It’s the ultimate indie-Hollywood dream come true: Direct a couple commercials, a half dozen music videos for rad bands like Passion Pit and Dum Dum Girls, write a feature script, and get Nicolas Cage and Elijah Wood to star in it.
Brothers Alex and Benjamin Brewer —I’ll coin them “the Brothers Brewer”—have realized that dream and premiered The Trust, a not-so-heist heist movie, at SXSW this week. While Cage was held back in L.A. due to illness, Elijah Wood was on hand to wax poetic about his co-star, life after Lord of the Rings and working with first-time directors.
Paste: Did you watch other heist movies to help you with this character or storyline?
Elijah Wood: Not really, because this movie sort of subverts the heist genre in a way. It’s not what you’d expect from a heist movie and it’s not even what you’d expect from a crooked cop film. It’s really quite different. There wasn’t a great deal of inspiration character-wise because the character is a little idiosyncratic, a bit of a stoner, very unhappy and kind of bored. He’s very well written so there was a lot for me to play with. There’s a lot of nuance to the character.
Paste: You don’t immediately think “Oh yeah, Elijah Wood and Nicolas Cage, what a great duo,” but you two worked incredibly well together.
Wood: Objectively, I get that. And thank you, by the way. Believe me, even from my perspective I would have thought it unlikely, but I’m glad it works. And it works because I think we worked well together like on a day-to-day basis. We got on so well. It’s one of my favorite experiences working with another actor for so many reasons. I’m a long admirer of his work so just the opportunity to get to work opposite him was extraordinary. He’s so professional and he’s filled with ideas. His mind never stops working. You can constantly see the wheels turning and that makes for a very exciting working relationship. I don’t always know what he’s going to do and that is terribly exciting.
Paste: What did you two talk about?
Wood: I’d ask him very specific questions about specific performances in movies that I loved and he was so candid with me. I asked him about Leaving Las Vegas, what that experience was like and what his preparation was for that, and same with Vampire’s Kiss. There are so many different performances that are so wildly different on the spectrum. Raising Arizona is one of my favorite films; we talked about that too.
The more we hung out, the more I realize there were all of these performances that I loved and adored and sort of earmarked through [my years growing up] that he was responsible for. The more you discuss with him too, the more you realize what an extraordinary career he’s had, how long it’s been, and he’s worked with everyone. From Francis Ford Coppola to the Coen Brothers…Martin Scorsese…we talked about Bringing Out the Dead, where he plays the EMT driver that’s losing his mind. It’s actually a really under-appreciated film. We talked about that and what an interesting experience that was. Anyway, we were talking non-stop and it was just a joy. He was an absolute delight.
Paste: Your own career transitions have been really interesting as well. You have gone from Lord of the Rings to starting an indie horror production company. How did that happen?
Wood: After the Lord of the Rings trilogy was finished—like immediately after we finished principle photography—the notion of doing something massive again was impossible for me to conceive. I was away for 16 months and the scale and the scope of those films was extraordinary but intense for that length of time. After that, the idea of doing something really small and so different was the first thing I could think of. Then after that I didn’t think so much about the scale and size of Lord of the Rings looming so large, but rather always wanting to do something different, looking for new challenges and new experiences and being motivated by a gut feeling.
I also really love a varied life. I’ve always loved horror, so the horror production company and starting Spectre Vision, that all was very organic. It came from a place beyond horror, even, where I just wanted to be a part of the creative process from inception. I want to foster films from great writers and be a part of the full creative process. That comes from the love of making movies. And it just happened at the time—five or six years ago—where I felt like horror was a genre that was not being actively supported consistently in the U.S. Now, I feel like horror is alive and well, especially independent horror. There are some shining examples of the genre of late, so it’s a super-exciting time.
Paste: The Brewer brothers are first-time feature directors. What are your thoughts on working with first-timers?
Wood: They had a very strong vision for the film and knew exactly what they wanted and what they were doing. Nic, especially, was great with them. You can imagine that there might be a little fear with someone who is as seemingly unpredictable as Nic in his performances that he could railroad directors, but he was so reverent to them and the way that they saw the film. It was a great working relationship. I’d often see a glint in his eye like he was about to do something crazy, but the directors would come over and ask to try a different version, and he would [get right on board with] their wishes.
Paste: Is that nerve-racking to you at all, going into a project with first-time directors?
Wood: It isn’t. I think if you’ve spent time with the director prior to the movie being made—and why would you just go blindly into something—you know whether or not someone’s ready. A lot of it is just the confidence of vision: knowing the kind of movie they want to make, hearing them articulate with clarity what their process will be, the way they see the film unfolding, the way that they want to shoot it. All of those things indicate a sense of confidence that you can get behind, first time or not. I don’t feel like a risk with a first-time director as long as you have a sense that they know what they’re doing.