By Phebe Wahl By Phebe Wahl | February 14, 2020 | National
Whether it’s a leading role as a heroic Disney queen, the fearless Dolores Abernathy in Westworld or an unflinching advocate for victims of domestic violence, Evan Rachel Wood is an unstoppable force.
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“I feel the most myself when I sing,” says actress Evan Rachel Wood. The Raleigh, N.C.-born child of two actors began her stage career in musical theater. “Singing was my first love and continues to be,” she adds. “There was a production of A Christmas Carol that my father put on every year.” In short order, Wood dazzled her parents and her audience with her impressive voice.
In fact, she’s recently had the chance to showcase that talent playing Queen Iduna (mother to Anna and Elsa) in the blockbuster Frozen 2, which came out in late November. “Disney is my Star Wars,” Wood says. “If I am a hardcore nerd about anything, it is Disney.” In the film, she sings the opening song, “All Is Found,” a lullaby she often sang to her own young son (with actor Jamie Bell). “It has made me a better person in every way, but I underestimated that it would make me a better actor as well,” she says of motherhood. “You feel in a completely different way, and I am in touch with emotions that I was not in touch with before, so I feel like I can get a lot deeper into myself now.”
Wood’s breakthrough role in Thirteen at the mere age of 14 earned her a Golden Globe nomination, and she has been burning up both the big and small screen ever since. “I am not exempt from any breakdowns or anything,” she says of her early success and navigating Hollywood as a teen. “There were dark times, but because acting is such a part of who I am I just couldn’t stop doing it. There were certain people in my life who, no matter how shaky things got, stuck by me and believed in me,” she continues. “Try to find people who really love you for you. The real test for me was in certain moments when I wasn’t as popular, you see the people who stick by you. Those are the people you keep around.”
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Wood wrote and championed the Phoenix Act, a California state bill that empowers survivors to come forward by expanding victims’ rights and extending the statute of limitations. As a domestic violence survivor (she has openly testified to the abuse, rape and torture she endured starting at age 18 and continuing for years), Wood was not able to get justice because the statute of limitations on her case had run out. “It took me too long to process my trauma and come forward,” she shares. “I am still scared. It changed for me when I realized there were other victims of the same person. This was on the heels of Cosby and Weinstein and all these women coming forward, but nothing could be done. I decided something had to be done.” Wood worked tirelessly with Sen. Susan Rubio (a survivor herself) to campaign for more than a year and take the bill to the House. “We never gave up even when it wasn’t looking good. I am so proud of everything we did,” she says.
Wood is candid when it comes to discussing her healing process. “It comes in waves,” she explains. “It has certainly been a release. It is something that is hard to be alone in, so by telling my story, I felt like I wasn’t alone anymore. I felt like I made other people not feel alone anymore either. I also wanted to show people that it can literally happen to anyone. That’s the thing about domestic violence. Domestic violence isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s an epidemic for women, but it happens to men, children, the elderly and handicapped—it happens across the board. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor or what community you come from. I think it is one of the worst problems we are not really talking about because it is so normalized.”
She continues: “We have a lot of misconceptions about domestic violence and what it looks like. I don’t think we are talking enough about the intricacies and how complicated it can be. At this moment when #MeToo is such a topic of conversation, I am hoping to move the needle in the conversation about violence as well. We plan on taking [the bill] to as many states as we can and to continue to have the conversation. This isn’t something I chose, it chose me.” In fact, it is Wood’s hope the Phoenix Act will provide victims the chance to heal. “Phoenix seemed like an obvious choice in that we want to allow them the time to be able to rise from the ashes and come back even stronger—and to be able to pursue justice,” she says of the bill’s name. “It seemed so unfair that someone would be so hurt that they were unable to get up. We want that fiery phoenix rising.”
Her internal fire is at full blaze when on screen portraying characters like Dolores Abernathy in HBO hit series Westworld. “She’s always evolving,” the actress says of the “host” robot she plays in the dystopian drama. Wood’s complex character shifts from protagonist to antagonist season to season. “I feel like I have played a different character every season—or different incarnations of that character,” she explains. “The first season she was the damsel; the second season she was the terminator; and I think this [coming season] will be a really beautiful combination of the two. But,” she adds, “they still manage to get me in that blue dress every season! I am really excited for people to see this version of Dolores.”
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Wood reluctantly shares a sneak peek of what lies ahead in the third season, which premieres March 15 and adds Aaron Paul, Lena Waithe and others to the cast. “We are seemingly in the real world,” Wood says. “It is the first time we are going to get a look at what the world outside Westworld is and what the future looks like. It is a cautionary tale showing that maybe our world isn’t that different from the park.” When pressed if there will be a season four, the future sounds promising. “I don’t think we are done telling our story yet.”
Currently, Wood is also starring in Miranda July film Kajillionaire (with Gina Rodriguez, Richard Jenkins and Debra Winger), which premiered in late January at Sundance Film Festival, and is on tour with her band, Evan + Zane. And she assures us we can expect “more singing and more weird characters.” Of her personal and professional choices, Wood says: “I didn’t want to look back on anything and wish I had done something that I didn’t do. I define bravery as being scared and doing it anyway. Sometimes people tell me I am fearless, and it is not necessarily true. I don’t know why I have been able to push through fear since I was a little girl and I don’t know where it comes from. I have always had a strong interior life and some people get it and some people don’t. I do always manage to push forward, and there have been a lot of times I have been in the ashes. I always manage to rise out.” There’s no doubt this fire is not burning out anytime soon.
Photography by: Ramona Rosales | Styled by Samantha McMillen | Hair by John D at Forward Artists | Makeup by Toby Fleischman at Tomlinson Management Group