Inside psychic Madame Paulina’s glowing, concrete, single-story mystic’s den, nestled beneath a major highway on the Westside of Los Angeles, garishly bedazzled in spiritualistic knick-knacks, Evan Rachel Wood wishes she were on the other side.
Of the curtain, that is. The scene, you see, is divided by a beaded curtain—one room glows green, the other clay red. In the red room, a television show, hosted by some bloated and overly buff Brit who yammers away about restaurant renovations—on mute, thankfully—casts a sallow glow. On the couch, the oily, bald dome of the Madame’s man-friend refracts the telly’s happenings. This is the room Wood wants to be in—more real, less hocus-pocus. And to add to her envy, the carroty, 12-year-old Pomeranian that splays out in front of the small electric heater is priceless. Nevertheless, it’s the room Wood is not allowed into. Instead, she’s being offered regular treatments on healing the “block” in her psychological condition.
Later, at a dude-bro bar a hop-skip away, the Bigfoot Lodge or something, Wood (who coincidentally made her big-screen debut in Practical Magic) will tell you she wishes she’d have gotten to be inside the red room, to partake of its own mysticism, sans the tarot cards and the crystal ball that the Madame danced her paranormal fingers over. She’ll also remark on the moment when you were asked by the Madame to leave the telepathic session, designating you to the couch on the other side of the bead curtain, about five feet away. “I’m not kidding when I say I really wish you could have been a fly on the wall for my conversation,” she’ll say. “Because when you left, she goes, ‘Now, I need to align with your aura, and it’s going to take a month and a lot of money.’ And I say, ‘I’ll think about it.’ So she says, ‘Why? Do you not believe?’ I was like, ‘I just met you!’”
Indeed, it’s to be a night of first encounters, but more on that later. First, back to the spiritual inquest, prior to your dispatch from the green to the red room. Madame Pauline lays out the tarot and summons the crystal ball. Her eyes roll into the back of her head. The bags below these eyes have the puffiness of guacamole-ready avocados in the summer heat. Wood gazes into the crystal ball, the air between her and the Madame thickening with the supernatural, and the smell of feet. She keeps her focus on the whispering, gifted Madame. Her posture is perfect, a 90-degree angle between her back and ass, perched on the edge of her seat. The Madame asks that Wood jot down the full name of her lover. There’s a pause. “How about a first name?” Wood asks. The Madame abides.
Ah, relationships. These are the ingredients for nice questions like, “What does your future hold?” But sharing one’s between-the-sheets proclivities is amongst the restrictions of the limelight, restrictions that are particularly acute when an editor is sat adjacent, jotting down the happenings. Wood will later remark on the relationship stuff, an item that seems to loom over her persona more than your average starlet (her Google image search is currently overpopulated with poses alongside former fiancé Marilyn Manson): “There’s a lot of things in my life I want to keep private. So, it’s odd going to see a psychic when you don’t want to discuss certain things.” She’ll laugh. “And in front of you, I’m like, ‘I can neither deny nor confirm that.’”
The Madame determines that Wood and her lover must “discover balance and not be overwhelmed by each other’s successes.” The advice given is quite broad, thus avoiding awkward specificity and instead (later, at the Bigfoot) opening Wood up to generalized takes on relationships, be they romantic or not. Wood suggests relationships are governed by two principal emotions: love and fear. The actor seems to have a pretty firm handle on the fear: “I don’t want to be ruled by fear,” she remarks. “I think fear and guilt are man’s greatest enemy. One thing I do get a lot is people telling me I’m fearless, and I hope so, because I never want anything to keep me from doing what I feel is right.”
Wood’s persona may indeed be considered fearless, but that’s not to say she doesn’t seek fear out—a different fear than the relationship kind—at least for the thrill of it. In the spirit of our supernatural eve, she shares on a recent excursion with other-side inhabitants. This adventure, while its skeleton certainly aligned with the occult, hilariously sidestepped its obviousness, and instead created some mystery, some surprise.
Wood and a group of friends rented out what’s known as a “Halloween Hotel,” a small, private hotel with a dozen rooms or so, where you ghost hunt at your own risk. The results? “I’ve never been a non-believer, but I’ve also never been a full believer,” shares Wood. “I’ve been somewhere in the middle, just waiting.” The actual spirit search, she shares, was much like one you’d see on one of those haunt-chasing television programs: “It was full blown. We had all the little gadgets, everything. The funny thing was, we rented it for Halloween, but I was there with four people the night before, and a lot of stuff happened. Lights were going on and off, things were moving, people were losing jewelry, which we’d find under rugs. It was crazy. It was weird. I don’t know if people were screwing with us or not, but I know some things were slightly off.” She pauses, and looks across the table daringly, holding back for a beat the results of the intended night of terror. “Halloween? A bunch of people there? Nothing happened.”
