Evan Rachel Wood: Thirteen Going on Dirty


Anyone who’s seen Evan Rachel Wood in Thirteen or her upcoming film Pretty Persuasion, the buzz of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, will automatically assume that she’s wild and sexually out-of-control. Actually, she’s a pretty normal teenage girl who just so happens to be getting that sort of role more and more.

Only a month away from her 18th birthday, Wood has yet to show off the sort of party girl behavior that has been the downfall for the Olsens and Lindsay Lohan, at least in the tabloids. Matter of fact, she’s done a pretty good job staying out of the limelight altogether.

In Pretty Persuasion, she plays Kimberly Joyce, a manipulative 15-year old attending a private school, who uses her sexuality to get whatever she wants. When a teacher, played by Ron Livingston, doesn’t sway to her wiles, she concocts an elaborate scheme to get him in trouble by accusing him of sexually harassing her and her friends. It’s Heathers meets Wild Things meets Mean Girls, only darker. A lot of the things Wood has to say and do in Pretty Persuasion makes Thirteen look like a Disney movie, but at least it’s a comedy, so it’s all in fun.

While in New York to promote the film, the young actress sat down with ComingSoon.net to talk about movie and other things.

CS!: What was the appeal of playing a character so manipulative and even almost psychotic?
Evan Rachel Wood: I don’t know. When I first read the script, I was supposed to be playing another part, that of Brittany, and about a year and a half after I was attached to it, Marcos called me and wanted to know what I would think of playing Kimberly, and my jaw just dropped. I was really nervous about it, and kind of scared, because it was a really really hard role. I guess that’s what drove me to it, was that it was complicated and hard, and I never really had done a comedy before.

CS!: What was your impression of the overall story?
Wood: It’s kind of like “Heathers” and “To Die For” meets like “Election”. There’s like bits and pieces from all those different movies rolled into one. It was totally my sense of humor. I love that dark comedy of being so screwed up that it’s funny and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I liked how at first glance, you can think you’ve seen this movie or character, but then once you start watching it, it’s different, and you can’t really put your finger on it.

CS!:This project has been in the works for many years. How long ago did you get involved and when did you film it?
Wood: I first talked to them when I was 14 and then we filmed this a year ago, right before I was going to turn 17.

CS!: So at that point you were playing a character who was younger than your actual age? Is it strange always playing characters younger than your normal age?
Wood: Yeah, yeah, definitely.

CS!: Do you like your character?
Wood: I wouldn’t want to be her friend, but I do feel for her and feel bad because she was left alone so long and has never really gotten the love and affection and attention that she needed. She just feels alone and she’s just gotten very empty, because no one’s really looked after her. I can’t say that I do like her, no.

CS!: What do you think her biggest flaws are?
Wood: Wow. There are so many! Her priorities are just so out of whack. She’s just obsessed with revenge and fame and being mean just to be mean. She’s way too smart for her own good, but she’s using it for all the wrong reasons but she can really see through people and pick out their weaknesses. Instead of helping them out, she’s just going to just use it against them. That’s what’s kind of scary is when you’re dealing with someone that young and that smart and dangerous.

CS!: At least at the beginning, it doesn’t seem like she’s trying to be mean. She think like she’s doing good and being nice, right?
Wood: No, even when she becomes friends with Randa, I still think that’s just kind of part of her plan and the movie, from beginning to end, is just a big set-up for her. Yeah, I think she’s pretty lost from the beginning.

CS!: Have you ever known anybody remotely like her?
Wood: Yeah, I definitely based her on one specific girl who just loved being in power. It wasn’t even that she really liked me. She just liked pretending like she was my friend and then going behind my back and talk about me, spread a bunch of rumors and then come back with a smile on her face like she was just the nicest person in the world. She just liked stirring things up, and she liked manipulating people to just get where she needed be and get into that Queen Bee position. I hated it. A lot of my friends at the time were guys too, and she really did use her sexuality and really seduced them all, so that they just were at her feet. It was so gross to watch. Kimberly definitely reminds me of her.

