Get­ting se­ri­ous (and then a lit­tle silly) with Evan Rachel Wood


ELLE (Canada) - - Con­tents - By Sarah Laing Pho­tog­ra­phy by Max Aba­dian

WHEN CELEBRITIES BRING THEIR SIG­NIF­I­CANT OTH­ERS on-set, it can go one of two ways: That per­son can be­come a de facto body­guard, cre­at­ing an im­pen­e­tra­ble wall be­tween the “fa­mous” and the rest of us, or, as in the case of Evan Rachel Wood, that per­son can put said celeb at ease, al­low­ing us to see him or her in a way we wouldn’t oth­er­wise.

Wood, who ar­rived at the Los An­ge­les photo stu­dio so un­ob­tru­sively that she’d al­ready been in hair and makeup for 10 min­utes by the time we re­al­ized she was there, brought along her new fi­ancé (and band­mate—more on that later), Zach Villa. Nei­ther Wood nor Villa is a loud per­son­al­ity, but there was one mo­ment, some­where around the second look of the day, when the leather-clad Villa got pretty an­i­mated. “You... whoa. Just so cool. Rad.” He’d just had a look at Wood in the pho­tog­ra­pher’s mon­i­tor, and you could see his brain mak­ing the leap from the woman he knows and sees ev­ery day to the “star” in that pho­to­graph, and it was won­der­ful to see that he was in awe of and ex­cited for her.

Of course, Wood has had many such mo­ments in the past year or so. She’s hardly an un­known (she has been act­ing since she was a child and got her first Golden Globe nom­i­na­tion at 17 for Thir­teen), and her work as an an­droid in HBO’s West­world as well as her new­found out­spo­ken­ness around is­sues of sex­ual vi­o­lence, gen­der flu­id­ity and sex­u­al­ity have pro­pelled her past in­die-cool sta­tus and firmly onto the A-list. All of this has also fi­nally moved her be­yond be­ing “that girl who dated Mar­i­lyn Man­son when he was 36 and she was 19.”

That doesn’t mean, how­ever, that she spends all day dodg­ing selfie-crazed fans of the show, which re­turns for a second sea­son in 2018. “I al­most never get rec­og­nized be­cause Dolores and I look so dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent,” says the 29-year-old with some sat­is­fac­tion. And it’s true: Wrapped in a menswear-style coat, her hair short and two-toned, Wood couldn’t be fur­ther from the long-haired, Vic­to­rian-dress-wear­ing char­ac­ter she plays on­screen.

As we chat on a leather sofa while the crew clears up af­ter the shoot, I feel like I’m fi­nally form­ing an im­pres­sion of Wood that’s stronger than “she changed the pho­tog­ra­pher’s elec­tro playlist for a Bowie-heavy op­tion from her own phone.” She wasn’t shy, ex­actly, through­out the day, but she wasn’t ex­tro­verted ei­ther, head­ing for her phone or talk­ing qui­etly to Villa be­tween takes.

And here’s the sur­pris­ing thing: For some­one whose pub­lic per­sona can some­times read a bit “se­ri­ous” (which is not a bad thing, to be clear), Wood has a light­ness and a sun­ni­ness to her. It reads al­most like re­lief, like some­one tak­ing ad­van­tage of his or her free­dom and run­ning with it. For ex­am­ple: Wood told me she’d been wait­ing for years to wear a suit to an awards show, and the time felt “right” for this year’s Golden Globes (and the SAGs just af­ter that).

“When you’re nom­i­nated for best ac­tress, usu­ally ev­ery­one is like, ‘What dress is she go­ing to wear?’ and I just kind of wanted to sur­prise peo­ple and com­pletely go the other route.” For Wood, it was less an anti-dress state­ment than a pro-sar­to­rial-choice move. (Also: We’re still not over that Al­tuzarra tux.) And as for why the tim­ing was right.... h

You say you were a changed per­son af­ter sea­son one of

West­world. “Dolores’ jour­ney was about find­ing her true self and fac­ing trauma and her past. That was a cat­a­lyst in me open­ing up about my ex­pe­ri­ences. [Wood is a rape sur­vivor.] Play­ing her got me to face a lot. Life was im­i­tat­ing art. By the end of that show, I did feel like I was stand­ing on firmer ground and that I had con­quered cer­tain fears. I was own­ing it in a dif­fer­ent way. I was less afraid and less ashamed.”

