Elijah Wood on the Ted Bundy Story 'Never Heard Before' in His New Film 'No Man of God'

CUL_PS_Elijah Wood
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"It was a different story that we'd never heard before."

The horrors of Ted Bundy are well documented. That said, the work of one FBI agent, Bill Hagmaier, who worked tirelessly to get Bundy to admit to his crimes and bring closure to his victims' families, has never been told until now. "What was intriguing about this particular story was that it wasn't a film about Ted's exploits. It wasn't a film that detailed his violence, and it wasn't about the trial," Elijah Wood, who plays Hagmaier opposite Luke Kirby's electrifying portrayal of Bundy, says about No Man of God (in theaters and on demand on August 27). "We were trying to get the movie made for about five years." But once they did, it was clear Wood and Kirby were on to something. "I'm in awe of Luke as an actor." Despite the heavy subject matter, the production offered the cast a sense of relief after months of isolation because of the coronavirus pandemic. "As crazy as it sounds for a movie that is dealing in this sort of darkness, there was a lot of levity on set, and a lot of joy just engaging with people after lockdown."

What was it about Bill's story that made you want to do No Man of God?

Initially it was just the fact that there was a script about Ted Bundy that consisted of transcribed conversations between Ted and Bill. Then it was the fact that it was a different story that we'd never heard before. I've read a fair amount about Ted, and I didn't know anything about this particular relationship at the end of Ted's life. He considered Bill to be his best friend. He actually willed all of his earthly possessions to him when he died, which says a lot about the impact that Bill had on Ted. Ted didn't trust law enforcement, he ultimately felt that all of them had an agenda, which by and large is somewhat true, many of them wrote books and he was afraid that anything they would discuss would ultimately be exploited. Bill is a different kind of person. He's very much a man of his word and integrity is of the utmost importance to him. He still hasn't written the book because he doesn't believe in that. There's a standard that he holds himself to. All of this is to say what was intriguing about this particular story was that it wasn't a film about Ted's exploits. It wasn't a film that detailed his violence and it wasn't about the trial. What was interesting about this particular take of his story, in this particular chapter in his life, is that he was incarcerated, he was facing his death and was fearful of it and couldn't use his power of manipulation to save his life. And out of that came some really real conversations of a man that was sort of unraveling. And there's Bill trying to get as much information out of him to provide law enforcement to give closure to families who had no sense of where their daughters had been laid to rest. So it was just a story that hadn't been told.

What do you think it is about serial killers, and in particular Ted Bundy, that is so intriguing?

I think what's intriguing about him, unlike a Jeffrey Dahmer, for instance, who was, for the most part, a shut-in, Bundy was a part of society, not shy and quiet and meek, and not necessarily the person that you would imagine who would do those things. I think that's why he's continued to hold people's imagination. He was involved in local politics. He studied to be a lawyer. He had relationships with people who believed he was innocent and incapable of doing these things. I think that's why he kind of persists as this point of fascination. To live so successfully as a sort of quote-unquote normal person. Again, what was intriguing about this is not his humanization, but just presenting him as a person in all of his flaws. There is an absolute chess match that happened over the course of these conversations. There's manipulation happening. He's desperately trying to save his life. But at the end of the day, these conversations also revealed the person at their core, afraid to die, pretty weak and driven by ego. It's these conversations that reveal the flaws of who this person was, that he wasn't really as smart as he thought he was and he wasn't as strong as he thought he was. And I think that's just inherently interesting. But also the movie isn't about him, the movie is really about Bill and the effect those conversations had on him. What transpired between these two men, what is it like to sit across from someone who is capable of those things and sort of delve into that darkness? Bill also being a family man and having kids and being able to leave that space and go back to his family. I think that's what really fascinated me as an actor, portraying Bill.

Bill is unique in his dance between Ted and his other life as a family man. Was it important to try and find that balance?

I think what we were trying to show is someone that was conflicted about this person he spent time with. He believed he was guilty of all these things. It was the inevitable thing of just having spent time with someone and knowing they're dying in that moment and then wanting to connect with your wife and family. We were trying to illustrate his headspace, kind of leaving one world behind and trying to reconnect with the thing that's actually tethering him to his core beliefs and to his heart.

What was it like sitting across from Luke Kirby as Ted Bundy?

It was pretty remarkable to watch. Luke had a very different journey in this film, obviously. He was sort of touching the void in a way that I didn't have to. In researching Ted, he heard a lot of interviews and subjected himself to a lot of ugly material. So that was definitely challenging. But sitting opposite him as Ted, it was definitely uncanny at times. As actors we relished in the experience of the creative process, too. As crazy as it sounds for a movie that is dealing in this sort of darkness, there was a lot of levity on set, and a lot of joy just engaging with people after six or seven months into lockdown. None of us had really engaged with any other humans, except our significant others, so just being on a film set, and jumping into these very intense dialogue scenes, these multi-layered interactions, there was just so much for us to chew on and work with and play with. I'm in awe of Luke as an actor. It was a joy to work opposite someone so good at what he does, who embodied the character so brilliantly and just had a joyful experience working out this intense chess match between these two characters.

How do you find projects to produce, and do you decide the ones you also want to act in?

As for the material we take on, it's very much a heart response. In the case with No Man of God, a writer we knew mentioned this particular subject matter and we certainly had never heard this story before. We fell in love with the script. As to my choice to work on some of them as an actor, I genuinely have to be shaken, look at it from a different angle. Whenever we're reading materials for our company, I'm never thinking about it from the perspective of acting in any of them. In every single case, my producing partners have had to shift my focus and go, you might want to consider this. That was the case on No Man of God. We were trying to get the movie made for about five years. When it was starting to come together, it was my producing partners who asked if I would just look at it from that angle. When I did, it was instantly apparent to me. I love the material, love the script, and I loved the character. So it was an easy yes.

It's the 20th anniversary of The Lord of the Rings. What impact did those films have on your career?

Taking the sort of enormity and scope of the film's aside for a second, just the arc that the character goes through from this very innocent, kind of every man character to really psychologically and physically destroyed by the ring at the end of the film. I had never had the opportunity to take a character from that place to such an extreme other place as an actor. So that was a huge opportunity. Getting to work on something of that size and scale and scope was life-changing. In many ways, it opened opportunities for me, put all of us on the world stage to a degree that can't be compared to anything prior or since honestly, because there's just nothing quite like that. In terms of that, absolutely. But as a life experience, it was so incredibly profound. I was 18 when I flew to New Zealand, and I was 22 when we finished, those were really formative years. That's typically when you'd go to college, it's really important growth years as you're transitioning from being a teenager into an adult. So that had such an impact on me. I had never lived away from home for more than two months, certainly never for over a year. When I think about those films, I think about them in so many different ways, but I think most about the experience and the profound impact that experience had on my life.