Evan Rachel Wood doesn’t fear the edge—it’s her natural habitat, onscreen and in real life. Uncomfortable, Lolita-esque situations? Check. Nudity? Check. Drugs? Um… Bisexuality? Naturally. “I love me some girls, man!” Wood states unequivocally, sidling into a back booth at a sleek pan-Asian bistro near her home on Los Angeles’ West Side.
At just 21 years old, Wood has proven to be that most freaky-deaky hybrid: classic Hollywood starlet, but hard-wired for serious acting. Just as she’s titillated gossip columns with her (real) on again/off again romance with much older rocker Marilyn Manson and (never-actually-happened) affair with her much, much older co-star Mickey Rourke, Wood has dazzled in films both indie (The Wrestler, Down in the Valley, Running with Scissors) and blockbuster (Across the Universe). She pushes boundaries, making her stand out against more established co-stars like Gwyneth Paltrow, Cate Blanchett and Rourke.
“She’d joke around the set like a 12 year-old, but as soon as I said ‘action’ she could go immediately to the deepest emotional level,” explains Catherine Hardwicke, who, in 2003, directed Wood in the acclaimed, controversial teen-angst film Thirteen. “In some scenes, she went as far as an actress could go—maybe too far. I was so happy when she was the youngest person to ever be nominated for a best actress Golden Globe, but she deserved an Oscar.”
Even in less volatile roles, Wood can catch you off-guard: take her beguiling, against-type turn as a naïve, homeless Southern beauty queen in the new Woody Allen chamber comedy, Whatever Works. “She’s an actress of limitless capabilities,” Allen says. “I had not seen anything Evan was in; my wife told me about her. Once I started looking at clips of her, she looked like a wonderful actress and looked very good for the part. It was an easy choice—she could be trusted with anything.” Wood is the latest actress to receive Allen’s benediction—which didn’t do too badly, after all, for Diane Keaton, Juliette Lewis, Mira Sorvino, Penélope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson. In Whatever Works, she more than holds her own against the seasoned likes of Patricia Clarkson, and steals nearly every laugh from Larry David. “He is totally like his character on Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Wood claims. “I’d been a huge fan before, but it’s twice as funny watching it after you meet him, because he’s just totally that guy.”
Eyewear and slip dress by Dolce & Gabbana. Necklace and cuffs by Cartier.
Having never attempted a full-fledged comedic role before, Wood admits she was “nervous as hell” about working with Allen and David. But in Whatever Works, as a waylaid (and way-laid) Southern belle, Melody, a beauty pageant winner who “lost her virginity to the boy who caught the biggest catfish in Plackman County,” Wood is like a comedy Terminator. She blazes through Allen’s existential malaise with blonde naïveté, innocent sexuality and an omnipresent grin. “I was not surprised by Evan’s comic timing,” Allen says. “It was not surprising at all to me. She just has it built in.” Melody’s note-perfect Southern accent was built in, too. “Evan told me that she could do a Southern accent and I took her word for it,” Allen says. “I never heard her do it, but she came on the set and did it.” Like Melody, Wood was raised for much of her life in the South (North Carolina, to be exact) before moving with her just-divorced mother to Los Angeles to start acting. “I based the character on my stepmother, actually,” she admits.
And that book by Nabokov, too: Melody is a familiar, umpteenth variation on the “Lolita” character, on which Wood is an admitted expert. “I had grown up around adults, but I was a teenager,” she says now, “and I was struggling between the two.” As such, many of her roles have an intentional Lolita quality, a reference that reflects back to the obsession with the Nabokov novel she’s had since she was a kid. “My mom would say, ‘I’m not paying for home school so that you can read trash like Lolita.’ And I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? It’s Nabokov! Would you prefer I read Invitation to a Beheading?’”
To spite her mother, Wood began dressing like Lolita every day, down to the sex icon’s trademark heart-shaped glasses, a come-hither accessory she has become a devoted collector of. “I’ve got every pair imaginable,” she says. “My apartment is covered with different kinds of heart-shaped glasses. My goal was to bring them back.”
Marilyn Manson helped her with this, not only by writing an ode to his young (then) love called “Heart-Shaped Glasses,” but by directing a controversial accompanying video where Manson and Wood erotically cavort in flagrante in a sea of crimson viscera. (Manson has claimed that Wood’s role made her the highest-paid actress in a music video, ever.) “We just made it into something that we could be creatively fulfilled by and totally proud of, and you know, laugh about,” Wood explains with a smile. “I’m a thrill-seeker! So much of it is for our own enjoyment.”
