Evan Rachel Wood

Evan Rachel Wood’s restrained performances in Thirteen (2003), Pretty Persuasion (2005), Down in the Valley (2005), and her latest, The Life Before Her Eyes, have raised the specter of an all-American golden girl who yearns to be tarnished. Her romance with Marilyn Manson — which began in 2006 when (quel horreur!) she was 19 and he was 37 — increased the suspicion, at least among the censorious. Her appearance in the video for Manson’s “Heart-Shaped Glasses,” a slice of quasi-autobiography that rains blood on the loving couple, was another red flag. And who could doubt their sincerity? Yet the relationship has scarcely made Wood a household name, for celebrity falls off her back like a mink worn without lingerie.

But Wood can play wholesome, too — a girl dreamed up by Paul McCartney, say, as in Across the Universe (2007) — or sexy and perplexed, as in Running With Scissors (2006). Despite her uncalculated gestures of subversiveness, she has no image, and it’s plausible she’ll play nuns, hookers, and killers in the coming years without telling us any more about herself than we know already. That, of course, is how should it be.

The Life Before Her Eyes was adapted from Laura Kasischke’s novel about a high school girl’s murky present and canceled future. Diana (Wood), who has all the usual vices, and Maureen (Eva Amurri), who has none, are best friends. When a youth on a killing spree at their school finds them alone in the girls’ bathroom, he asks them to decide which of them he should murder. As usual, Wood does a lot by seeming to do nothing. Whether or not she dies in Vadim Perelman’s movie, her blood couldn’t be stanched on the set of Darren Aronofsky’s upcoming The Wrestler, in which she plays a recovering alcoholic seeking reconciliation with her father (Mickey Rourke), a former professional fighter now on the underground circuit.

GRAHAM FULLER: Did you give a good account of yourself in The Wrestler?

EVAN RACHEL WOOD: I bled for Darren Aronofsky. There’s a scene where I get very angry at Mickey. I picked up an aluminum soda can and squeezed it, I guess, and threw it at him. We were in the middle of this emotional scene, and all of a sudden I think, Why does my hand feel wet? And I look down and my hand is covered in blood. I’d split my thumb open. And, of course, Darren loved it. He’s like, “Use it! Use it! Look at your hand!” And he asked the makeup artist to take note of the color of my blood. Darren glued my finger back together and we kept going. I was proud of myself, and I think I proved myself to Mickey. [laughs]

GF: You’re difficult to pin down as an actress. If there’s a theme in your work, it’s rebelling against authority. You’ve played a few bad girls.

ERW: One of the reasons why I fought for those roles is that I think there are so many things about them that are just human, but people like to label them as weird or bad or wrong because they’re scared of them. I don’t consider them bad — they’re girls [laughs]. They’re going to make mistakes, but the films show the repercussions and show that they’re going to learn. A lot of people are made to feel bad for being sad, so on top of already being unhappy, you’re gonna hate yourself for it. I have my own demons, my own pain and darkness, but I choose to embrace them and look at them head-on and deal with them. Then it doesn’t hurt, and you learn from it.

GF: Do you think Diana’s waywardness in The Life Before Her Eyes can be explained by the absence of her father?

ERW: And mother, really. She doesn’t have a lot of people watching her, and that’s not her fault. She’s different from Tracy in Thirteen because she isn’t trying to shove it in people’s faces or cry for help. She’s trying to do the best she can and have fun, so anything she does that has consequences comes from a very innocent place. She wants to live her life and be happy. She has only one friend who knows her and gives her a chance. I think a lot comes from loneliness, from wanting to feel something and to be loved. I connected with her because she feels judged. She’s still going to keep doing what she’s doing, but it’s going to be painful at times.

GF: But isn’t she acting out? She flaunts her pot smoking and the fact that she’d been having sex while Maureen was in church.

ERW: I don’t really see it that way. I think these girls are drawn to each other because they’re smarter than most people their age. And what Diana’s doing, smoking pot . . . it could be a lot worse. I’m not saying do it or don’t do it, I’m just saying she’s okay. She’s just hanging out on a couch, and you know, teenagers have sex. [laughs] I don’t think she’s trying to prove anything to Maureen. They love each other because they’re opposites. She’s amazed by Maureen’s innocence — well, not innocence, because I think they’re both innocent. It’s more that Maureen is pure and untouched. Diana likes Maureen looking up to her, while Maureen is attracted to Diana’s wildness. It’s not really rebelliousness — it’s fearlessness and curiosity. She’s just got a fire.

GF: Kimberly in Pretty Persuasion is more enjoyably wicked, isn’t she?

ERW: Completely soulless. She was more angry at the world, and too smart for her own good, and felt there was nothing that could be done about it. The world was how it was, and if it was going to be that way, then she was going to find a way to manipulate it to her advantage.

GF: Were the Columbine scenes in The Life Before Her Eyes difficult to do?

ERW: It was eerie. There was a school shooting even while we were filming. We were reading some of the testaments from the students, and it was right out of our script. It made the film feel even more important. These are innocent kids with their whole lives ahead of them.

