There’s something sacred about a man’s relationship with his dog. But the word “sacred” doesn’t quite explain the connection between Ryan and the mischievous talking canine at the heart of the FX comedy Wilfred.
The series, which kicked off its third season last week, stars Elijah Wood as Ryan, a washed-up lawyer whom we first meet in the middle a failed suicide attempt. It’s a dark starting point for a half-hour comedy, which goes from dark to weird as the recovering Ryan strikes up a friendship with his neighbor’s dog Wilfred, played by the dog-suit-wearing comedian Jason Gann, who co-created the original Australian TV show.
During the first two seasons, it was mostly unclear whether Ryan’s ability to interact with the talking Wilfred was a recent development. But the Season 2 finale revealed that as a child Ryan drew a picture of Wilfred, indicating that the chain-smoking dog has been a part of his life for a long time. Questions still abound about who and what Wilfred is — but those questions have firm answers, at least as far as Wood’s approach to his character is concerned.
“I have an idea. I’ve kind of made up my mind as to what I think Wilfred is,” the actor revealed in a recent conference call attended by Spinoff Online. “I don’t that that’s reflective of what the character has decided, though, and to a certain degree, I think Ryan … when he meets Wilfred in the first season, it’s really within an episode that he sort of accepts Wilfred’s existence. I think from there on out, even though there are these questions and he does question what Wilfred is, I think there’s a deeper level of acceptance and recognizing that Wilfred’s purpose as to where he’s manifesting from and what it means, his purpose is ultimately positive and helping him.”
“I think that perspective probably helps me in playing the character,” he added. “But I think overall there’s just a sense of general acceptance for Ryan.”
It might be easy for Ryan to accept the existence of Wilfred, but it’s harder for Wood to handle. The Lord of the Rings star admitted he’s been known to laugh on set at the very sight of Gann in the Wilfred costume, this season more than usual.
“For some reason, I sort of busted up more this season because of what Jason was doing than ever before,” he said. “I’m so used to seeing him in the dog suit and to a certain degree the context of a lot of the situations I’m very used to, but it’s still definitely serving to make me laugh.”
Wood said he fell in love with the idea of Wilfred immediately upon reading the pilot script. “It was so unique and so unlike anything I’ve seen or read before,” he said. But aside from the show being “deeply funny,” Wood connected to Wilfred because of the many layers surrounding his character.
“The idea of playing someone who has effectively hit a wall in his life and is trying to rebuild himself and help himself … it definitely provides a lot to work with,” he said. “There is a sense of growth over the course of now the three seasons, and I think that keeps [me] excited. But it’s also fun to work in the context of what we’ve created, and I’m always excited to work with Jason. Aside from the characters in development, I find it inspiring and always exciting as an actor to be working opposite him, for everything that he comes up with. It sort of inspires me.”
Working with Gann also instills some level of fear. Wood admitted he had never tried on Gann’s Wilfred costume, viewing it as “a little bit sacred,” until behind-the-scenes events this season finally called for him to don the dog suit.
“We actually filmed a little behind-the-scenes footage, and [my director] wanted me to put the suit on for a specific thing that we’re doing,” he said. “He asked Jason if it was OK, and Jason was like, ‘Yeah, it’s fine,’ so I got the go-ahead, and ultimately tried it on — and it was surreal to kind of see myself in that suit.”
As for whether we’ll see Ryan wearing Wilfred’s costume on the series, Wood said, “We talked about the idea of maybe doing a dream sequence. I mean, I love the idea of the tables being flipped a little bit. What if Ryan sort of, you know, suddenly wakes up and sees himself as Wilfred? There’s something there in his sort of exploration of what Wilfred is. Potentially, there’s a sort of melding of the two.”
Now that two seasons have aired and the third is well under way, new questions arise, such as, can Wilfred endure indefinitely? Can the concept of the series sustain itself for season after season? Or is there an expiration date on this bizarre tale of a boy and his dog?
“That’s a very good question,” Wood said when asked his thoughts on how and when Wilfred should end. “I think that the structure of the show that’s been created is such that it’s about a guy who is essentially in recovery, and trying to figure out what his path in life is. This manifestation of Wilfred has provided essentially a push for him to kind of figure that out. I think that can only really last for so long to believe that we are dealing with a man who is kind of struggling for answers to these questions, and in this sort of existential question period of his life and in recovery. I don’t know that we can believe that for ten seasons.”
“I think it can only survive for so long,” he continued. “I would hate to make the show kind of carry on for too long and it not necessarily support what we’ve created.”
For now, without an end in sight, Wood is happy to continue delving into the weird world of Wilfred.
“It’s a wonderful environment to work in,” he said. “It’s something where all of us as a crew are kind of constantly laughing. It’s a pretty wonderful thing to go into work on that every day.”
Wilfred airs Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on FX.