Reason why Sarasota rocks: I got a wake up call last Tuesday asking if I’d like to interview Elijah Wood. Three weeks living here and already I’m being beckoned by the rich and famous.Let’s rewind a little bit to see how this happened: Girl moved to Sarasota. Girl met friend. Friend took her to s/ART/q’s Avant Garden. Girl met more friends and went to dinner with them. Friends introduced her to Matt Orr. Matt told her about blogging opportunity with TWIS. Girl jumped on board. “New Girl in Town” was born. New Girl posts about what it takes to become a local in Sarasota. Team suggests that New Girl start interviewing influential people in town. New Girl agrees. Elijah Wood comes to town. Matt offers New Girl interview opportunity. New Girl gets 15 minutes with Elijah. New Girl swoons.
Ringling College and Future of Films, LLC brought the world’s favorite hobbit to town as part of a visiting filmmaker series. The series started in conjunction with the school’s digital filmmaking studio lab, where the digital filmmaking major is churning out graduates who go on to work with some of the country’s biggest studios. The idea behind the collaboration is to keep these young talents in the area, making Sarasota an entertainment production destination. I’m no entertainment industry expert, but I wouldn’t be opposed to the Ryan Goslings of the world flocking to Main Street. If Penelope Cruz comes to town, I will not be held accountable for my actions.
Garbed in Ringling-appropriate attire, Elijah (who told me he liked my outfit, which buys me the right to call him by his first name) led an hour long Q & A session with students. Not an ounce of Hollywood snobbery is present for the session; he looks and acts as if he was just another student leading a discussion. My favorite moments include him revealing his geeky side, throwing out puns like the “reel deal,” and comparing early acting experiences to “naked baby pictures ... there for everyone to see ... forever.”
In what I’m sure will be a life-defining moment, he says “bless you” in response to a girl’s “little mouse sneeze.” He develops rapport with the student body and shares about his journey. Entering the industry at age nine, Elijah did not take acting classes. He learned as he went and encouraged others to do the same. Expressing his admiration for Michel Gondry, he admitted that they hadn’t needed to offer him a role on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; he would have done catering just to be on the set.
When asked if he regretted any of the decisions he had made throughout his career, Elijah drops a wisdom bomb on the audience. In an opinion he and I share, he believes that each choice we make leads to the next. Since he’s delighted with where he is, he wouldn’t change anything. Change one thing, change everything. For all of you statistics fans, it’s like making a decision tree for all of life. Which doors will open and which will close based on the choices you make today?
Along with the wisdom bomb, Elijah drops a few tidbits throughout the hour. He flew directly into Sarasota from Sundance, where his latest film Celeste and Jesse Forever was playing. Opposed to favorites and Top 10 lists, he throws out “Natural Yogurt Bands” as a group worth listening to and recommends "record parties," which involve a turntable, vinyl and a few friends. In addition to launching a record label in 2005, Elijah recently began a production company that will focus on horror films. Since he will assuredly fall in love with either Sarasota or this columnist during his visit, I suspect a horror film set in our town is on the horizon. Botched Botox, perhaps? Or maybe Suppliants Swarm Siesta Key. Or my personal favorite, The Nanny’s Night Off (and Mommy’s Out of Wine).
Around 12:20, Dr. Larry Thompson, Ringling’s president, announces that there was only time for two more questions. Many of the students have class at 12:30 and he does not want to be responsible for their absences. His announcement is met with a sea of groans. Without missing a beat, Elijah steps in and says he’s willing to take on full responsibility. He’s not joking either. This is not an actor trying to please a media-ridden crowd; he’s interested in sharing his knowledge with those who aspire to enter the field. When he says that he could do the Q & A all day, I don’t doubt his sincerity. Since I’m trapped in a corner of the room with no way to exit except for crossing in front of him, I hope he’d allow for bathroom breaks.
Even before I enter my one-on-one interview, I’m impressed with this experience. Less than 20 feet away from me is one of the world’s most recognizable men. He’s draped over a chair, laughing with captivated students. People interact and a ripple effect spreads. If Ringling and Future of Films hadn’t collaborated, none of us would be sitting in the auditorium enjoying the experience. If I hadn’t gone to an art show one Saturday night, I certainly wouldn’t be writing about it. I wouldn’t even know the people who did this kind of thing.
Sarasota is a networking town. Success here relies on meeting others---on becoming a doer. From what I can see, to thrive in this town you get to know your neighbors. You go to the events you’re invited to. You show up.
Believe it or not, I can be shy. I’m introverted and social interactions used to make me physically ill. It’s a shell I had to outgrow. These days, when the Matt Orrs of the world ask if I want to meet for juice at Whole Foods, I go. Not because I want a six dollar concoction that I can make at home, but because this is how I get opportunities like this. Today, I asked Elijah Wood what his favorite thing about me was. (Warning: that really will be the last question of all my interviews. I think you can learn a lot by what people are drawn to in others.) That’s not something I would have gotten to do if I stayed in Pennsylvania snuggled up with trashy romance novels and hot chocolate.
So, from the New Girl to you---getcha butt offa the couch. Get out. Meet people. Meet me. And read my upcoming interview. Aren’t you dying to know what his favorite thing about me is?