GF: When Columbine happened in 1999, Manson countered the abuse and blame that was hurled at him by pointing out that he satirizes bloodlust. Did you and he talk about the massacre while you were making The Life Before Her Eyes?

ERW: We did. Funnily enough, we’d met right around the time I was filming it, so it was on my mind, and — it’s so textbook — I really fell for him. I thought how awful it was that an artist like him could be blamed for something like that-someone who brings so much to the world and, if anything, probably comforts kids who are in pain by saying, “You’re not alone.” What’s funny is that when people pointed the finger at him and his lyrics [to prove their point], they didn’t realize he’d been warning them all along by saying how fucked up everything was. They didn’t get his irony or satire, but took everything literally. Everything evolves when you break the rules. But it’s not going to take a knock on the door-you have to kick it open. That’s why I love music so much. It completely saved me. There are so many feelings you can’t explain, and you can hear one note on a guitar and somehow that sound explains what you can’t put into words. I haven’t got many tattoos, but the two that are most important to me are music tattoos. I have a black heart with a lightning bolt down the middle. And the black heart was for Manson and the lightning bolt down the middle was for David Bowie. That one is right under my left hip bone. And the other one is on my left ankle. It’s a black diamond with circles that keep swirling and swirling, and it’s surrounded by sort of crazy diamonds because Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” really inspired me, and everybody’s called me Crazy Diamond since I was a teenager, so it was always important to me.

GF: What do you call Manson? Manson or Brian [Warner]?

ERW: I call him . . . what do I call him? I call him sweet names that I don’t think I should tell. [laughs] I don’t want to ruin the image.

GF: Fair enough. Tell me about making “Heart-Shaped Glasses” with him.

ERW: I don’t really want to talk about Manson all that much, and the only time I’ve wanted to is because of that video. I know people think it’s about our relationship, but to me it was a project, so I don’t have a problem talking about it or the experience. We had an unspoken agreement that we were doing it for ourselves, and if people responded to it, they responded to it. If they didn’t, they didn’t. I wasn’t doing it to shock anybody or to be rebellious or to get attention. I was more proud of that than anything because it took a lot of strength and bravery to put myself out there like that. It was a risk. I’m glad that I did it because usually the best things I’ve done have come from the biggest risks. Thirteen was a risk and that was amazing.

GF: Do you think there are misperceptions about you and Manson?

ERW: There are always gonna be in situations like this. People have misconceptions about him, of course, but they can think what they want. I’m not in the media that much, so people don’t know my personality very well — they just know my work. I feel bad for people who have to read about my personal life and my relationships and see photos of me going through security at an airport. It’s like watching a commercial for a hamburger that looks delicious, like a Big Mac, and then going to where they make it and taking photos of what it looks like behind the counter, and it’s horrifying. [laughs] I think it ruins it. I try to stay out of the public eye as much as possible because I want people to be able to watch my films and not be distracted.

“This is who I’ve always wanted to be.” Evan Rachel Wood

GF: How has the relationship changed you?

ERW: I had been in a place where I was letting too many people dictate who I should be and what I should be, and I was trying to make everybody happy to the point where it was just killing me. I’d completely lost myself. It’s kind of funny now that people think I’ve completely changed myself for him, when this is actually the first time in my life that I took a stand and said, “This is who I am and this is who I’ve always wanted to be, and I’m finally with somebody who lets me be who I want to be.” He never tells me what to do or what to wear or who to be. It’s all my decision and he respects it, and that’s what’s important. So more than the relationship, it’s me out on my own, finding myself and being in an environment where I can do that and learning how to deal with the shit you’re going to get back from it.

GF: What’s your approach to acting? How do you go in there?

ERW: Usually completely blindfolded. [laughs] I read the script, I connect to the character, and then I try not to think about it too much until I’m there and I’m in wardrobe and I’m with the other actors and we’re going through the scene once. Then I know where I’m at. I love walking onto the set and the blindfold is taken off and then everything I do is fresh and in the moment. That’s why I loved working with Darren. The first day I worked with Mickey, Darren came up to me and said, “You and Mickey aren’t going to say hi; we’re not going to rehearse. I just want you to walk up to the door and we’re just gonna start filming.” And that works for me — thank God!

GF: You’ve also worked with Al Pacino, Tommy Lee Jones, Michael Douglas, Edward Norton, David Morse, and Kevin Costner. That’s a lot of male authority. Has it affected you?

ERW: Yeah. Working with men like that, you have to step up and look them dead in the eye and, you know, scare them. I can see it when it happens, and they don’t know it’s coming. It’s the best look on any man’s face when he gets paired with a woman and he doesn’t expect her to kick his ass. I’m not saying I’ve kicked any of their asses, but I feel like I have held my own and said, “I am a force to be reckoned with.” It’s about not being intimidated. I feel it makes me a stronger woman. [laughs] It’s kind of how the world works anyway.

GF: You sound like you’re the same age as Meryl Streep. But there’s a long way to go.

ERW: [laughs] I know! Whenever I start freaking out and getting stressed, I have to remember that this is just the beginning. I gotta chill out.