by Trish Bendix, published on June 24, 2016 - 01:26 PM|
Evan Rachel Wood is truly one of the best performers of our time. From her roles on television (one of which, the earliest depiction of a questioning teen on Once and Again) to her diverse film career (including queer roles in Thirteen, Pretty Persuasion, and The Wrestler), the out actress has proven that she can make any character own, stealing every scene with her captivating ability to be both recognizable while also becoming the fully-realized person she is playing on screen.
Evan’s role in Into the Forest is no exception. Written and directed by out filmmaker Patricia Rozema, the thriller follows sisters Eva (Evan) and Nell (Ellen Page) as they find themselves alone in their house in the forest, 30 miles from the nearest town. A slightly futuristic story adapted from the 1997 Jean Hegland novel of the same name, Into the Forest details how the women survive after a mass power outage leaves them fending for themselves as food becomes scarce and danger comes knocking at their door.
As Eva, Evan is a focused dancer, intense in her connection to their late mother, and not incredibly close with her Harvard-bound younger sister. But as their world becomes smaller and smaller and they are forced to make life and death decisions, Eva and Nell form a bond that is not only necessary for them to survive, but for them to believe they can.
We spoke with Evan Rachel Wood about working with Ellen and Patricia, as well as her new role in the upcoming film Westworld and her new musical duo, Rebel and a Basket Case.
[Caution: Slight spoilers ahead.]
AfterEllen.com: So what did you know about the story before Ellen sent you the script?
Evan Rachel Wood: I knew nothing about it. The only disclaimer I got was “It’s intense; some intense things happen to your character, just be ready.” I was like “OK.” And there were even some things that didn’t end up in the final film. I was just blown away and just flattered that Ellen thought of me and trusted me to do this role. I was already, before I even read this script, kind of ready to say yes because I admire her and her taste and I knew it was going to be amazing, but it exceeded my expectations. And I was just so happy that I connected so deeply with this character and I haven’t really felt so–it just didn’t even feel like we were playing characters. The movie’s hard for me to watch now because it’s like I miss them, because we just got so deep in it, and we didn’t have a lot of time to film it, so there wasn’t a lot of down time. We just stayed in it. Even though Ellen and I still see each other all the time, and we’re still friends, we still sobbed uncontrollably at the end because it was in this capacity, in this world, as these people, it was it and it was so special. It was just an experience I’ll never forget for sure.
AE: How did you originally meet Ellen? I assume this brought you so much closer.
ERW: Yeah, it’s funny, and it’s a shame. As a woman, you don’t normally get to work with your peers. There’s usually like one kind of lead female role in movies, and I always make a joke that I’m the Wendy to the Lost Boys because I’m the one girl in this sea of dudes. So it was like “Wait, I actually get to work with one of my peers and somebody that I’ve admired for so long.” She was just always one of those people that I was like, “If I’m not doing it, I’m glad she’s doing it.”
She’s incredible. But it was so satisfying because it was like having the best tennis partner and you could serve it up, and they were just going to serve it right back. We just got in this flow. I signed on a year before we started shooting and we knew that it was going to be important for that relationship to seem very real and there are certain things you can’t fake—familiarities and inside jokes, little looks we give each other. The subtleties are what really sell it.
But it was a real treat to get to know Ellen as Ellen, my friend, and then after a year of that, walking onto that set and seeing Ellen Page in action and being like “Oh my god!” Already thinking the world of her but then seeing her work and seeing the transformation and seeing this power was really, really cool. It was cool to watch. I’d have to make a point of staying in the scene because I’d get caught up watching her.
AE: Nell and Eva start off not being so tight because they are so different; they kind of co-exist. How was it shooting those days versus toward the end when they are all each other has?
ERW: When people ask me the hardest thing about this film, I say it was either seeing Ellen cry or in any kind of trouble–it was just awful. I felt so Mama Bear with her. But yeah, and then having to fight with her! But the director from the start always said, “Spend as much time with each other as you can to the point where you are annoying each other; you’re like sisters. Fight! Cry! Do whatever you need to do.” We didn’t, it was very hard. I don’t think we ever got to that point. I couldn’t get enough of her, so that was difficult.
But what I love about the film is that the core—they begin the film with a deep love for each other, but it’s just another one of those things that we kind of take for granted and when you are faced with the impermanence of life, and when you see how fragile it is. And you see in this film everything being taken away from them, at the end of the day they’re left with each other, and they’re left with this love, and that’s what gets them through. I’m going through that in my life right now, you know, just after the past couple weeks. I felt a shift, and I’ve reached out to so many people and just told them that I love them and didn’t want to let one more day go by without telling people how I felt about them. I think that’s what happens in times of trauma and loss and despair, and it can either break you or it can open you up. I think that’s kind of what these girls go through. Which is why this film is sad and intense but there’s so much beauty and hope and rebirth.
