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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 November 2005, 08:27 GMT
Actor Wood's 'intriguing' new film role
By Caroline Westbrook
BBC News

Elijah Wood
Wood plays a writer in the movie of Everything Is Illuminated

Lord of the Rings actor Elijah Wood plays a neurotic, detached writer in the film adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer's quirky debut novel Everything Is Illuminated.

The film tells the story of Jonathan, a young Jewish man who travels to Ukraine to trace the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis.

Wood, who donned a sober dark suit and big glasses for the part, says the role proved to be quite a challenge.

"The character is very different from who I am, so that right away was intriguing," says the actor of his involvement in the film.

"To be able to play a character who is so awkward and neurotic, was kind of interesting."

Directorial debut

The film also marks the directorial debut of actor Liev Schreiber, best known for his roles in The Manchurian Candidate and The Sum Of All Fears.

Wood admits that part of the attraction of making Everything Is Illuminated was getting the chance to work with an actor-turned-director.

"I've only had two experiences of working with directors who are actors," Wood says.

"I think there is something unique about working with an actor, in that they are more concerned with performance and being able to articulate the process more than most directors would be able to.

Director Schreiber was an actor in The Manchurian Candidate

"For a movie like this, which is so character driven, it does rely on someone who is able to steer the characters, so working with Liev was wonderful."

Jonathan Safran Foer's novel jumps back and forward in time - focusing on the parallel stories of Jonathan's modern-day quest and that of his family in the 18th Century ghettos of Eastern Europe.

Schreiber focused on adapting the screenplay from Foer's short story A Very Rigid Search, which ultimately inspired his novel and which is set entirely in the present day.

"If I had to do it all again and I had endless amounts of money and time I would make a trilogy, and it would be my Illuminated Lord Of The Rings thing," says Schreiber.

"But I didn't have the time and the money, and I needed to find a way to deliver an active narrative that spanned the industry standard of two hours and was within the realm of a very modest budget."

Family parallels

Schreiber's own family history has parallels with that of the book's protagonist. His grandfather came from a small "shtetl" - a Jewish village - in Ukraine.

And he was toying with the idea of writing a screenplay inspired by his heritage, when Foer's book came along.

Elijah Wood and Eugene Hutz
Wood's character is helped by Alex, played by Eugene Hutz
However, a meeting with Foer convinced him to adapt his work instead, rather than write something original.

Schreiber decided to make a very personal journey while writing the screenplay.

"Part of the research for the film was that I would fly to Ukraine, rent a car, get a cameraman and we would mimic the journey in the novel," he says.

"So we went from Kiev to Odessa looking for my grandfather's village.

"We didn't find it, but we had a really good time - and I learned a lot of Ukranian and I ate a lot of strange things."

Everything Is Illuminated is released in the UK on 25 November.

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