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In 1990 Elijah Wood sat down with Entertainment Tonight to discuss his career. He seemed a little directionless for a moment, wavering between “doing something with sharks” and acting, but towards the end, convinced himself that acting was the way to go. “Doing scenes is fun. You can be anyone you want. I’ve got a good career doing this.” If that seemed cocky for a nine-year-old, it’s hard to resist a kid who’s cuter and more elfin than a…well, you know. And even brief history proved to be on his side. A talent agent who’d spotted a 7-year-old Wood suggested an acting career, and one week later his folks had sold their Cedar Rapids, Iowa deli and were on the road to L.A. He made his debut in Back to the Future II at nine and had four major films in the can by the time he turned 12. In her review of North for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, “Mr. Wood is currently the most natural, confident child actor of his generation.” Of his work in The War, Roger Ebert stated that Wood had “emerged as the most talented actor, in his age group, in Hollywood history.”

Cue the child actor implosion, right? Hardly. Cue Peter Jackson, and enter The Hobbit. At 18, Wood signed on for what became one of the most life-consuming, awards-sweeping cultural phenomenons in recent cinematic memory. The Lord of The Rings trilogy was filmed and released with mind-boggling speed for films of such scope and detail: The Fellowship of the Ring was released in 2001, The Two Towers in 2002 and The Return of the King in 2003, Wood starring in each as the intrepid Frodo Baggins. He loved the experience, but the danger of leading a monster franchise is, of course, that it can leave an actor with a dilemma in the face of his next career move. Even if you’re looking to replicate the same brand of success, how many non-ridiculous roles for four-foot-tall, pointy-eared, Middle Earth-dwelling types are there?

But a post-success existential crisis was probably never in the cards for Wood, who credits his mom as a steadying influence who stressed family and friends over Hollywood. It also just doesn’t seem to be in his nature. LOTR has allowed Wood to make choices based on personal artistic interests versus box office domination, and that’s when he became even more interesting as an actor. “It’s time we stop only thinking about Elijah Wood for his work with Peter Jackson,” declared Decider last year. “He has become the surprisingly complicated force to be reckoned with.”

His first post-trilogy role was in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He next played the serial killer in Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City. More such films followed, each different from its predecessor, each pegging him as one of the most unpeggable actors around. Not surprising, then, that his first starring TV role was a suicidal, wide-eyed straight man to a crude, non-existent dog. Wilfred was a cult-favorite remake of the Australian original – a bummer-from-down-under take on Harvey. He’s part of another unapologetically odd, and equally watchable duo in his current series, BBC America’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. But wait, there’s more (as there always is with curious types whose interests pile up like books on a never-empty nightstand). The long-time music fanatic became a skilled professional DJ and started his own label, Simian Records, signing a number of indie acts.

He’s also been able to indulge his love for the horror genre, acting in gems like Grand Piano, in which he plays a musician terrorized in the course of making a professional comeback. IndieWire wrote, “As the man behind the keys, Wood carries the film, finding a believable and compelling arc for a character whose default setting might in lesser hands be desperation.” Next up is I Don’t Feel At Home in This World Anymore, which debuted at Sundance and is already generating buzz.

He’s aiding and abetting original filmmaking from the other side of the camera as well. He co-founded SpectreVision to help young, promising directors with unique voices make films “that wouldn’t necessarily get made if it weren’t for us maniacs.” If their smart, hilariously gory The Greasy Strangler is any indication, mission accomplished. Wood believes Hollywood greed produces bad movies, and that audiences are slowly losing interest in big-budget action flicks in favor of more intelligent – or at least interesting – fare. As a producer whose first question to potential filmmakers is, “Do you have a personal passion project that no one will support because it’s too outside the box?” he’s obviously a guy we need in the game.