Actress Evan Rachel Wood burst onto the scene in 2003’s “Thirteen” playing a troubled teen. Her powerhouse portrayal of a young girl on a downward spiral into drugs, sex and crime was critically praised and launched her career. Since then, Wood has continued to take on provocative roles in indies and television, and has also stretched out her vocal chops singing Beatles hits in the Julie Taymor directed “Across the Universe.”
On the eve of the film’s release (it opens in select theaters today and is available to view on VOD), we sat down with Wood to chat about the film, shooting in Romania, karaoke, LSD, her new life as a mom and her musical future.
So tell me about Romania, that’s where you shot, right?
Yes we shot in Bucharest in Romania. Romania was really good to us honestly, it’s a place that has a really rich history and a not always pleasant one with a lot of violence. That city’s been through a lot. It’s actually a line in the film, it’s made them stronger, it’s given them so much character. And our Romanian crew was incredible. Their work ethic there is very impressive. I liked it there.
Eastern Europe has this old world, quirky reputation. Did you encounter anything strange there?
Shia and I would always giggle because they are slightly behind in music and movies. So when we got there “The Thong Song” was playing and we were like, are you serious? Wow! They’re just getting this! So that was kind of fun.
What did you guys do on your time off?
We would go to karaoke! They are very serious about their karaoke there. I was really shocked at how good everyone was. We went to this one place and there was this girl, she looked maybe 13 at the most, in this bar in Romania at like two in the morning. She had a little hat on, she was sitting in the corner very shy, and they call her name and she gets up and destroys Alicia Keys’ “Fallin.” Like she kind of puts Alicia Keys to shame, and I was supposed to go up after her and I was like, “I’m leaving, goodbye. That’s it.” They’re way too good.
So you didn’t sing?
No I did, they made me go up.
What did you sing?
I sang Janis Joplin “Piece of my Heart” and I think Dusty Springfield. So eventually I did get up. But it was intimidating!
Did Shia sing?
No, he didn’t. He would never!
On another vocal topic, how did you prepare for the Romanian accent? Did you have a coach?
Yes, I had a dialect coach. She’s wonderful. I worked with her for about three months. And before I got cast in the film I had to prepare some kind of Romanian accent to show them and do a chemistry read with Shia so that they knew I could do it. So I had to pass the test first.
Was it difficult?
Yeah. It was hard. It was definitely hard. Especially because I knew I wasn’t going to have the dialect coach when we were filming the movie. Which you usually do but we just didn’t have the money, very low budget! [Laughs] So I had to perfect it before I got there and just kind of hoped that I remembered everything. But luckily I had the sound in my ear the whole time since we were actually filming there so it worked out for the best.
Your character also plays the cello in the film. Were you really playing?
No, I was mimicking but it was much harder than I thought it was going to be. I was a little too cocky about it. And I’m one of those people who likes to be immediately good at something otherwise I get really frustrated. And I was definitely frustrated with my first lesson.
So you took actual cello lessons? I know you sing but did you have any other instrumental background?
No! I’ve had to pretend to be a violin player once before and I thought that was going to help me but no. It was completely different. And oh god, there was one scene, it was the biggest cello piece I had to play for the movie. It’s when she’s playing with the orchestra and her father’s just died and she’s very emotional and every movement of the cello is just painful. And I get there on the day and I’m surrounded by real cello players that I have to be in perfect sync with and the song starts and I’m playing the wrong song! I’ve completely learned the wrong song. It was the last day of filming we had no time. And the director just told me to look out of the corner of my eye and try to mimic what the person next to me was doing.
Well I thought it was very believable.
Good! When I watch it I’m like I don’t know how that worked. How did we pull that off? Really I don’t know! Something guided my hand.
Your look in the movie is this very punky, bad ass girl. You’ve got the fire red hair and the intense makeup. Did that help you get into the character or did her style kind of suit your own style for once?
Yeah! For sure. Our costumer Jennifer was so great, and so amazing. She’s really talented. She really helped us create these real characters. But I loved it when I read the description of the character in the script. Mads says this in the movie, “Ass of an angel, brain of a man, aim like Annie Oakley and hair like Ziggy Stardust.” I was like, this is a dream role! Done, sign me up! Where’s the contract? That was it for me.
Tell me a bit about working with Shia. I read about how he did LSD and sent you a video.
