It would be reductive to break Elijah Wood’s vast filmography down into just two different types of roles, but he does frequently find himself playing either an innocent — an impossibly bright-eyed and good soul like Frodo Baggins or any number of his childhood roles — or, well, a weird little freak. Wood agrees that Walter, his character in season two of Yellowjackets, is of the latter category, though the self-proclaimed citizen detective who finds himself investigating a mystery alongside Christina Ricci’s Misty has a certain … odd sense of innocence to him as well.
Walter made his proper debut in last week’s episode of Yellowjackets when the man better known as PuttingTheSickInForensics dropped by Misty’s place of work and offered to help solve the mystery of Natalie’s disappearance. (Never mind that Walter also — correctly — suspects there was something more to Adam Martin’s disappearance despite Misty’s attempts to get him to stop snooping into the murder that she helped cover up.) In episode three, Walter and Misty meet on a boat to interrogate the dim-witted Randy Walsh about what he knows, with Misty feeding Walter questions and Walter pretending to be an FBI agent who slaps the ever-living shit out of Randy. (“It was a camera angle and swiping a hand across the face in the right way to make it look real,” Wood clarifies. “I didn’t hit him.”)
Walter is something of a wild card, seemingly unrelated to whatever force the survivors might not have left behind in the Canadian wilderness, who disrupts Misty’s present-day existence. Yellowjackets’s creators, Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson, reached out to Wood for the role, which the actor says was “unprecedented” for him because he already loved Yellowjackets and Ricci’s work as Misty. “I’ve never seen a season of a show as a viewer and as a fan and then subsequently been asked to participate in a follow-up season,” he says, explaining that he was all-in on the idea of “this eccentric oddball called Walter.”
What has it been like joining the Yellowjackets cast when you’re playing an outsider who is decidedly not a Yellowjacket?
So much of the storytelling in Yellowjackets is the young cast in the past and what happened to them in the forest and how that past trauma informs the characters as adults. Walter doesn’t have any of that. I got to come into this as a completely stand-alone character that has an adjacent interest that sort of feeds into Misty’s journey but doesn’t have the narrative weight or the darkness of what everyone else has experienced. So much of what I got to do with Christina was almost comic relief. It’s this kind of funny investigation story that ultimately dovetails into the true heart of the narrative of the show but initially is kind of on the side. Walter doesn’t have to bear a lot of that weight, at least initially.
Were you familiar at all with citizen detectives before this? There’s a certain unease about whether they’re trying to actually solve crimes and bring bad guys to justice or just amateurs getting their rocks off with no accountability. What’s Walter’s motivation?
I think both are true: It’s people who truly want to help, maybe, but it’s probably more the thrill of being involved in something and feeling like they’re participating in a larger narrative, fed by a community of similarly like-minded individuals. That’s very true of Walter. My feeling is that Walter probably does not have a lot of field experience, that, heretofore, a lot of what Walter has experienced in the world of the citizen detective is to just contribute ideas to cases. There’s a lot of fun to be had there, but it’s low-level investigative work that gets fed back into this Reddit thread. But with this, Misty presents him with a real opportunity to get out there.
Do you have an idea of who the Yellowjackets survivors are to the general public? Are they thought of as celebrities, and, if so, does Walter have any specific reverence for Misty’s past outside of her citizen-detective work?
It does come up. He makes it very clear that he’s not interested in her for that reason, but it’s baked into the narrative that everyone is aware of these women and what has happened to them. There’s no way he’s not fascinated about the past. In the world of Yellowjackets, that would be a part of pop culture that everybody would know about. Even if it’s not the driving force behind his motivation, there has to be some thrill about being associated with a person who had mysterious things happen to her in the past. It doesn’t really factor into a lot of what they experience on this journey together. But as a background element, it’s undeniable.
Toward the end of episode three, Walter says maybe he’s “a bored Moriarty looking for his Sherlock.” Are we supposed to think of him as a villain, like Sherlock’s most infamous foe?
There are obviously narrative hints that are dropped: She listens to bird songs to fall asleep; he listens to cat noises. There’s all sorts of funny little hints that they could be adversaries. But I don’t believe that’s the motivating factor. It certainly isn’t present — yet — in their relationship. Over the course of the season, that might change.
