‘Wilfred’ Continues to Pose the Question: Is Ryan Crazy or Not?

Elijah Wood in "Wilfred" (Photo: FX)

FX’s hit comedy “Wilfred,” based on the critically acclaimed Australian series, is back for its third season, starring Elijah Wood as the hapless Ryan and creator Jason Gann as Wilfred — a man in a dog suit — who teaches Ryan how to overcome his fears and face the insanity of life. The twist to the series, for those who haven’t seen it, is that Ryan is the only one who sees Wilfred as a man. To everyone one else, Wilfred is just a dog.

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“Wilfred” premiered with a special episode in which Ryan actually toyed with the idea that he might be mentally ill, something that hasn’t been done previously, despite all the crazy things that have happened.

“Ryan addresses it for the first time and is self aware that it could potentially be the reason for Wilfred’s existence,” Elijah Wood said in a conference call Friday to promote the series. “From here on out, having established that as a possibility, it will always be there as a way to potentially view the scenarios he gets himself into with Wilfred. But I also think because we don’t outright answer it, there is a sense of ambiguity as to what Wilfred is. I think that is important to the show that we don’t answer that question.”

In the interview, Wood also talked about his favorite moment from the season, if they will outdo the dance number from last season, what it was like working with baby Joffrey, why Bear is important to the story, what it was like to try on the Wilfred costume for the first time, and more.

When you play Ryan, in your mind, do you have an answer as to why he sees Wilfred?

I do. Yeah. I have an idea. I have made up my mind as to what Wilfred is. I don’t know if that is reflective of what the character has decided, though. When Ryan meets Wilfred in the first episode, he accepts Wilfred’s existence. I think from there on out, he does question what Wilfred is, but there is a deeper level of acceptance that Wilfred’s purpose, albeit uncertain as to where he is manifesting from and what it means, his purpose is ultimately positive in that it is helping him. I don’t know if Ryan is certain, but I have an idea. That perspective does help me in playing the character, but I think overall, there is a sense of general acceptance for Ryan.

How do you flesh out this character and make him grow?

On reading the pilot script, I fell in love with the show, both the character and the structure of what this show was. It was so unique and so unlike anything I had seen before. I also found it deeply funny. As far as the character is concerned, the idea of playing someone who has effectively reached a wall in his life and is trying to rebuild himself and help himself, it definitely provides a lot to work with. There is a sense of growth over the now three seasons. It is also fun to work in the context of what we’ve created and it’s always exciting to work with Jason. I find it inspiring and always exciting as an actor to work with him for everything he comes up with.

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What was it like doing the Joffrey scene? It was a little nerve-wracking watching Ryan handle a baby in his condition.

I love that. The question is: Should Ryan in his condition be carrying around a baby? It was a mixture of working with a real-life baby and a fake baby as well. For the majority of that work, we didn’t have a baby on set. We were very lucky with the baby. We actually had twins and they were easy to deal with. Oddly, one of them — only one — was petrified of Jason in the dog suit. So, if we wanted tears, we could put that baby in. It was really easy. When you work with babies and sometimes animals, too, it is always a little unpredictable and sometimes difficult. But it wasn’t. We were lucky.

Can you talk about the importance of Bear to the story?

I think Bear is an important character for Wilfred. The fact that Wilfred has an independent relationship that is not reflective of his relationship with Ryan adds something to the show and Wilfred’s existence. It is obvious that it also provides a great amount of comedy. It is a relationship that is curious and strange. It is also, I think, reflective of that notion of dogs having an obsession with a certain stuffed animal. That happens with dogs. It works on all those levels. At the end of the day, it is really funny that he is carrying on all these conversations. It also mirrors Ryan and Wilfred’s relationship. We never get to see the outside perspective of Ryan talking to a dog. In some way we get to slightly see what that perspective is with Wilfred talking to a stuffed animal that can’t talk.

Will you do anything to outdo the dance number from last season?

I don’t think we do anything to outdo that dance. It was an incredible undertaking, because in the midst of working in an intense season, as these things are, we were also trying to squeeze in dance lessons, trying to learn this very choreographed dance sequence. That was a real challenge. We didn’t feel we had enough time to do it properly. In some ways, since we didn’t have something like that this season, I was quite relieved. But that was also a blast.

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Have you ever tried on Jason’s Wilfred dog suit?

For the first time this year, I did it. It is funny, I don’t know why I never tried it on before. I think I was curious, but there is something a little sacred about the suit is how I felt. Maybe respecting Jason’s character, and respecting that it is Jason’s suit that I didn’t ever try it on before. We actually filmed a little behind-the-scenes thing this year, and the director wanted me to put it on for this specific thing we were doing. So he asked Jason if it was okay. I got the go-ahead, so I tried it on. It was surreal to see myself in that suit.

Is there a theme to the season that will tie all the episodes together?

I think every end of season, we have addressed scenes and elements of the entire season toward the end, continuing on the sense of searching and questioning. I think we do that. I think there are certain things that get tied up and new questions arrive out of that, so in that same way that we have dealt with the final episodes and tying up elements of what the characters have been going through, we continue that in this season as well.

Do you have a favorite moment from the season?

In Episode 3, the kind of caper aspect of that episode between Wilfred and Ryan working together, that was something we experienced for the first time this season and it was something that we all really loved. I loved the idea of them not always being in a combative relationship, but rather actually working toward something together. It was a blast. It was really fun, particularly that scene where we bust into the guy’s car. We are sort of in this thing together as a caper. That was really fun. It is something we would like to continue doing.

Does it have a fixed ending point for the series?

I think that the way the structure of the show has been created is such that it is about a guy who is in recovery and trying to figure out his path in life. This manifestation of Wilfred has essentially provided a push for him to figure that out. That can only last for so long. To believe that we are dealing with a man who is struggling for answers to these questions and is in this existential questioning period of his life, and in recovery, I don’t know that we can believe that for 10 seasons. I think to some degree, there has to be a resolve. To be fair to the construct of the show, it can only survive for so long. I would hate to make them carry on too long and not support what we have created.

The third season of “Wilfred” just premiered and airs Thursday nights at 10/9c on FX.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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