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.

Sunday News - - FEATURE -

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.

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