07/01/2013 11:48 am ET

15 Minutes With Elijah Wood

I'm standing in an elevator with Elijah Wood, and it's a little awkward. We're riding up to the office of a Hollywood PR agency where I'm scheduled to interview him about his current project Maniac, a remake of the 1980 classic cult slasher flick, in which he plays a serial killer stalking, stabbing and scalping an unlucky array of women in modern day Los Angeles. Wood has no idea that I'll momentarily be asking him questions about this unsettling new film and, since we're not alone in the elevator, I'm too shy to blurt out an introduction. The doors open, and things get even more awkward.

Now I'm following Elijah Wood down a hallway, and trailing closely behind him. I'm wondering if I should say something, just to break the tension, but I can't find the words. (The last time I'd seen him in person was over a decade ago in Amoeba Records on Sunset Blvd. He was running down the aisle, very excited about a Smashing Pumpkins album, but I certainly wasn't going to use this little anecdote as an icebreaker.) As probably the last American standing who hasn't seen any of The Lord of the Rings films, I'm feeling bad - even guilty - about not being more familiar with his body of work. I wouldn't know Frodo Baggins from Fred Flintstone. I'd seen The Good Son, in which a then 12-year-old Wood portrayed good opposite Macaulay Culkin's evil, and also remembered his turn in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. More recently, I'd seen him in a couple episodes of FX's bizarre comedy Wilfred, back when it aired directly before Louis C.K.'s gem Louie. But that was about it.

Elijah Wood is now holding the door for me. We enter an office and he is escorted behind the scenes as I'm directed into the waiting room. By the time the interview concludes, I'll have learned that Wood is a bright and articulate guy who enjoys deejaying, collects vinyl records and has in his possession the Lord of the Rings ring, keeping it "in a sack, in a box, tucked away." For now, I'm scrolling through his wikipedia page on my iPhone, surveying his impressive list of screen credits: Radio Flyer, The Ice Storm, Sin City, Bobby, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit.

I'm called into a conference room, where I take a seat as Wood strolls in. Though I haven't watched the majority of his work, I've seen enough of his gorgeous screen acting chops to understand why he's one of his generation's most respected film actors. His facial features are cinematic, his incredible blue eyes are perfect for close-ups and it's obvious he was born to be a movie star. But he doesn't seem to recognize me from the elevator, a humbling reminder that I was not born to be a movie star. As we begin, I envision brutal and graphic scenes from the Maniac screening I'd attended a few days earlier. The film is arresting, extremely disturbing, and still very fresh in my mind.

"A producer on the film contacted me and said, 'we're making Maniac, and we'd love for you to consider playing the killer,'" Wood explains, when asked how he got involved with the project. "They said it was going to be shot so the killer would only be seen in reflections. I'm a big fan of the horror genre, so the whole proposal was fascinating to me. The idea of playing a character that you never see and the idea of also putting the audience in the very unique position of experiencing what the killer is doing and thinking was a really disturbing and interesting idea."

"There is a way to look at Maniac from an intellectual perspective," Wood continues, "which is that it's an interesting character study told through the killer's point of view, and that's very exciting from a filmmaker's standpoint. From a genre standpoint, there is also the nerd in me that says, 'Yeah! I get to scalp people!' It's incredibly grotesque, and I get to play a villain! The fact that it's a very new take on a genre film is very exciting."

With his playing a psychotic killer in Maniac, starring in the darkly comedic TV series Wilfred, opening a production company dedicated to making scary movies and appearing alongside former porn goddess Sasha Grey in the creepy, upcoming thriller Open Windows, one might believe that Elijah Wood is consciously gravitating toward the dark side.

"I've been a fan of the horror genre forever," Wood shares. "It just so happens that a few of these things are coalescing at around the same time. I've started a production company that produces horror films. Wilfred is relatively dark, and it has a very unique and strange voice as a show, but it's also deeply funny. I mean, it's not just dark. Maybe it's a coincidence, but I'm moved by things that I feel deeply and that I'm excited about. As it pertains to the few dark things that are percolating now, it's not that I'm looking for those things, they just come into my life and I respond to them. As an actor, I'm always looking for ways to challenge myself, and I'm also really turned on by things that are quite different from anything we've seen."