiwi film. A lot of Kiwis worked on this film," says Timpson.
"There was a possibility it could have been done in New Zealand but we couldn't get it over the line, which was frustrating because, of course, I would have loved it."
The film has struck a chord with foreign critics, with Timpson sharing a positive New York Times review on social media last week, noting that "this would've been the one to convince my parents I hadn't made a s***ter".
Putting to rest concerns he may have his own unresolved daddy issues, Timpson is proud his film is connecting with audiences on an emotional level.
"The strange thing is it's relatable. I've had a lot of people come up after screenings and it's hit them like a gut-punch.
"I had a great relationship with my dad. When I was younger I was in awe of my dad and also in fear of my dad at times, which I'm not sure is a very common thing but I think it probably is with a lot of sons throughout some period of their life.
"These sort of unanswered questions you have with your parents once they go is very familiar to a lot of people.
"So that kind of emotional resonance actually does affect people even though this is such a crazy bonkers genre film."
Come to Daddy (R16) lands in New Zealand cinemas on February 20.