AE: Do you see the end of the film as hopeful? It’s kind of ambiguous.
ERW: We filmed an outtake. [laughs] We had to. They’re at the end of this journey, and they’ve found this inner strength and they’ve connected back to their primal nature, and they’re living off the land—and we did an outtake where at the end they hear a cell phone, and they’re like, “Oh. Power’s back.” [laughs] We had so many funny outtakes that we’ll never be able to use. I absolutely think it’s a hopeful ending, and there’s a literal rebirth, and I think it shows the natural cycles of life where there’s death, there’s life; where there’s despair, there’s hope, which is another thing I love. It is about cycles and about nature and the environment and how we are so much more connected than we think, and I think all of that kind of mirrors in the movie.
AE: I’m curious how male journalists ask you about the rape scene. Are they respectful?
ERW: They don’t. That’s funny, and I didn’t notice until you just asked.
AE: I’ve watched some interviews where reporters allude to your character going through some “difficult things in the film,” and I’m assuming that’s what they mean.
ERW: Yes, absolutely.
AE: What do you hope people take away from that scene, and how Eva deals with it after the fact?
ERW: It’s funny—when I read it in the script, I had a feeling that that was going to come into play. Because, you know, when there’s a collapse and there’s anarchy women would be very vulnerable. It’d be lawless, and I think that’s a scary thought. We’re already subjected to so much sexual assault, whether it be on a small scale or a large scale, and it is a problem. I can’t imagine if there were no consequences. It would be quite frightening for women.
But it was important to me and to Patricia and to Ellen that we didn’t glorify it, and my main request was that there would never just be shots of body parts or this or that or underwear being pulled off or whatever; that you saw her face, and you couldn’t detach from what was happening. Patricia was like “We had a wide shot, we had other shots, but at the end of the day, we just wanted to see her face.” You don’t even really see what’s happening; you see the pain. You see the emotional trauma. And I think there’s actually a moment in that scene where you see her disappear; you see her leave her body and disconnect because that’s what happens. You just go into this kind of shock.
I feel like it was handled in a way that is important to see, so that it’s not just about the act because I think that’s what a lot of people don’t understand; it’s not this horrible thing that happens, and you get over it. It happens and then it’s kind of a lifelong journey after that of dealing with it and processing it. And so I thought it was really important, and something that you don’t see is the aftermath and this deep depression this character falls into and this numbness. That’s why she has that breakdown: “I can’t get out of this, I feel like I’m drowning.” No matter how much you wanna try and get over it, there’s permanent damage.
Honestly, when we shot it, we only did it once; one take. I popped all the capillaries in my eyes from screaming because I screamed to the point where I couldn’t scream anymore, and I kept pushing and at the end of the day, I looked in the mirror, and my eyes were just–I looked like I had chickenpox. But I remember I stood up afterward, and I said something to the whole cast and crew, who saw it. I said, “Now that you’ve seen it, and you’ve seen how horrible it can be, say something.” Stand up for us, you know? And not because we’re your sisters or your wives, but because we’re people. Because no one deserves that and that’s what it looks like. Don’t ever be afraid to speak up.
That’s what I’m hoping is shown, is the misconception that “Well, it was just a few minutes of pain.” But it’s not. It’s the aftermath, I think, that can almost be worse. Emotional scarring.
AE: What was Patricia like as a director?
ERW: Oh my gosh, she was so amazing. I can’t imagine doing this with anybody else. I mean she just—well, she adapted this book that was a massive undertaking because so much of it is inner-monologue and the minutiae of the everyday and the routine and to be able to keep the integrity of that and also keep up the pace and make it this engaging film, I thought she did beautifully. We didn’t have a lot of time; we didn’t have a lot of money. We knew that we would get about three takes each setup, and we’d just have to be happy with what we got. But I never felt rushed, and I never felt like we had to sacrifice performance or anything. The scenes were always good, but whenever we were just kind of stuck and needed that one final piece and couldn’t quite put our finger on it, she was just amazing at coming in with the answer. And so simply and beautifully putting it and you’d go [sigh] “That was it. That was the final little thing.” And she’s so respectful to actors and their process, and I just felt like she was in the trenches with us. When we were crying, she was right there with us, going through it all. So you feel very taken care of and people aren’t taken for granted, what you’re doing, what you’re’ putting your body through and your emotions through. So she was just wonderful.
