Our main man in The Last Witch Hunter is the title character, Kaulder (Vin Diesel), but that doesn’t mean he can keep the world safe from dark witchcraft alone. Kaulder is the one going into battle, but he also gets some much needed assistance from the Dolans, a long line of priests that are associated with The Order of the Axe and Cross. When Dolan the 36th (Michael Caine) is murdered, Dolan the 37th (Elijah Wood) must step it up and help Kaulder take down the Queen Witch and stop her from unleashing a plague upon humanity.
While visiting the Pittsburgh set of the film, I got to participate in a roundtable interview with Wood during which he broke down the Dolans’ background, their duties and what makes his Dolan stand out from the ones before him. You can read about all of that as well as Wood’s experience shooting in a mine, the appeal of being part of a completely original concept and loads more in the full interview below.
The Last Witch Hunter is due in theaters on October 23rd. It’s directed by Breck Eisner and also stars Rose Leslie. In case you missed it, here’s the trailer:
Question: Can you tell us a little bit about your character in the film?
ELIJAH WOOD: Yeah, Dolan the 37th. So he’s effectively a priest of some description. He’s part of a long line of priests that are associated with an organization called The Order of the Axe and Cross, which effectively is an organization in the world that we’ve sort of created that assists and aids in the process of ridding the world of the blight of dark witchcraft. And their function is effectively to sort of have the back of Kaulder who is the witch hunter, of which there were many back in the past and he is sort of the last, as the name implies, the last of his kind. And so in the film, we meet Dolan the 36th, played by Michael Caine. That’s our sort of introduction to this notion of this long priesthood that has been serving him through time, and he retires and I kind of come into the fold as the new guy of the 21st century. Because he sort of comes from the past and he’s not up to technological advancements and I come into that world and that’s sort of how you’re introduced to me and my function.
Is Dolan a title or are you Michael Caine’s grandson?
WOOD: Dolan is a name. Basically they all have their given names and then when they’re signed in to the Axe and Cross they’re given a longer – it’s vaguely sort of Catholic or Jesuit sort of name, it’s a long name of which Dolan is one of them. And so Dolan is the title, but effectively it’s the name as well.
Is there a lot of backstory on the Order that you know that might not make it into the movie?
WOOD: Yes and no. I think you’re gonna get a sense of it. I think in order to provide context for the world that we’re in, there’s plenty of information that is sort of distributed throughout the film. I perhaps know more than what will make it to the screen, but I think it’s definitely in there, for sure.
How about personally? He’s fighting these bad guys with Vin Diesel’s character, but is he experiencing any sort of personal journey or arc?
WOOD: I’m not sure I’m at liberty to say. Yeah, he has his own backstory, which is revealed throughout the course of the film and sort of early on in his relationship with Kaulder when they’re in the introductory phase. It’s an interesting introduction for the character because he starts right when the 36th has retired. When he retires, he’s killed and that sets forth the series of events that the film sort of deals with, that he didn’t just die, he didn’t just have a heart attack, he was murdered and he was murdered for a specific reason. Myself and Kaulder sort of pull back the onion and realize that there’s actually the threat of sort of a plague upon humanity and the rebirth of the queen which he had killed centuries prior. And so that’s sort of the first day for my character. [Laughs] It’s like bad first day. Things get really intense and the crux of the story sort of unfolds on that first day.
Do Kaulder and the Order always see eye to eye?
WOOD: Oh, good question. Yes, relatively. Kaulder and the council don’t always see eye to eye. Council is a separate thing. Council ultimately, they are a series of witches and there are multiple councils around the world. It’s so interesting to describe all of this because there’s actually a great amount of detail within the construct of the film, which I think is what I responded to when I read the script. It’s rare that you read something at this level, at this scale that’s not based on a pre-existing license or is not a sequel or is not a pre-existing franchise that’s being brought back. So the fact that it was an original concept was really exciting, but I had my doubts and fears as well, you know? And I read it and I think I was just so struck at how much information there was and how well-crafted this version of our world – because effectively it’s about our world now. It’s just a revisionist history. It’s like as if we had always been existing with witches and all along there’s been this sort of order making sure they keep witchcraft at bay and we’ve been none the wiser, so it’s sort of getting a peek into what that world is. I’m getting off track, what was your question?
