When Elijah Wood says he's been blessed, we're inclined to agree with him. The well-adjusted 21-year-old — who's back in theaters Dec. 18 with The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers — has gracefully avoided the troubled child actor path. And better still, when his own epic trilogy completes its run (the final installment, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, opens Dec. 17, 2003), it seems unlikely that the versatile thesp will follow Mark Hamill's footsteps to has-beendom.

"I think I'll always be associated with [LOTR]... but that's an asset as long as it's not the only thing I'm known for," says Frodo Baggins's portrayer, who first gained respect with performances in The War and The Ice Storm. "I think I'm lucky to have had a career beforehand that I was at least recognizable for, to a certain degree."

Though most of the LOTR series was shot over two years ago, between promoting the flicks and the occasional trip back to New Zealand to shoot additional scenes, Middle Earth is still dominating Wood's life. But the two movies he's made in the meantime, Ed Burns's barely noticed Ash Wednesday and next year's coming-of-age indie Try Seventeen (with Mandy Moore and Franka Potente), reflect his desire to take a break from blockbusters.

"Oddly enough, I didn't get one script that had anything to do with fantasy, thankfully," he says. "[After LOTR], my intention was just to do movies that were a little bit smaller initially. I didn't really want to work at all for a while. When I got back from New Zealand, I wanted to relax and have my own time, because my time wasn't my own for almost a year and a half."

And it isn't just the hobbit-gear and long hours Wood is happy to be done with; it's that tongue-tying archaic dialogue. "There were really obscure lines that sounded great," he laughs. "You'd read them and say 'That's really gorgeous, but no way can I speak this!' It became funny to [the screenwriters]. It was amusing for them to watch us sweat bullets over these bizarre lines. A full day of work trying to speak these awful lines, and at the end of the day, they'd laugh."