When Wood’s worlds collide
Art imitated Evan Rachel Wood’s life on the set of Westworld. It was a terrifying but healing experience, writes Julie Eley.
It was starring in sci-fi western Westworld that allowed actress Evan Rachel Wood to finally cry about being raped by ‘‘a significant other’’. Until then, she was worried that if the tears started, they might never stop.
‘‘Before Westworld, I had never actually cried about my experiences. Until I did season one, I had not shed a tear about anything that had happened to me,’’ says Wood, who plays rancher’s daughter and robot revolutionary Dolores Abernathy in the series, which is set in a theme park that lets visitors act out their wildest fantasies with human-like robot ‘‘hosts’’.
‘‘It’s one of those ‘if you start crying about it you feel like you are going to cry for ever’ [things].
‘‘I thought that crying about it meant that they’d won and so I’m like, ‘No I’m strong, like I’m fine, they didn’t break me, they didn’t do anything’.
‘‘But that’s actually not helpful and it’s not really true. It’s OK to say, ‘Yeah, that was not OK, and it broke me for a second, but I’m not broken’.’’
The catalyst for the tears was her final scene with Ed Harris’ Man in Black and the realisation that her protagonist and the sweet-natured William were one and the same.
‘‘I think shooting the scene with the Man in Black in the finale, that was the hardest one because it was just so relevant to my life,’’ she says.
‘‘The realisation that this person is not who you thought that they were, and they are actually your worst nightmare when you thought they were the love of your life.
‘‘That was like, ‘This is way too real.’ But I had [show writer and executive producer] Lisa Joy there on set with me and I felt safe enough with her to take her aside and say, ‘Hey I want to tell you some stuff about me.’ It was incredibly empowering to do that scene.’’
Since then, Wood has gone on to appear before US Congress, urging members to implement the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act, and detailing a rape by her then partner and, on a separate occasion, another by the owner of a bar.
And helping her find the strength to testify was her character Dolores, whose photograph Wood carried in a locket round her neck.
‘‘She’s become a symbol of strength,’’ says the North Carolina native whose sexual assaults led to two suicide attempts and a brief spell in a psychiatric hospital.
‘‘We all have some kind of trauma. Something that happens to us, that changes us or leaves a lasting effect.
‘‘Delores taught me that this can happen to you but it doesn’t have to define you for the rest of your life and that you can use it to move progress.’’
And progress is very much centre stage as season two of Westworld kicks off.
Dolores brought the theme park’s violent delights to a violent end in season one when she killed creative director Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) against a backdrop of chaos and a robot uprising.
But while starting a revolution is one thing, seeing it through is a different story. ‘‘The uprising is just the beginning. Then there’s the fight and then there’s the war. And there’s the casualties,’’ says Wood.
‘‘I think Dolores’ dilemma this season is all the things she knows she has to do, but she feels the weight of them. She’s not just a mindless killer who wants to come in and shoot up the place and run it to the ground for fun. She wants her freedom.
‘‘It’s literally a life-and-death situation for her. She can also see the end game and the picture clearer than anybody else, and so trying to get everybody on board with that is hard.’’
What has proved easier for Wood though, has been helping mobilise support behind the Me Too movement.
Touching on parallels between the uprising of Westworld’s android hosts and the victims of sexual abuse, Wood says, ‘‘I don’t think that any of us thought it would happen so massively, so overnight. Literally the world changed overnight.
‘‘You could feel it walking out on the set. You could feel it walking out on the street. Everyone was just thrown and no one knew what to do for a
‘‘I thought that crying about it meant that they’d won and so I’m like, ‘No I’m strong, like I’m fine, they didn’t break me, they didn’t do anything’,’’ says Evan Rachel Wood.
Sir Anthony Hopkins starred as Robert Ford, the fictional theme park’s creative director, in Westworld’s first season.