Look, I’ll say this: We’re not entirely sure of who Walter really is. Both Walter and Misty present a version of who they are to the world who is not entirely their true self or their whole self. Walter presents a version of who he is, but there are still so many things that, over the course of their journey together, start to be revealed. I don’t even know that I’ve learned everything about the character yet. We can rightfully feel a degree of un-trustiness toward him because he’s giving us enough reason to not fully believe his motivation and where he’s coming from. But there’s a version of him that is also true, which is that he’s this dude who came across a fair amount of money, so he doesn’t need to work and can just dive into his passion, which is true crime. I think there is a version of him that is that simple, but there might be something underneath all of that as well.
Even not knowing yet if there’s more to Walter than meets the eye, is it possible he’s in over his head now that he’s with Misty?
He has spent all of his time on the citizen-detective message board, and this opportunity that she has given him is the first to get out into the field and flex what he feels are his skills and everything he’s maybe read about. I don’t know that he’s as savvy on the field as he would like to think he is. What we will see over the course of the season is him kind of jumping headfirst into something that is a lot bigger than him and goes beyond his skill set, maybe, at least in practice. But we will definitely see him do these things for the first time.
You’d worked with Christina Ricci before, on The Ice Storm, which, despite having “a character dying in the snow” in common with Yellowjackets, is pretty different in tone. What was that reunion like? We hadn’t worked together since we were teenagers. There was a lot of life in between. But it was great. It was joyful. She is so excellent. She is like a finely tuned instrument of an actress. I really admired what she crafted with Misty in the first season. And, I mean, we’ve both been doing this for a really long time. She also started very young. I think there’s a connection just because we’ve both been doing this for a long time. We certainly have worked together, but also there was just a comfort and ease to it.
With that sense of comfort and ease, was any of the interrogation improvised?
That was all scripted, and it was wild, too, because her part of it, in the bathroom at the bottom of the boat, that initially was supposed to be shot at a separate location. We were going to do all of my stuff, then all of her stuff, with me coming into the bathroom on a separate day. But for time considerations — and also just because the location with the boat worked — we decided to do it all at once. She was in the bathroom, and I had an earpiece in, and she was telling me what to do as I was doing it. So we were playing it almost like a play. It was happening in real time. Everything she was saying in my ear, I could hear it and repeat it and she could hear me. It was so fun and so thrilling. There was no real time for improvisation because we had a lot of material to get through in a short amount of time, but it felt improvised because there was a sort of electricity because of the fact that it was all really happening in real time.
Walter’s cargo shorts are a great character detail. Were there lots of costume options? Did you have to try on a lot of pairs before finding the perfect cargo shorts?
Amy Parris, our costume designer, brought so many wonderful ideas to the table, and it was very easy to identify Walter pretty fast. We were looking for semi-eccentric pieces of clothing that would allow a read on who he was, without it being too extreme but weird enough to make you go, Who the fuck is this guy? [Laughs.] Just slightly heightened or slightly odd. A lot of it was that he’s wearing these sorts of outdoorsy, functional clothes that aren’t cool and aren’t quite being worn as fashion. That was the big guiding principle.
The cargo shorts came about very early — they were baked into the script, actually. When you first see Walter, when he’s walking through the convalescent home that she works at, it’s in the script that she sees his legs. So shorts became a part of his vibe early on.
Between The Lord of the Rings and Over the Garden Wall, you certainly have experience being lost in the woods. Was it at all odd to join a show about being stranded in the wilderness and have your character not be out in the brush?
Those particular elements didn’t occur to me until you just mentioned it, but yeah, you’re right. [Laughs.] But no — I wasn’t really thinking about it in that context. For me, I was just drawn to the fact that I got to play this character who gets to sort of explore this world that had been previously created but who doesn’t have the narrative weight of dealing with the past in the way that all the other characters had to deal with it. Obviously, it all comes to a head toward the end of the season, but the joy for me about this was that I got to play a character who was adjacent to the primary narrative but didn’t really need to engage with the past in that way. This character is kind of his own thing and not at all informed by what happened in the woods.
While we’re on the subject, do you have any feelings about Warner Bros. plans for a possible Lord of the Rings remake?
I’ve done a little bit of digging, and no one knows what it’s going to be. Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens are being consulted. There’s no plan yet for what the stories will be and what the narrative will be, and there are no filmmakers attached, and there are no scripts. So it’s the earliest, earliest stages. But my understanding is that nobody is making any moves to remake The Lord of the Rings but rather continue telling stories within Middle-earth, of which there are many stories to mine. I don’t think they’re going to remake Lord of the Rings. If that news were true, I feel like all of us would know about it and there would be a lot of strong feelings.
Is there anything more about Walter you want to tease?
His love of musicals may be meaningful. That’s about all I can say about that. But there’s a tease there.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.