Through The Looking Glass
In the throes of a romance with Marilyn Manson, and with a number of high-profile films on the horizon, Evan Rachel Wood is sitting pretty.
On a Tuesday afternoon, the lobby of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel is nearly empty. It's quiet enough that the clacking of a girl's high heels on the tiled floors is all it takes to make those who are here look up, and so dark and hazy that it takes a few moments of disoriented blinking to adjust. And it takes a lot of blinking to adjust to Evan Rachel Wood. Shortly before we meet, her publicist called to give me a quick rundown of what Wood was wearing--sometimes people miss her, the publicist explained, because she looks so normal. I'd scoffed and assured her that I'd have no problem finding her, but it's trueâ€¦ as Wood hurries into the lobby, I can't help but think that if I wasn't on the lookout for a girl in a skirt and black sweater, I might have let her rush right by.
The top button of Wood's cardigan is undone, but it still reveals only about an inch of skin below her clavicle, her heels are a pair of demure Mary Janes, and her black patent leather purse looks like an old lady's pocketbook. Tall and wispy, and with her eyes smoked with black shadow and her hair in a flip, she looks like a melancholic '60s housewife and not at all like the disgruntled teenager or underage seductress one might expect. She appears quite at home in the cavernous, gothic room, and I get the impression that, if she wanted to hide, she could just discreetly step behind the candelabra and be done with it. As we settle into a corner, Wood flips quickly through a menu before pushing it aside. "That's why I was late, I was waiting for room service so I could scarf something down," she apologizes. Her only request is for water--she is 19, after all--which the waitress brings, along with a complimentary dish of wasabi peas.
At the moment, Wood is calling the Roosevelt home. She's in the process of moving in with her boyfriend, singer Marilyn Manson, and they're staying at the hotel until they find a house. She's returned to L.A. from two weeks in New York, where she was helping to workshop Julie Taymor's next Broadway musical. Taymor also directed Across the Universe, one of two movies that Wood can be seen in this month, and she praises her enthusiastically. ("I just love her so much," Taymor says. "She is just one of the most talented, and very serious professional actors I've ever worked with. She's really smart and can do anything.") Wood is equally enamored. "You have no idea! I don't even look at Julie as a person, she's like this goddess, she reminds me of Mother Nature."
Across the Universe is clearly Taymor's vision: an expansive, vivid, musical trip, scored with Beatles songs, about love and war in the '60s. For Wood, it was a dream project. "Both my parents were big Beatles fans, so not only have I been singing as long as I have been acting, and always wanted to do a movie musical, but on top of that, it was Beatles songs!" she says. "It was ridiculous. I still can't believe that it actually happened." In the film, Wood plays Lucy, an all-American girl who eventually becomes an anti-war radical and falls in love with an English artist, Jude (an incredibly cute Jim Sturgess, about whom Wood says "He's the best guy friend I have. I always hung out with guys, but it's hard to find really good guy relationships that don't get weird. And it never has with us, once"). Their names lend themselves nicely to the singing of "Hey Jude," and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," of course, and the musical numbers in Across the Universe are filled with swirling colors, elaborate costumes, and deft choreography, quite frequently with spine-tingling, teary-eyed results. Wood dances in many of them, and sings nine of the songs. And she's good.
Way better, in fact, than a lot of actresses who do an album on the side, which is something she has considered. "I'd love to, actually. And I have been asked in the past, but I've just never met people who didn't want to turn me into some pop diva. But hopefully, one day. It would be a rush." Considering that her boyfriend's a singer, what about a duet then? She shakes her head resolutely. They sing together for fun, but would never do anything publicly. Not even a family Christmas album? She bursts out laughing and reconsiders. "Actually, you know, if we were going to do anything, that's what we would do. Just because it would be hysterical."
Wood has a wonderfully low speaking voice, like a late-night DJ on a college radio station, and everything she says sounds introspective and intelligent. Up until this moment, she has been animated, but maybe a little tired--an actress doing an interview to promote her projects, excited but obligated. But when she starts talking about, as she calls him, Manson, she seems to let go, to become visibly lighter and morph into a girl who's in love.