In person, Wood appears as a portrait of the artist as a young Goth, albeit in high style—it’s a look that might be described as insane punk elegance. The severe black military jacket is, naturally, by Chanel, the bag by Miu Miu. Her iridescent red hair has been sublimated into two architecturally vertical, gravity-defiant ponytails; a smudge of kohl and bronze offer graphic contrast to Wood’s curiously opaque hazel eyes and alabaster skin; the dangerously spiky heels hanging off her feet look both stripper-ready and expensive. The overall effect makes her appear as an exotic manga character, although one with access to very good stylists.
But while visually she might convey the dusky hauteur of a graveyard girl, Wood’s infectious charisma dispels any gloom. She goofs constantly, gesticulating and sticking her tongue out for emphasis like a kid, cackling ostentatiously when the waiter brings over a plate of sweet potato fries, which she promptly devours with refreshing glee.
“I need to work on my laugh,” she says, suddenly self-conscious at her outburst. “I’m used to being in big crowds of people, so when I get in an intimate setting I laugh really, really loudly. Recently, it’s been really bad: I’ve been extremely giggly. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’m happy.” Her chuckle seems not so happy, however, when the rumors of her supposed dalliance with Mickey Rourke come up. “Mickey and I are kind of crazy,” she explains. “Of course we’re going to be slightly rowdy at the after-parties, but we just have fun. We’re certainly not sleeping together; it’s not true.”
It’s not that the public was convinced this mercurial Bohemian beauty and Rourke were an item between the sheets; it’s that, from her own turbulent, “Are they together or are they not?” romance with Manson to her risky film choices, a rumble with Rourke seemed like something she might do out of sheer perversity. After all, Wood proved exceptionally authentic as Tracy, Thirteen’s anarchically precocious teen protagonist dangerously in thrall to the holy trinity of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. Her embodiment of wasted adolescence felt way too effortless and lived in; it was the realness of Wood’s performance, rather than the jerky hand-held cinematography that gave Thirteen the scent of documentary reportage.
Necklace by Cartier.
“It’s probably okay for me to say this now, but my Thirteen character was completely, 100% me at that age,” she claims. “That’s why I did it. I had never seen something that honest being done for teenagers and their parents, that wasn’t some terrible educational film. It was like Requiem for a Dream, but with teenagers: everything about it just rang true with me.”
Up until Thirteen, the young ingénue had acted in kiddie movies and on TV’s Once and Again and Touched by an Angel. When she hooked up with Manson in 2007, the gossips started sharpening their shivs. “It made me laugh so hard when people were like, ‘Evan Rachel Wood and Marilyn Manson? She’s so squeaky clean!’” Wood says now, with yet another chuckle. “I was like, ‘I was cutting myself on camera at the age of 14 and making out with chicks!’”
Her flickering, volatile relationship with Manson is pretty much the only reason you’ll read about Wood on “Page Six,” however. At the time of the interview, she had been recently reconciled with him; by the time the issue went to press, however, they were no longer a couple, and Manson was making overtures in the press to Lady GaGa. But Wood was already a veteran of tumultuous celebrity romance with an older man before the Manson madness, having previously been involved with actor Jamie Bell, her co-star in a Green Day video. The liaison resulted in a “J” tattoo on Wood’s ankle, and some semi-permanent bad feelings. “He was shorter than me,” Wood claims, “and I have no problem saying that!” Her four other tattoos remain intact. There’s a diamond “for ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,’ and ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond,’ which is my favorite song of all time.” There’s also an entire Edgar Allen Poe verse inked on her back.
“Everybody’s gonna think I’m a poser—‘Oh, I’m dark and I like Edgar Allen Poe,’” she says. “But you know, I like Edgar Allen Poe—I’m sorry.” Much of Wood’s body art relates directly to Manson. Both have matching designs of the number “15” inked behind their ears, along with black hearts. “His birthday and his name add up to fifteen, which is my lucky number—it’s weird,” she explains. “And we got the black hearts on Valentine’s Day.”
Wood admits that her propensity for dating older men has something to do with working on her own abandonment and father issues, both of which she says she’s finally resolved: “Thank God. It’s funny, though—I’ve never dated a guy who didn’t have mommy issues, and that is a fact.” Manson seemed to bring all of these issues together, making her the heavy metal Holly Golightly. “I was so worried about telling my mother [about Manson], because my whole life I had been brought up with the idea that an older guy dating a younger girl is sick, disgusting and everything is wrong about it,” she says. “Being with Manson put my creativity into overdrive. When I’m not working, I’m still always doing something creative—reading, making music, taking photographs, and that’s especially true when you’re dating somebody else that’s creative.”