It some­times feels that as a woman, es­pe­cially in this po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, you’re never go­ing to win by play­ing ac­cord­ing to any set of rules, so you may as well do your own thing.

“I just felt the gloves come off and I was done. You need to be vocal and be your­self and keep fight­ing.”

What ef­fect has speak­ing so pub­licly about some pretty per­sonal stuff had on your more pri­vate re­la­tion­ships?

“I’ve been able to talk about it in a new way—from a place of strength rather than still kind of go­ing through it. And there are still good days and bad days. That stuff never fully goes away. Even when the re­sponse is pos­i­tive, it’s still over­whelm­ing be­cause peo­ple start open­ing up to you about their ex­pe­ri­ences and that’s re­ally heavy. But it’s kind of like how I felt when I had my son, where it was like ‘All right, now you get to take your ex­pe­ri­ences and turn them into lessons and you get to kind of be there for him in­stead of just wal­low­ing in your thing.’”

Has your son’s life changed with all of this new at­ten­tion?

“Bless him. He’s a gypsy by proxy be­cause his par­ents are. He’s only three now, but he’s start­ing to un­der­stand. He hears one of my songs and he knows that that’s me, and he has seen me on TV and he’s start­ing to put the pieces to­gether. His par­ents are very dif­fer­ent. My ex-hus­band [ac­tor Jamie Bell] is lovely and very Bri­tish and straight­edge, and then he’s got this glam-rock weirdo for a mom.” What do you think he thinks of it all? “He said some­thing to me that was so pro­found I wanted to put it on a T-shirt. I was just pok­ing fun at him lov­ingly one day and I said, ‘You’re weird,’ and he said, ‘I’m not weird. I’m play­ing.’ And I was like, that’s the most bril­liant thing I’ve ever heard. I’m not weird, I’m just play­ing. That’s my motto for life from now on.” h

You’ve also re­cently re­lo­cated to Nashville. “L.A. is won­der­ful, and it has given me so many amaz­ing things, but I’ve also got a lot of de­mons here. I was ready to break it up a lit­tle bit. I wanted to give my kid some grass to run around on. Again, he’s got two ac­tor par­ents. I was like, ‘You don’t need to live in L.A. full-time. Let’s go some­where a lit­tle “nor­mal” for a bit.’”

You grew up in North Carolina, so ob­vi­ously you have roots there, but I’m fas­ci­nated that you chose the South. If any­where is deeply con­form­ist, deeply tra­di­tional, it’s there.

“That’s how I was raised too. But it’s not all like that. I am in a more pro­gres­sive city. But there’s a part of me that also be­lieves in go­ing where you’re needed. And if I can be there, bring­ing some­thing else to the ta­ble or en­gag­ing the con­ver­sa­tion or speak­ing up when I need to speak up, then that’s also im­por­tant. I don’t want to run scared. It’s def­i­nitely in­ter­est­ing at times, sure, but for the most part, it has been pos­i­tive.” When is it “in­ter­est­ing”? “There was one in­ci­dent where I think some­body showed me a pic­ture and he was com­par­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton and Chelsea to Me­la­nia and Ivanka. He was like, ‘God, dodged a bul­let, right?’ and laugh­ing. I was like, ‘What are you talk­ing about?’ He was like, ‘Which ones would you rather have? The hot ones or the ugly ones?’ and I was like, ‘I think I would rather be val­ued for what’s in my mind, es­pe­cially if I were in that po­si­tion, but it’s cool if what is im­por­tant to you is that you want to have sex with them in your mind. That’s all on you, man, and that’s su­per-messed-up, but I’m just go­ing to leave this con­ver­sa­tion now.’ I had to walk away.”

If you could re­ar­range the world, start it all over, what would it look like?

“Hon­estly, I don’t even re­ally want to change peo­ple that much. I want to make sure ev­ery­one’s got ac­cess to af­ford­able health care and things that help peo­ple stay alive and sane and taken care of on a base level. And then, se­ri­ously, I don’t care what you be­lieve. Just let ev­ery­one live the way that they choose to live and let’s not try to force our ideals on ev­ery­body else.”