"We actually just went karaoking in New York," she continues. "And you haven't karaoked until you've karaoked with me. Everyone's like, 'Aw, no. I don't wanna go,' so they drag their feet, but the second they get there..." She gives a knowing smile. "OK, you have to remember that when you do karaoke you pick the most ridiculous songs, right? So Manson and I sang 'Don't Stop Believing,' and 'Born to Run.' But in the middle of the night, I looked at him and said 'I'm gonna sing one of your songs.' And I was just threatening as a joke, but then I saw 'Lunchbox' in the karaoke book. I don't think he thought I knew the song." Wood clearly likes to surprise people. "So I went up and just screamed it and sang it, sat back down, and he looked at me and said 'I'm so in love with you. You have no idea.'" She seems to be floating above her chair. "It was really awesome."
When Wood and Manson first went public with their relationship at the beginning of the year, it was anything but awesome. He was twice her age and his wife, Dita Von Teese, had just filed for divorce. The pairing was seen as more evidence of Manson's shock tactics and, though Wood's only other long term relationship had been with actor Jamie Bell, a sexual precociousness on her part that appeared evident in her movie roles. Talking to Wood, though, it becomes clear that this isn't the case. "It seemed like fate. I wasn't supposed to go out that night and just by chance a friend of mine invited me to the Chateau Marmont," she says of their meeting. "And I never go out, but it was after a photo shoot and I was all done up, and I thought, well, all right. We both get nervous around a lot of people and were kinda hiding in the same corner. I think I was sitting on the balcony and he came up to me because he was worried I was going to fall off..." She goes on to say that they were friends for a while, but then slowly grew to realize that they had many of the same interests and tastes, and had so much in common that it was "a little scary."
I ask Wood if it was also scary because she knew what she would be getting into. "I've always been a really private person, never big in the tabloids or anything. But you just know it immediately when you get into something like that, not only because he's very famous, but because the relationship is so strange to so many people that it's going to draw attention," she says. "You know it going into it, and you just have to think, is it worth it? And yeah, it absolutely was. If it's ever hard, it's not because of anything that's going on with us, it's because of dealing with everybody else. Even after everything that we've kind of had to go through, I'm still happier than I've ever been."
Even prior to this scandal, Wood had a reputation as a crow among Hollywood's doves, mainly because of her roles in movies like Thirteen and Pretty Persuasion, but also because of her penchant for being open about just how bad being a teenager sucked. She dropped out of high school because she didn't get along with her fellow students or her teachers, and she was depressed. Filming Thirteen was the best therapy she could have hoped for, because it helped her let it all out and also made her realize that what she was going through was normal. She says she's happy now, and she certainly seems like she is, so I ask her if she's ever worried that she'll be depressed again. "Yeah, and it's strange, because I started having kind of similar feelings recently, but I kind of figured out what it was," she says. "When I was really depressed then, I was going through the transition from being a kid to being a teenager. It's when you're stuck in the middle, and you don't know where to go, and you're being pushed and pulled, and you're confused and trying to figure out who you are, that's what screws with you. And now it's because I'm going from teenager to adult! It's hard being in this middle area, but it has always kind of been that way for me. I've grown up in this adult world and have always been around adults, so I'm mature, but at the same time, can't deny my actual age." And Wood does seem to be pretty adept at managing the transition from teen star to adult actress. While many actors her age are in more tabloids than movies, she's consistently working. In addition to Across the Universe, this fall's King of California also sees Wood cast as a good girl, this time as a put-upon teenager who's forced to work double shifts at McDonald's to support herself and her mentally ill father, played kookily by Michael Douglas, and she will also soon start filming the literary biopic Bronte with Michelle Williams and Bryce Dallas Howard.
And while her relationship will likely remain baffling to many people, even its more outrageous moments make perfect sense to her. "We really inspire each other. I've been kind of shy about anything I did on my own, what I wrote or any songs that I made," she says. "I never let anybody read them or hear them, but he's definitely made me feel comfortable enough to come out of my shell. I've been writing, getting really into photography now. Because Manson is just really encouraging in every way, it really makes you want to get up and go, and now we each have a partner in crime."