As we’re learning, you can only orchestrate so much of this spirit-filled world. Look at it like this: Evan Rachel Wood still runs around with friends, delighting in the potential pants-shitting that ghosts and demons might encourage, open to the idea of transformative energy—but love, the flip-side of Wood’s two ruling emotions, is the real volatile, unpredictable force, right? Wood agrees, insisting that while truly distinct, love and fear are intertwined, like it or not. “I try to follow the path of love as much as I can,” she offers, “but when you really care about someone, there’s fear. Because when things are good, you’re afraid of that going away. I think that’s pretty natural.”
Indeed, the trials and travails of love are natural to anyone who undergoes them, difficult as they may be. But star power equates to a particular experiential unusualness. The journey, even if at times “natural,” is gravely unconventional, monitored, speculated on, and judged at every turn. “Everyone was always very protective of me because of what I did,” Wood remarks on growing up in her abnormal place in the world, “and they wanted to make sure I never did anything wrong, or made any mistakes, or harmed myself in any way, which is totally understandable. But that’s really denying somebody what everyone is entitled to, which is to make mistakes, and to grow as a person, and see what is out there in the world, and to get to know yourself. You’re not going to get it right on the first go, and you shouldn’t. I wanted to make sure I got to experience that.”
This intent to entertain trial-and-error like any other confident young person is not surprising, but with Wood, in light of her aforementioned, unusual place in the world, there are challenges, preconceptions plopped full-stop atop her newly-cropped mop. She explains: “People have an idea of who you are, and it’s hard to break that barrier, so sometimes you can feel kind of isolated. Of course, there are times in my life where I think, ‘Well, what if I hadn’t done this and had a so-called “normal life”?’ Then, I look at all the things I’ve gotten to do and, even though it came with sacrifices, I wouldn’t trade it. I feel like I’ve lived many lifetimes already, more than most people get to do in one life.”
Back behind her crystal ball, the Madame conjures Wood’s previous lifetimes, a move the actor has partaken in at other psychics, in non-interview situations. According to these readings, she has a very musical soul (in this life, Wood has been the subject of a music video, but only as a blood-splattered love toy, not the title crooner). “I really want to start making music. I really want to collaborate with somebody,” she later shares on the Madame’s suggestion she explore that creativity. “There’s a lot I have to learn about composing, melody, and style. I know when someone has a melody, I can put a song to it. I feel like it’s a real passion of mine, I feel like when I’m singing, that’s when I’m at my most euphoric and free.”
There are challenges to being unilateral in your artistry. “It’s kind of intimidating because when I work with people now,” explains Wood, “it’s like they’re doing everything—they’re making movies, they’re making music—you have to do everything now.” Alas, the polymaths and Renaissance people that flood the world of culture are not necessarily making waves in individualized, targeted ways. (Have you heard recent Wood co-star Ryan Gosling’s band, for instance? Miserable.) See, to be a singer/songwriter/filmmaker/rapper/ceramicist/poet/actor/fashion-designer/performance-artist/media-maker is quickly becoming a bit farcical.
And Wood is very good at her present vocation. She’s been nominated for two Golden Globes (2003, for Thirteen, and 2012, for Mildred Pierce). She’s shared the screen with heavyweights Holly Hunter, Annette Bening, Kate Winslet, and Cate Blanchett, and she has taken cue from Woody Allen (Whatever Works) and Robert Redford (The Conspirator). Wood is more substantive on-screen than any Renaissance woman, but further reflections on the pressure to be everywhere and do everything leave her yearning. “At times,” she admits, “I feel like, ‘Oh shit, should I be making short films and have a band?’ But I have to do what’s right for me. I don’t just want to do this because I feel like everyone else is.”
