Friday 22 September 2017

'To me it's pretty normal ... but it's stuff that people find really taboo'

'The Ides of March' hits star Evan Rachel Wood talks to Evan Fanning about growing up on screen and her bisexuality

Evan Fanning

Evan Rachel Wood's laugh rings down the plush hotel corridor. It's not a high-pitched girly giggle or a self-conscious luvvie chortle, but the laugh of an assured person -- someone who knows their place in the world.

As I enter the room, she sits perched in a chair sipping tea, dressed immaculately in a black trouser suit and cream silk shirt buttoned right up to her neck. Her short hair -- blonde as opposed to the iconic red of her vampire queen in True Blood -- is swept across her face. She could easily pass for a movie star from the Fifties. Wood may be just 24 but her outfit and demeanour scream power.

And power is the right word for what we're about to discuss. We're a literal stone's throw from Downing Street and the heartbeat of British government, an appropriate setting to discuss her role in the George Clooney directed The Ides of March, a morality tale set within the nefarious world of American politics -- though the questions it raises go far beyond the US border and even politics.

Wood plays Molly, a well-connected intern whose sexual confidence and charm wins over an idealistic press secretary (Ryan Gosling) whose own devotion to the governor seeking the Democratic nomination for president (Clooney) is coming under scrutiny. Despite the stellar cast (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei also star), Wood almost steals the show. Unsurprisingly she's pretty happy with her character.

"I loved her because from afar you could mistake her for just being a dumb blonde intern but when she opens her mouth she's a smart, witty confident girl. It's hard to find roles like that, somebody that's young but mature."

Young but mature could be exactly the right description for Wood herself. She's been working since childhood, was engaged to be married to somebody twice her age and has been around the business for long enough that she can throw out lines of advice given to her by the likes of Warren Beatty and it doesn't seem like name-dropping.

It's easy to see how men (and women) would fall for her charms. At the press conference a couple of days previously, both Clooney and Seymour Hoffman sat back and seemed to admire how their younger colleague kept a room of a couple of hundred people engaged with her easy manner. And she seems just as enamoured with Clooney and his approach to making what is his fourth directorial feature.

"You would think that there is no way that somebody can be that cool and charming, but he is. Considering that he was directing and acting and writing and producing, he did it all so seamlessly and kept everyone laughing. I think because it was such a dramatic and tense film it was nice to keep everything relaxed and fun in between."

Relaxed is not necessarily the word you would use when assessing Wood's career from afar. In fact, controversy has been a part of her life ever since she burst on the scene in Catherine Hardwicke's Thirteen, playing one of two teenagers discovering sex, drugs and alcohol in a movie which scared the life out of any parent with a young daughter. Wood was just 14 years old but was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance.

Fast forward a few years and she made just as many headlines when it became known that she was in a relationship with and subsequently engaged to rocker Marilyn Manson, 19 years her senior and, on the face of it, the archetype man you do not want your daughter to bring home.

Wood was blamed (wrongly) for the end of Manson's marriage to Dita Von Teese and though the planned marriage between Wood and Manson never happened, and the relationship came to an end, she feels the time spent with Manson, hopping on a bus with his band and touring the world, as well as a career that has afforded her so many opportunities have allowed her to become the person that she is.

"I didn't go to college but I travelled the world and I had my fun and that was a great education. That's when you really get to know yourself. And you're supposed to make mistakes. You're supposed to try things and learn from them. I feel I really needed to take my time to do that."

If a relationship with Manson didn't mark her out as someone far beyond the norm when it came to young stars in Hollywood, then her next

major public statement did. Earlier this year Wood revealed she is bisexual and can envisage herself having a family with a woman further down the line.

The revelation came as a shock, not so much because of what she was saying but because it seemed so strange to see someone with a high profile volunteer this information in a world where agents and publicists try to prevent their clients saying anything that might be construed to be controversial.

"To me it's all pretty natural and normal stuff but it's stuff that people find really taboo," Wood explains. "The more that people are honest about, it will start becoming less and less of a big deal.

"There's a lot of things I choose not to talk about. It was a choice to come out about my sexuality because it's a big part of who I am and now I'm very sure of myself and that side of myself so I didn't think it was anything to hide."

I wonder if she ever regrets being so honest, with now having to constantly answer questions about her sexuality. I am the first of a steady stream of people coming to see her on a day of interviews and it's a safe bet that they will all mention it at some point. Wood doesn't see it that way.

"I feel like I have a chance and I have a voice and I have an opportunity to let people know that they're not alone. Growing up, it always made me feel better when someone was honest in that way -- so if I can return the favour, I don't mind. It's been a choice and I feel like I've been in control of it.

"Everything's been said about me and I've been pretty honest, so there's nothing anybody can really say now. It's all out there so there's no scandal anymore."

Coincidentally given her pronouncements, her 10-year-and-counting career has been dotted with characters that have dallied in same-sex relationships.

From Thirteen to the TV series Once and Again to the comedy Pretty Persuasion and, perhaps most famously, as the lesbian vampire queen Sophie-Anne Leclerq in True Blood, Wood has often played people experimenting with their sexuality and at times when she was less sure of hers.

She was born in North Carolina, where her father ran a local theatre group and her mother was an actress and acting coach. Her family genealogy traces back to Ireland and Scotland ("You see this pale skin," she says) and though performance is in her blood there have been times, she says, when she was less sure whether acting was what she really wanted.

"I had to take a step back and really reassess my life and what I wanted to do just to make sure that this is my choice and what I love and not just what I'm good at. I did a lot of soul-searching and I'm really glad that I did because I feel now that I can relax and I'm very sure that this is what I love and what I want to do and I'm not wondering what if."

She's not wondering anymore, and roles like The Ides of March mark her out as not only a talent but someone who is striving to keep make interesting choices with what she does. "I feel like I'm pretty idealistic and I'm really picky about who I work with and what films I do and I'm big on integrity. That's one of the reasons why I like doing smaller, independent films because it's not about money it's just about your passion for the film and the material."

She cites actresses such as Robin Wright and Kate Winslet as her role models, as much for how they handle themselves off screen as on it. In fact she recently declared in an interview that she wanted to marry Winslet. You can say what you want about Wood but she knows how to make headlines.

"After working with people like Robin Wright and Kate Winslet I think they are not just two actresses but women that I look at and think 'man, she's a bad-ass. I want to be like them.' They handle themselves so amazingly. Watching Kate doing Mildred Pierce, which was like doing five movies back-to-back, and she never complained. She's raising two kids, she's juggling this huge project and she's making people laugh and she's charging in there with strength and power.

"I think they've maintained an amazing amount of mystery and I think that's so important when you want to be an actor. I share a lot of myself because there's still so much that I keep very close. I don't want people being distracted when they see me in a film."

'The Ides of March' is reviewed below

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