There’s a fa­tigue that comes with be­ing com­bat­ive all the time.

“I also don’t want to be a hyp­ocrite. If that’s what you be­lieve, I so strongly dis­agree, but I’m not go­ing to hate you for it. I’m not get­ting mad at you un­less you’re harm­ing some­body against their will or tak­ing away rights or med­dling in peo­ple’s lives.”

Do you ever feel like there are peo­ple who hate you for what you rep­re­sent?

“Some think that fem­i­nism is about hat­ing men, and they hate you for that. I love men. I have a son—I ac­tu­ally want a world where we can all be equal and I’m not held back be­cause of my gen­der. It’s not a move­ment against men! It sucks that the word ‘fem­i­nism’ is so tainted. Also, I’m in the LGBT com­mu­nity [Wood iden­ti­fies as bi­sex­ual], and you’re told a lot that you’re go­ing to hell and you’re a ter­ri­ble per­son. Peo­ple think that it’s a move­ment and we’re try­ing to de­stroy so­ci­ety. It’s in­tense.”

Chang­ing gears a lit­tle…you’re in a band with your fi­ancé called Rebel and a Bas­ket­case.

“We’re a baby band. My first love was singing and mu­sic, and it still kind of is. I love act­ing, and it’s a deep, deep love. But mu­sic is like my reli­gion. If I didn’t have mu­sic, I would die.” And David Bowie is your high priest? “For real. I’m not a reli­gious per­son, but mu­sic is so tran­scen­dent for me. It’s the clos­est I feel to what­ever God is. That’s why it took me so long to ac­tu­ally do be­cause I held it close. It’s so pre­cious that I was like, ‘If I’m not Ra­dio­head, I’m not do­ing it. If it’s not the best thing ever, I can’t.’ And I was like, ‘Stop, you love do­ing it, there’s a place for it and you can make pos­i­tive, fun mu­sic and that’s okay.’”

The pub­lic knows a lot of in­tense, heavy stuff about you. But what else is there? Like, what do you read on the In­ter­net, for in­stance?

“I’m a psy­chol­ogy, self-help, spir­i­tu­al­ity geek, prob­a­bly be­cause I have had so many ups and downs in my own life. It’s some­thing I just get su­per-nerdy about. I love learn­ing about the mind and how that con­nects to our souls.” What’s the coolest thing you’ve learned lately? “I was just hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with some­body last night about al­ter­nate di­men­sions and how there’s a mir­ror ver­sion of you in an­other di­men­sion. There are many ver­sions of you, and there’s a the­ory that you can pop in and out of these di­men­sions. It’s so amus­ing. I love at least hav­ing the con­ver­sa­tion, be­ing a bit ag­nos­tic in that way.” So what is the mir­ror ver­sion of you do­ing? “Who knows? This could be the mir­ror ver­sion of me for all I know. I could be just hop­ping back and forth through time. [Laughs] Peo­ple read­ing this will think I’m crazy.” But cool. “I think there’s heavy stuff around me be­cause I have built a ca­reer out of heavy movies and push­ing the bound­aries in that way and do­ing things that make peo­ple go ‘Whoa, where were you when you did that scene? Do you want to talk about it?’ I guess I’m just fi­nally in a place where I can be like, ‘Sure, what do you want to know?’ But that’s an­other rea­son the mu­sic that we make is re­ally up­lift­ing—be­cause I do so much heavy stuff on­screen, if I had to also go on­stage and sing about heart­break­ing things and how ter­ri­ble the world is, I would die.” [Laughs]

A lot of mu­si­cians say writ­ing a happy song is way harder than writ­ing a sad one.

“It’s eas­ier to fo­cus on the bad stuff, you know, than to pull your­self up and sing about some­thing nice. Our new sin­gle is called ‘To­day,’ and it’s just a big bat­tle cry about not let­ting the dark forces ruin your day. You make to­day and you make the changes, and as long as you’re here and you’re fight­ing, you’re go­ing to be okay. I’m ex­cited for peo­ple to hear that song. I think it’s a re­ally good time for it.” n

Cot­ton, linen and satin jacket and shorts and cot­ton-poplin shirt (Jil San­der), faux-leather shoes (Zara) and cot­ton socks (stylist’s own)

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