There are, after all, only so many hours in the day. Wood’s most recent timecard was punched playing a sleeping-her-way-to-the-top political intern in George Clooney’s The Ides of March. Wood, the underage daughter of the DNC Chairman, saddles (off-camera) Clooney’s pre-presidential pen, and one Ryan Gosling’s campaign-management pen (this saddling of the pen is on-camera), in the throws of a heated presidential race. Hers, amongst the self-assured politicking of the power-hungry male co-stars, is surely the film’s finest performance. The role required a great deal of youthful awe (her inter-office flirting is defiantly stimulating) and response to turmoil, including latte runs in frigid temperatures, the aborting of a presidential hopeful’s fetus, and finally, a somewhat confusing hotel suicide wherein she lays in a heap next to some spilled pills.
Prior, Wood was seen in the Todd Haynes-directed miniseries Mildred Pierce, adapted (for a second time) from the James M. Cain novel, where she played the uncaged, vengeful daughter of Kate Winslet’s Pierce, and was, well, fucking awesome. Dark, crazed, erogenous, and all the while cool, this is the character that exemplifies the typical idea of the North Carolina, theatre director-raised lass, who, after all, broke out with the similarly dark, slice-of-adolescence Thirteen. When asked about the tendency to envisage a darkness in her personality, Wood puts it like this: “Okay, I just did an interview on Chelsea Lately. She said, ‘I had no idea you were like this. I thought you were supposed to be all weird and dark?’ I mean, no one’s really seen the lighter side of me. I guess because of the roles I’ve played. It’s all been really dramatic and intense and dark [further evidence: vampire queen Sophie-Anne Leclerq in True Blood and the trailer park-bound, estranged daughter of Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler], so I get it. But there’s a side of me that kind of likes that nobody really knows what I’m really like. That helps when you’re an actor.”
So what is Evan Rachel Wood, whom The Guardian has called “one of the best, most attractive actresses of her generation,” actually like? Well, she’s hilarious. She’s gorgeous. She’s easy-going. She’s also completely tomboyish, perched atop her curled-up legs in the corner of the Bigfoot Lodge, beneath an appropriately flickering light bulb, an eerie occurrence she says happens with regularity. This has all been observed before, though, often with an overly-accentuated focus on the tattoos that pepper her body, a number of which have rock ‘n’ roll connections, or that she has a black belt in Taekwondo. So, where is the exorcising of this on-screen darkness for the otherwise upbeat and chirpy young lady? “I’m a crazy sleeper,” she responds. “If you ever slept at home with me, you know you’re in for an adventure. I talk, I scream—I freak people out sometimes because I literally scream things. I am violent in my sleep, which I always find really interesting.”
But back to the tomboyishness, that adjective applied regularly to the 24-year-old. Some of the more eyebrow-raising press on Wood has come with her declarations on her personal sexuality, previously reported as bisexual. Wood speaks about projections onto her, and her tendency toward more male behaviors and attitudes. “In a way, I think the lines between male and female are being more blurred by the day,” she says, “and I think that’s kind of cool. I don’t think we should just base ourselves and our sexes on what we’ve been told are male and female. There are so many people going against their instincts or what’s natural, and I think that’s a problem—that repression, guilt, and fear really produce violence and hatred. You have to make room for the possibility of there being more than one way to live. I never judge these people or hate them. I just am sad for anyone who is so set in their ways without experiencing other options.”
It’s Friday night. The options are limitless, but there’s really only one option: the Bigfoot Lodge. And it’s quickly filling up with droves of very distinctly straight people (who else would maraud around rampart Century City at this hour?), becoming an appropriate cue to discuss such things as the mechanics of birds and bees. The catalyst? A particular pair of dates commencing at differing spots in the bar. And as this interview occurs in a corner, facing out, the dates quite quickly, and quite easily, become conversation fodder.
One couple, let’s call them Pabst Blue Ribbon/Weird Purple Cocktail (or, PBR/WPC), are sat on a bench, perpendicular to our gaze. The gent, slicked hair and surely too much cologne, stares intently at his date, a stare that goes unrequited. Wood reports: “The body language was telling me a lot! I could tell that girl was like, ‘I’m looking for some kind of out, and it’s my phone!’”
That’s the thing with actors—and often you forget it—despite their ambassadorship of perfumes and cars, the glitz an award ceremony stirs, or the gossip they drape the grocery check-outs with, their real job is to dominate the screen. They must understand human physicality, and they must embody this very crude word film has leaned upon for ages: presence. Wood oozes it, but tonight, as we’re learning, it’s more about the observation of presence.
“Body language is something you can read that some people aren’t aware that they’re doing,” Wood says as we watch the WPC girl read the message-less screen on her phone. “It’s like Christopher Walken: ‘You’re telling me nothing, but you’re showing me everything.’ That’s so true. As an actor, I feel like that’s one thing that is a blessing and a curse because I can really read body language, and can totally tell if someone is full of shit, and that can present problems sometimes.”