No, it was a good answer. I just said do they always see eye to eye?
WOOD: Right. Yes, they do. I was explaining the witch councils. So the councils not so much. The councils are actually made up of witches. They are the ones that the Order of the Axe and Cross ultimately, if there are any witches that they’ve found that are practicing witchcraft that is not allowed, dark magic, they are brought in front of the council and ultimately sentenced to some kind of sentence, more often than not put into a witch prison. Obviously, Kaulder kills witches, so there’s a little bit of a chip on the shoulder of the council. They understand his function is ultimately to keep the wrong kind of witchcraft [out] and they have that interest, but they feel like they’re doing the same job, so there’s conflict there and you see that within the film as well.
You brought up how it’s not a pre-existing franchise or sequel. Was that one of the things that attracted you to the project?
WOOD: Totally, yeah. Totally. Especially at this budget level. At this size, it’s seemingly increasingly rare. We have exceptions to that rule every year and it’s great to see that, but it’s just really refreshing to sit down and read something that was crafted and conceived from a completely original, unique place. I find witchcraft to be interesting. It’s something that doesn’t often get explored in cinema or hasn’t been in a while. I think the approach is interesting in that it’s not a horror film and it doesn’t really have horror film elements. It’s more of an action-adventure film, fantasy adventure in a way, and that was something that was kind of intriguing. I didn’t quite know tonally what it was going to be before I read it. Again, I think for something that is original to be as fleshed out as it is, you could almost imagine delving into the very – we meet Kaulder in the 14th century I believe, at the beginning of the film, so it cuts from the 14th century until now, so you can imagine all of that time that had passed and the various sort of adventures that he’d kind of gone on, it’s just kind of interesting.
I see you’re peeling a bit there. Can you tell us about what’s going on here?
WOOD: I can’t. [Laughs] I will say that it pertains to my character’s backstory. It’s about what happened to him in his past.
Perhaps what drove him to join the Order?
WOOD: Perhaps. Well, almost certainly, yeah. Almost certainly.
While we were watching the scene being filmed, we saw that you’re a priest who’s packing heat. Do you have any more extensive warrior training beyond that?
WOOD: No, no. In fact, ultimately, a Dolan’s job is to never really do field work. They don’t join Kaulder in the field. They typically do the background and the sort of research, all of the assisting that they can do, not really an office job but they do a lot of research to sort of back up Kaulder’s field work so they’re not really there on the scene with weapons ready to fight, effectively. But the scenario is such that things have kind of gotten out of control and it’s a very different playing field now. And so yeah, a Dolan typically would not be carrying a gun.
Does he have to learn this world at all or does he know all of the information?
WOOD: Well, I would imagine it would be the same as if you were going to be a priest, right? So you would do an extensive amount of schooling and research, training. Effectively, you’d probably go to some kind of university or some kind of school specifically to learn how to be a priest. It’s the same kind of thing. He understands the world and probably knows a lot in regards to what a Dolan is supposed to know, but in terms of actually being on the scene with Kaulder, that’s a different thing altogether. It’s that thing, it’s one thing to know and do all the research and have a vast understanding of the world, it’s another entirely to jump into the world and be like, ‘Fuck! It’s way more intense than I thought it was gonna be!’ [Laughs]
Have you guys gotten to do any stunts or anything that was a little outside your comfort zone?
WOOD: Yeah, there hasn’t been any stunts for me, but we had a sentinel, which I’m sure someone will describe to you. It’s a creature that takes the prisoners into the witch prison and puts them away for life. There’s a scene in the council where one of the witches that is captured is taken away and that was a whole kind of stunt rig thing that was really cool. But I specifically haven’t had any real stunts yet.
How do you like shooting down here?
WOOD: It’s cool. I’ve never shot in a mine before. We’re only in day two. [Laughs] Ask me in a week.
Are you stuck here all day or do they give you breaks to come out?
WOOD: We have some breaks, but they’re not long enough. The crew’s here all day. Lunch is really the time where people can step outside because it’s close enough to the entrance where they can get fresh air, but it’s bitingly cold outside. But it is kind of refreshing to see sunlight when you’re stuck inside all day because the hours pass and you have no sense of time or no bearing on time so it’s a bit crazy, but it’s cool. I’ve never been in this kind of environment before that wasn’t a set so to actually be in a real mine is awesome.
