Evan Rachel Wood lends her real-girl cred to the dark Pretty Persuasion
Ever since she played the sensitive, intelligent adolescent Jessie Sammler on the television series Once and Again, Evan Rachel Wood has enjoyed the reputation as the alt-version of sugary teen queens like Lindsay Lohan and Hilary Duff. Wood took that image to the next level with 2003's Thirteen, a controversial flick in which her character, Tracy, gets a tongue piercing and experiments with sex, drugs and shoplifting. Through it all, Tracy remains sympathetic—a teen not yet entirely in control of her changing body or emotions.
Not so with Kimberly Joyce, the icy manipulator Wood plays in the new black comedy Pretty Persuasion. Kimberly wields her sexuality as a weapon, using it to bend people to her will. She turns her elite high school upside down when she persuades two friends to join her in accusing a teacher they don't like of sexual harassment.
"People are so easily manipulated by this 15-year-old schoolgirl just because she's a 15-year-old schoolgirl and uses that to her advantage," Wood says. "And the whole teen-schoolgirl image thing is so powerful, it's just ridiculous."
For those used to sympathizing with Wood's troubled-teen roles, Persuasion will provide a fairly rude awakening. The film begins with Kimberly giving a new Middle Eastern student a tour of her high school. During their walk through the hallways, Kimberly delivers a string of obliquely racist remarks while simultaneously trumpeting her own sensitivity.
Wood, who talks like a teenager rather than an interview-seasoned movie star, finds that scenario all too real. "You watch it and you're like, Omigod, who talks like that? But that's why it's so funny; because it's so true. There are people walking around saying 'I'm so amazing and I'm so great' and they're complete idiots. It's kind of sad, really."
Despite Kimberly's Machiavellian bent, Wood has some sympathy for the character. "You have to feel for her and why she's doing it," she says. "You get these little hints of how much pain she is in and how nobody is giving her what she needs. Nobody is really loving her." Her own mother sends Kimberly a birthday card that gets her age wrong, and her father barely seems to notice her.
So she uses her sexuality to get what she wants, blowing a classmate to get the help of his lawyer father and seducing a female television reporter (Jane Krakowski) to ensure good TV coverage of the teacher's trial.
It's risky material for a teen actress, and Wood carefully weighed what the film might do to her image before accepting the part. "You want to see how they're filming [the sex], how the filmmaker is making it come across." But she's quick to add that very little sex is shown. "Everyone says it's shocking, but you don't even really see anything. Everything is implied."
Wood says she tries to be careful about the roles she takes, because she knows how deeply many teenage girls identify with her. "It's really weird, especially when you see the girls who come up to me. I can spot them before they talk to me. There's this type of girl and they are just like, 'Omigod, I saw Thirteen and it changed my life.' It's weird when I see a girl with dyed hair and piercings and I'm like, 'Omigod. Am I, like, you know, your person? Am I your life?'"
These days, Wood's own life is pretty hectic. She recently turned 18, and she's in New York doing intensive rehearsals for her next film, an as-yet-unnamed musical set in the '60s and directed by Julie Taymor (Titus, Frida). Wood describes it by saying, "It's about how people survive when the world is constantly changing and the people around you are constantly changing." So is Wood, but as far as she's concerned, change is good.
Pretty Persuasion hits local theaters Friday 26.