Film interview: Elijah talks life after Middle Earth and Welsh ghosts

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Elijah Wood swapped Hollywood for Swansea to make new Dylan Thomas biopic Set Fire To The Stars. The actor said he felt the poet’s “ghost” was with them during filming.

Spending your birthday in a rowing boat in the middle of a freezing cold lake, waiting for the rain to stop so you can film a scene, isn’t most people’s idea of a good time.

But The Lord Of The Rings actor Elijah Wood, who turned 33 on his first day shooting new Dylan Thomas biopic Set Fire To The Stars, isn’t one to complain.

“I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” insists the blue-eyed star, who plays US poet and critic John Malcolm Brinnin in the movie.

“You often think you’d like to start with something easy, because you’ll get comfortable and get to know everyone, but there’s also the logic of, ‘Let’s start with something meaty and intense’. It proved to be a great way to break into the material.”

Set Fire To The Stars follows Brinnin’s struggle to look after his hellraising Welsh hero (played by Anglesey-born Celyn Jones) as he toured the US in the 1950s - an experience which later led Brinnin to pen a warts-and-all book, Dylan Thomas In America.

Director Andy Goddard, who also co-wrote the script with Jones, shot the film in black and white and recreated wintry New York in Swansea, where Thomas was born a century ago this year.

The retro Kardomah cafe, which the Under Milk Wood writer frequented, was turned into a 1950s diner. (“In between takes [in the town hall], people would be arguing about bins and renewing their driving licences,” Jones says. “If you turned the camera around an inch to the left when Elijah’s looking through the window, you’d see a Yates’s wine lodge or a discotheque...”)

Not that Iowa-born Wood, who started acting as a child in films such as 1989’s Back To The Future Part II and Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm in 1997, had much time to sample the local nightlife.

“We shot for 18 days, which is really fast. But we were standing in central Swansea and saw quite a bit of it actually, which was lovely,” he says.

“It feels like there’s ownership from Swansea with the film and the people of Swansea felt that - both because Dylan is a son of Swansea to a certain degree, and a lot of the places we filmed he frequented. So his ghost was with us the entire time, in a way.”

He’s looking forward to watching the third and final Hobbit film, which is due to be released in December.

“I’m not in it but I’m very excited. I’ve just heard that the final battle is 45 minutes long - way to go Peter [Jackson].”

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