CS!:You drop some fairly racy bombshells in the lines you have to say. Did you work with the director on how to deliver them?
Wood: No, I mean we really didn’t have a lot of time. Everybody just had to run in and do it, and I just had to not think about what was coming out of my mouth or else I would have laughed or blushed. I mean, having to whisper those things in people’s ears is pretty bad. We cracked up a lot. It’s still hard for me to even watch it with friends of mine or especially my parents, because some of the things that are coming out of my mouth are just horrifying and my Mom is right there. Things [parents] should just never have to hear.

CS!: At one point, your character says “I’m only 15 and I don’t know what sexy is,” which I’m sure all parents would like to hear. But does anyone really believe that anymore?
Wood: Some people do believe it. I knew some girls who got in trouble with some of the parents and then the parents would go rat them out, and then the parents of the kids who got in trouble would say “Look at that face. Is that the face that can do anything wrong?” Like how can you be so naïve? But a lot of teenagers do that and I talk to a lot that just put on this act. “I don’t know to be sexy! And I wasn’t smoking. The people at the party, I was around it.”

CS!: Do you think that 13 or 14 is the new 17? When do you think that awareness in sexuality really kicks in?
Wood: Yeah, probably 13. That’s when my awareness kicked in for me and that’s when you start learning everything way too soon, and it’s a little scary. So yeah, I think 14 is kind of now the new 17.

CS!: Speaking of parents, one of the constant themes is that “it starts with the parents” and how when kids behave badly, they want to blame the parents. How do you feel about that? Should parents be blamed for the behavior of their kids?
Wood: Yeah, I mean, at least I think kids are born with a personality and to a point, they’re going to do what they’re going to do. But yeah, a lot of it is the environment they grew up in and what their parents have been teaching them and obviously, Kimberly was not brought up in a very good environment. Her Dad is constantly making racist remarks and snorting lines of coke off of their coffee table. She’s not going to be too well adjusted. At times, I do think that parents need to take more responsibility, too, and not blame it on everything else. A lot of what this movie is about is that even though Kimberly has manipulated all these people, none of them are really innocent. They’ve all kind of fallen for it in some way, and they want to blame everybody except themselves. They don’t want to accept the fact that they screwed it all up.

CS!: You’ve been acting for a long time, but you only got attention, and a lot of it, with “Thirteen.” Do you feel any pressure to do something as strong as that with every movie you do?
Wood: No, I’m not looking for anything that has to top “Thirteen.” Sometimes there’s pressure just because so many people have been telling you just how great you were in this one movie, and you hope you disappoint them the next time. I hope that I’m as good, but I don’t specifically look for anything that’s going to be shocking or on the same level.

CS!: But you obviously get a lot more scripts now…
Wood: Yeah. No more auditioning, and that’s nice. 14 years of just going to audition after audition after audition. I couldn’t do it anymore.

CS!: What was it like working with James Woods?
Wood: He’s a character, man. He’s crazy in the best possible way. It’s quite a wild ride working with him, because we have some stuff in the movie that he says was not scripted, so we never knew what was going to come out of his month. Every take, he was always different, so we were constantly laughing. There were shots where you can see tears forming in my eyes because I’m trying to hold it together so much. We probably wasted the most film working with James.

CS!: Do you think that he takes some perverse pleasure doing that to his fellow actors?
Wood: I’m sure he does. I’m sure he likes watching us squirm and laugh. I think half the time he was trying to make us crack up and to see how far he could go before we laughed.

CS!: Was he improvising most of it or was it in the script?
Wood: He had the right idea and he was all on script. He would say all of his lines that were in the script and then add a bunch more, so just when you thought it was done, he would just keep going and going. It’s crazy.

CS!: Is that something that you tend to pick up as you’re acting with him and then you find yourself adding things?
Wood: No, I’m not nearly as brave as he is. I’ve gotta work up to that.

CS!: Did you learn a lot from working with him?
Wood: We had some really good talks. I learned to really not care and just be fearless. I mean, he just completely goes for it. He doesn’t really go for making money or big budget movies that are going to do all the box office. He really truly just wants to find a project that he’s passionate about and a cool role and keeps doing different things. I’ve never seen him do any role that was similar to the last one he did. I definitely learned from that.

CS!: With all the attention you’ve been getting, is it hard for you to stay out of the limelight?
Wood: No, I mean I’m not out there looking for it. It’s not that hard to avoid it. I live in the Valley in California, so there’s not a lot of like paparazzi or anything over there.

Pretty Persuasion opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.