From her penchant for older, Satanic rockers to her ability to balance iconoclasm and success, it’s clear that Wood inhabits a unique space on Hollywood’s food chain. For one, while she does have a soft spot for the Chateau Marmont, she doesn’t play the paparazzi game when she goes out. Wood would rather linger at late night haunts like Toi and The Dime, or authentically divey strip clubs like Jumbo’s.
Corset by Miu Miu. Briefs by Dolce & Gabbana. Jacket by Alexander McQueen.
Before she turned 21, Wood could be found hanging out at fully nude strip clubs, where she would get let in because, ironically, they didn’t serve alcohol. Today, however, her primary vice is karaoke—she developed the habit at Chorus Karaoke in Manhattan’s Koreatown, which she’d routinely close down at 6:00 a.m. with Eddie Izzard while they were shooting Across the Universe. (Her surefire karaoke jams: “Piece of My Heart,” “Purple Rain,” “Fake Plastic Trees,” the assorted hits of Guns ’N Roses.) When Wood turned 21, then-boyfriend Manson invited Grease star Jeff Conaway out for a birthday karaoke happening. “I got an actual ‘hickey from Kenickie,’” Wood gushes. “And then we sang ‘Summer Nights’ and ‘Greased Lightning,’ and Jeff was doin’ all the moves!”
And while Wood’s moves behind the scenes may seem unpredictable, there’s a method to her madness when it comes to her career. In choosing films, she consciously surrounds herself with actors whose careers she respects—Annette Benning, Holly Hunter, Uma Thurman (although she still has yet to work with her idol, Jodie Foster—another former child actor with a taste for provocative choices). As a result, Wood’s cred is less mainstream and more indie rock—but Arcade Fire indie rock, where the sales are starting to match up to the acclaim. That’s clear from the upcoming projects on her radar.
Wood is most excited about Sucker Punch, a big-budget, surreal fantasy directed by Zach Snyder that Wood describes as “Moulin Rouge meets Girl, Interrupted.” And returning to her Goth roots, Wood has also just accepted a major role on the HBO vampire series True Blood. Her role in Phantasmagoria: The Visions of Lewis Carroll, Manson’s long-planned directorial debut, where she plays a twist on the “Alice In Wonderland” character, now, alas, seems up in the air. It’s sure to be as provocative as their “Heart-Shaped Glasses” video collaboration, but alas may never see theaters. “I hope it gets made,” she explains, “because it’s such an amazing script.”
Dress by Jill Sander. Ring by Cartier.
Venturing outside of film, Wood claims she is recording an album influenced by everything spanning from PJ Harvey and Billie Holiday to “electro with a weird Asian undertone.” It’s all routine for her non-routine life—anything to shake things up, defy expectations, draw out some body fluids and maybe make life seem authentic and real for once (or twice). “I love when I’m completely insane, chaotic, manic and crazy,” she explains with a laugh. “My life literally flashes before my eyes: next thing I know, I’m driving in the backseat of somebody’s car with my head up against the window, going ‘I can’t believe I’m here!’ I’ve lived, like, 50 lifetimes in the past three years. I still can’t believe all the crap that’s happened.”
She sighs, then flashes a smile that’s both wicked and sweet. At the end of the day, Evan Rachel Wood just wants to do something cool, paycheck be damned. “I actually had that moment where somebody looked at me and said, ‘So you wouldn’t even do this for a million dollars?’” she says. “And I’m like, ‘Yes, not even for a million dollars.’ Does that make me smart, or an idiot? I don’t know. Either way, it makes me happy.”
Dress by Marc Jacobs.
EVAN’S FAVORITE HOTEL: CHATEAU MARMONT, LOS ANGELES.
Photography by Andrew Macpherson. Styling by Lisa Michelle Boyd.
Top photo: Pants by Yves Saint Laurent. Belt by Chloe. Necklace by Cartier.
Hair: Serena Radaelli for Cloutier Agency using Redken. Makeup: Shane Paish, International Makeup Advisor to Dior for Celestineagency.com. Photographer’s Assistant: Alex Almeida. Digital Tech: Alex Themistocleous and Nate Caswell. Location: Private Residence of Steve Shaw, 1311 Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice, CA.
Grease Tickets Proctors Theatre Tickets Schenectady Tickets