Are the locations all over the place or is there any stage stuff?
WOOD: There’s some stage stuff. Julie [Berghoff], our production designer, is extraordinary. She’s done dressing and build-outs on locations to sort of embellish a space that already exists, and then we’ve got genuine from the ground up sets as well that are incredible. The witch council is a set. Actually, Dolan’s apartment was a set, Michael Caine’s apartment. So a lot of things like that, but there’s also tons of location work too, so it’s got a real organic feel to it I think.
Based on the context you were describing for your character, you not being a participant in the field and you not using weapons, does that allow for there to be humor in the dynamic between your character and Vin’s character?
WOOD: It’s there a little bit. I think that that dynamic we’ve seen in films before and the humor specifically, so there were bits and pieces that I was reticent to do just because I feel like that’ll just feel clichéd or we’ve sort of seen the assistant – it’s like the Q/James Bond scenario. It’s not quite, but there’s levity certainly, there is levity and there are a few sort of semi-comic moments to a certain degree, especially considering the fact that I suppose initially my character is a bit of a fish out of water. He’s thrust into the world in a pretty intense way pretty quickly.
We just saw some pictures from previous sets, the memory bar in particular.
WOOD: Yeah, it’s awesome. I didn’t actually get to see it in person.
That answers my question. I was gonna ask, Vin gets to visit the past and the past also comes back with him. Does your character get to have any demons?
WOOD: They get to have all the fun, man. They get to have all the fun.
In the sequel.
WOOD: Right! Yeah, they get to have all the fun. I don’t get to experience a whole lot of witchiness. There are certain elements that I get to experience, but no, I missed the bar. That’s a major centerpiece to the film actually and reading it, it was such an exciting sequence to read because of course there would be a bar where witches hang out and it was a fun way to sort of explore modern witches in the world that get to just express themselves amongst their kind. It was really cool and I think it’ll play out to be a really fun sequence. The production design is so amazing. It’s really cool.
WOOD: Yeah, yeah. I mean I think that we’re always trying to make what we have better and he’s always up for that I think. He’s great. He’s super enthusiastic. He’s been working so hard on this for so long and I think one of the things that really impressed me about him was his dedication. He’s sort of tireless and when I first met him, it was via Skype and it was months and months and months ago, mid-summer I think, and he had already done so much work because they’ve been planning this for quite some time and I think initially they were gonna try to shoot it much earlier in the year and it got pushed for a variety of reasons so he’s really been crafting this and working with Dean [Semler] in regards to what the actual tone, the color tone and the palette of the film would be in regards to how it would be shot, and the look of it, and then also the production design. And it comes right down to the character work as well and that’s always something that’s important to him. So it’s been great. I love working with him. I think he’s happiest when we’re on the floor working and working as a team to get this thing crafted in the right way. It’s awesome.
I’ll ask a fun question if nobody has anything.
What is the most important thing to know about hunting witches? If you’re gonna hunt witches, what should you bring with you or know about them in order to live through the night?
WOOD: Wow. That is a Dolan question. It’s Kaulder too, but it’s a Dolan question. Well, you can tell if you have iron on you or if you touch iron to a witch, that will reveal that it’s a witch, so have an iron ring or something of iron with you. That could be an asset. And also if you’re in a scenario with a witch, you’ll know a witch is around if you see one of the five elements, so fire, water, earth, air, because all witchcraft comes from those natural elements, and there has to be at least one of those things present. In terms of how to protect yourself, that I don’t know. [Laughs] Witches are crafty, crafty folk. Keep some iron with you. That’ll burn their skin.
You can check out more of my Last Witch Hunter set visit coverage using the links below:
- Vin Diesel Talks ‘D&D,’ Sequels and More on the Set of ‘The Last Witch Hunter’
- ‘The Last Witch Hunter’ Set Visit Interview: Breck Eisner on Dark Magic and Witch Prison
- ‘The Last Witch Hunter’ Set Visit Interview: Mark Canton on Developing an Original IP