See, I thought it was ecstasy and it’s turned into LSD. I wasn’t there that day so I don’t really know what happened. But I know that Shia had never done ecstasy or really any drugs, and he was really nervous about it because Shia’s a perfectionist, he wants things to be as truthful and as real as possible. So he was videotaping himself and sending it around and trying to gauge people’s reactions of how good it was and I think at the end of the day he just said I think I’m really going to have to do this so that it’s right. So it was an artistic choice! [Laughs] I don’t think he was doing it to just like “Woo! Have a good time!” I think he was just doing it for the movie.
And he sent you a video?
He did, yeah. Not of him on it. I think of him trying to pretend, and I didn’t think it was bad! But I guess you kind of can’t beat the real thing.
Can we chat about your tattoos?
How many do you have?
I have I think nine, but I think I’m about to get my tenth in a few days. I’m going to get my son’s birthday. You gotta get one for the kid! So that will be my tenth.
Where are you going to put it?
I think on the back of my arm. I haven’t done anything on my arms yet because for movies and stuff it’s just a pain to have anything there but I think I’ll make an exception.
You’ve got a few from previous relationships.
[Wood has tattoos from her earlier relationships with musician Marilyn Manson and a previous relationship with her now-husband, actor Jamie Bell] The J on your ankle stayed even after you guys broke up.
It did stay. The J was the first tattoo that I got when we were about 18, here in New York actually. It was funny, when we split up I was very sad and I tried to cover it with white ink. But, you know I was still in love with Jamie I didn’t really want to, but you know you get in these moods! [Laughs] And I tried to cover it up and the tattoo artist looked at me and he said, “This tattoo is angry. It doesn’t want to be covered up.” And it literally rejected the white ink and just wouldn’t be covered up. So I thought that was interesting, like a fate thing.
[Wood and Bell reunited in 2011, married in 2012, and had their first child this July] You recently had a baby. How are you doing?
So good! I’m very tired but I really wanted to be a mom. I really wanted to have a baby one day, it was a dream of mine. I’m really loving every minute of it. Every minute. I mean the second I wake up and he’s there smiling, it’s done. You’re done, completely. It’s changed everything and for the better, I think. Everything. It changes the way you look at the world the way you view yourself. It really filters out all of the bullshit. You just focus on what’s important. It gets you out of yourself and your own noise that you create all the time. It makes you kind of deal with your shit. Because you can’t carry it with you and then pass it on to the baby. It was really important to me to just get myself in order as much as possible beforehand. And it’s work, you know, you have to do the work but at the end of the day you come out this new person. It’s your birth at the same time as much as it is your child’s. It’s the birth of a mother. It’s the birth of a new you. It’s helped my confidence, it’s made me much more aware of the world and much more caring of the world and the future. You just think about things that you never really bothered with before.
I know a lot of actors and actresses, when they become parents their choices change in acting. I know you’ve played a lot of provocative roles, do you see yourself changing your choices?
I don’t think I would ever tone down those roles but I think I would now be more open to doing kid friendly movies as well as the other ones. So that he could watch them.
Like, “You can watch these when you’re 5, you can watch these when you’re 18?”
Yeah! [Laughs] We’ll have a little series.
Since your breakout in “Thirteen” you’ve stuck most to TV and indies. “Across the Universe” was a big studio film, but do you prefer indies and TV or would you like to do more studio work?
I’m not opposed to studio films, I just usually find more interesting projects in the indie world or on TV. There’s such amazing stuff happening on television right now and things can actually get made and get money on television. I think that a lot of movie actors are going there because it’s just so hard to get a movie made now. The movies that you want to get made, so many things fall apart and it’s just depressing. But no, I’m open either way.
Up next you’re shooting “Into the Forest” Can you tell me a bit about that?
It’s apocalyptic. It’s about two sisters, Ellen Page and I play the roles, and you get the sense that the world is kind of coming to an end. There”s no gas, there’s no electricity, there’s no water. You don”t really know what”s happened in the world but you know something has gone very wrong. And it”s basically just about them trying to survive together in the middle of the woods.
Any more singing in films in the future?
I would love to do more singing in films! I’m actually just starting to dip my toe into making some music. I’ve resisted for a really long time but it”s something that I love so much. And I don”t think people have actually heard the way I really sing. It”s very different than Lucy in “Across the Universe.” I’d love to explore that.
So you’re going to put together an album?
Yeah I would like to make an album.
What’s your sound?
I think it would be kind of moody. I’ve made music before, not releasing it, just for fun and I described it like Billie Holiday with an electric guitar. Kind of old school with a bit of an edge. Lucy was more soprano, and much softer and more beautiful. And my real voice is a little crazy. I’m very loud.
Like Janis Joplin?
Yes! Like Janis Joplin. That’s what I enjoy singing the most.
Well it is your go to for karaoke.