And if you're wondering what it looks like when Wood and Manson collaborate, just watch his "Heart-Shaped Glasses" video: The couple has sex, with Manson's black-fingernailed hands splayed across her breasts as she screams like she's been stabbed; they drink and drive in a vintage convertible; play with knives; make out in a rain shower of blood; take Polaroids of each other; and he performs on stage while she watches, transfixed and clutching her hands between her legs. It's a portrait of consumptive love, of two people obsessed with each other. Wood was reportedly the highest paid of any actress ever to appear in a music video, a term Manson insisted upon, since, he said, the song was inspired by her and there was no one else who could do it. Wood, for her part, insists she would have done the video even if she and Manson weren't dating, just for a chance to work with him. When I ask her about how the idea for the video came about, she laughs. "Well, first came the heart-shaped glasses..." she says. "I've had them since I was 15, because I used to dress like Lolita. Not like full on, but I always had something, like I wore ruffle socks every day, even if I was wearing jeans, and saddle shoes and would sometimes do my hair in braids. When we started hanging out, I knew that people would immediately make the Lolita reference, and so as a joke, I showed up at his house one day wearing the glasses. He said he was going to write a song about it, and he actually did." When it came time to do a video for it, Manson and Wood were watching a lot of movies like True Romance and Bonnie and Clyde because "that's kind of how we were feeling at the time." They started to write their own script, and it eventually turned into the treatment for the video. When the video was released, Wood admits, things got even crazier than she ever thought they would. "All these rumors started floating around, and everybody thought we were just trying to exploit our relationship and were viewing the video as a sex tape," she says. "But it wasn't supposed to be playing ourselves. It was just a music video, it was a video!"
There was a good side to all of that, though. "It was right at the start of taking all the heat for the relationship, so it was really nice for us to be able to do something creative together and something we considered romantic. At the time, I was like, 'I know in my heart that this comes from a good place, and a romantic place for us, and I know that most people aren't going to understand it. But I just need to do something for me, and I cannot care what anybody else thinks about it.' It really gave me a kind of strength that I needed at the time," she says. "Because I knew then that it was a time in my life where I was probably going to have to be stronger and braver than I'd ever had to be, so if I could do this and put this out and get through it, then I'd be OK." I tell her that from an outsider's perspective, she seems just fine. "I hope so. If you'd talked to me a couple of months ago, I might have seemed a little more frazzled. I'm kind of in a good place right now, where any negativity towards it, I've really heard it all, and it just doesn't bother me anymore."
In a world where people are expected to find love on reality shows, and it's not uncommon to list your future mate's attributes with as much certainty as you would toppings on a burger, it's inspiring to meet someone who recognizes true love for what it is: complicated, a lot of work, and ultimately, wonderful. "Falling in love is one of the scariest and hardest things that someone can do, but it's also the most amazing thing that can happen to you," she says. It's when talking about the reactions of people close to her that Wood's voice expresses the most hesitation and not exactly regret, but reluctant acceptance. "Um, it's been interesting," she says, staring at the wall. And here, I can't help but wonder that if actresses can make themselves cry, are they equally capable of making themselves not cry? "That was just the scariest part, when all of a sudden there are people in your life who you thought understood you, and you thought they would understand something like this, and then they don't. It's such a wake up call. You're like, 'Oh, OK....' But it also shows you who really cares about you. With people close to me, it hasn't been mean. People have just been worried, because if you don't know him, all you hear are the rumors. And if you go online...well, you're screwed if you go online!"
It's rumored that Wood and Manson will work together again on his much anticipated Phantasmagoria: The Visions of Lewis Carroll, a horror film that Manson is writing and directing. Wood herself seems slightly unsure as to what exactly is happening, but she hopes to work on it. "It's an amazing script. He did a really, really great job on it and he filmed a trailer for it," she says. "It's going to look beautiful." Talking about the film was also something that initially brought them together. "I've always had a real fascination with Alice in Wonderland and really related to it in some way. And since I was little, people always nicknamed me Alice. Even total strangers," she laughs. "I do know I'm always in Wonderland. And I'm definitely just as curious. I don't mind being amongst all the mad people, I enjoy it."
Wood's water glass is empty, and it has been for a long time. She has tucked herself sideways into her chair, and as she unfolds to leave and head back up to her room, she glances around for a waitress and then grabs the snack dish from the table. "I'm stealing this," she says. "Manson loves wasabi peas."