AE: When I Tweeted how much I enjoyed the film, she responded that her job was just getting out of the way of you and Ellen. As a director, does she let you do your thing and then offer up direction after?
ERW: I don’t know. I mean we did rehearse, and we got together. We talked a lot—we wanted to be as prepared as possible because we weren’t going to have time on set. That’s very sweet of her to say, but I do think that it was very much a collaboration and that she felt just as close to these characters as we did. It was a good balance. It was a good balance of being a director that was in charge but also knowing when to give us our space. It’s a hard thing to pull off, but she does it very naturally.
AE: You’re three queer women working on this film—
AE: I wonder if that brings any kind of energy to the set or the performances because it’s not a queer film.
ERW: No, no. It’s not, and it didn’t change anything, which I thought was kind of cool. Yes, we’re all out queer women, but we still do the same job; that doesn’t change what we do or how we do it. If anything, it was just kind of a cool—we all sat on set one day and looked at each other and went, “Hey! Pretty cool. Pretty cool. All three of us man.” [laughs] So it’s kind of showing we’re just as capable and doesn’t really make a difference. If anything, it’s kind of cool to show it works the same way. It’s a good question because of course we all had little moments of “This is pretty cool.”
AE: Next you have Westworld coming up—can you tell me a little about that?
ERW: Yes! There’s so much coming up. There’ sso much happening all of a sudden. Westworld I’m so excited about. I just watched the first two episodes yesterday and of course I’ve lived it, but you know—there’s just never really been anything quite like it and it, is science fiction, but it’s also not. [laughs] Because everything that we’re doing and all the technology is based very much in reality and that, I think, is the scariest part about Westworld. It’s not the gore; it’s not the violence. It’s the existential nightmare that is “Oh wait—all this is quite possible and might be where we’re headed, and maybe we should take a look at what we’re doing and our own humanity.” Unlike the film, it really sympathizes with the host—we don’t use the word robot. … We’re really showing [the violence] for the horrific thing that it is; really hold up a mirror to ourselves and say, “Why? Why is this entertainment?” So just people know that going in. Of course, it’s got this insane production value and this incredible cast, but the thing really blowing me away is the writing. It’s not just fun Western, sci-fi—there’s so much depth and so many metaphors, and it’s just an onion. There’re so many layers. So that’s what I’m really, really excited for people to see because after I watched it and I got back to the real world, I just started looking at everything a little different and I was a little freaked out and I think it will really make people question a lot of things. Also, it’s my favorite character I ever played, and I can’t give anything away, but I can say it’s gonna be really revolutionary for women. What they’re doing with casting and-and the roles they’re assigning, it’s new and cool. You’ll like it a lot. [laughs]
AE: And lastly, music!
ERW: It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to do that, and I’ve sung my whole life, but I’ve always been too kind of scared or insecure or not quite ready. I didn’t really know who I was musically, and I wasn’t confident enough in the music persona that I wanted to put out there; the style until I met my bandmate, Zach Villa. We worked together on a John Hughes cabaret. That’s when I realized that was the issue. I didn’t want to just be Evan Rachel Wood, the singer—I wanted to be in a band. I wanted to collaborate. We started doing it for fun and then realized we had this sound and complemented each other in this way and kept going and then it just snowballed into a whole album, and now it’s out in the world, and it’s still kind of surreal to me. We’re going to start playing shows in July. We’re going to be posting some show dates at the end of the week. I’m really excited for people to see that. It’s really fun, uplifting, empowering music. I do so much drama on screen, that I was like “I can’t get up there and sing sad songs because I’ll die.” So they’re emotionally charged songs, but they’re always hopeful and so kind of in sync with where we are right now. Our main mission statement is “We are today. We are the music that you were. We are the voices in your head. We are the changes that you fear.” I wrote that when I was 21 on a balcony when the sun was coming up and had no idea it was going to be so relevant to now and turned into a positive message. And I think our band and our mission statement are just kind of coming at the perfect time. It’s all about just being yourself and breaking through those barriers and that facade that’s placed on you at birth and figuring out who you really are and not being afraid of that. I think it’s kind the perfect time for it. And you know, we’re really androgynous and very fluid, and that’s gonna be part of our whole thing. I think when you see us on stage you won’t be able to tell if we’re dating, if we’re related, if we’re twins—it’s so like “What are you?” Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum. It’ll be a really fun show.
Into the Forest is available on DirecTV today and in theaters July 29. For more on Rebel and a Basket Case, visit their website. We also highly recommend following Evan Rachel Wood on Twitter: @evanrachelwood.