In an effort to not appear full of shit, your narrator heaves heavy, creepy sighs, chews on his tie, then stands on his hands, before asking further of Wood what’s progressed between PBR/WPC, now out of view due to milling bodies. Wood cranes her neck and elucidates, “He was just reaching toward her and being like, ‘Oh, you have a pocket on your shirt.’ And she’s like, ‘Yeah, I do, but you’re really just touching my boob when you do that.’ See? She already has her hand blocking the pocket that he just touched, because he’s already crossed the line.”
Things are quickly going downhill. Poor PBR; he’s really trying. “That’s the whole thing with guys,” Wood remarks. “[They] always seem too eager. I feel for guys. I’m telling you. It’s so much pressure. So easily you can turn into a creep. But, I totally get it, because I got to a place where I had to start picking up women, and I had to be the guy. And I feel awful for any guy that’s ever trying to pick me up—it’s super hard. Women are very complicated. I love women—I am one, I adore them—but we’re all nuts. We’re all crazy! But, I think it comes from love. It comes from a place of caring too much and doing too much, and it will drive you nuts. Guys and girls are equally nuts—it’s just two different kinds of crazy.”
Two different kinds of crazy. Closer to this corner of the Bigfoot Lodge, another date, yet to be dissected, is happening in tandem to PBR/WPC. This one, though, is painful to watch in a different way. After slow-sipping his way into the comfort zone, the gent in question has now recoiled and the lady is inversely keen. Her feet, once curled beneath her, have now found their way onto the lower rungs of his bar stool. She’s primed. She’s ready. He just needs to seal the deal. By this point, Wood’s commentary is full-throttle, playfully shameless. “It better happen,” remarks Wood on the nearness of the romance, “Now! Now! She put her hand on his knee!”
Some other dude enters the scene and begins to interrupt the moment, deluded enough, as some other dudes often are, to think he’s going to dismantle the chemistry at hand. It’s agonizing. “They were literally inches away, and it got fucked up,” Wood says in disbelief. “That dude is hating that other dude right now.”
The competition here in the Bigfoot Lodge is fierce. It’s bloodthirsty. But we’re competitive spirits, us creatures of contemporary culture. There’s competition for mates, competition for parts, competition with ourselves. Wood is asked about competition, to which she replies quite healthfully, “Well, you have to be competitive, as long as that’s not your self-worth. I don’t base my self-worth off of how many people like me or how well I do, it’s how I feel about it. That’s what I base it off of.”
Is that artistry? To just put it out there, to express yourself, without a mind for social consequence, without any measurement but that of your own? “I don’t know that I’m an artist,” Wood counters. “I feel like a lot of people are ashamed to call themselves that because it sounds cliché or totally up your own ass.” What, then, defines artistry? “I feel like an artist is somebody that has to find new and different ways to express themselves. It’s someone who—” But the thought is interrupted by a flurry of happenings with the dates in question. PBR/WPC has disintegrated. PBR sits by himself, watching the buzz of the meat market with a sort of hardened, disenchanted glare. Defeat. Contrary to the defeat, though, the closer pair, now abandoned by “some other dude,” seems to be back in the groove. Still, no offensive strike from the guy, and it’s driving Wood and your narrator crazy.
“I’m literally about to walk up there,” says Wood. “I feel like I should go up to him and be like, ‘Make your goddamn move, man! Oh, sorry, I thought you were somebody else… But anyway, kiss the girl right now!’” Inevitably the interview breaks into song—“Kiss the Girl,” naturally, from The Little Mermaid. Its memorization from both Wood and your narrator is impeccable, of course, and a great deal of attention is suddenly being directed our way.
“Oh no, they totally just heard us talking about them,” Wood says, giggling into her collar and slinking into her seat. It’s true. The peanut gallery is increasingly inebriated and far less discreet on its public commentary. It’s time to go. But not before we gift the blossoming pair, just out of earshot, a shove in the right direction. Wood and your narrator make a plan of action. Gather the belongings, prepare for departure. The confident, well-intending, tongue-in-cheek specialist that is Wood—the fortune told, now the fortune teller—takes a cue from your narrator that the moment is right, then trounces up to the couple, and tells them this: “I’m so sorry to interrupt. But we were watching you two and just had to say how adorable we thought you looked together.” And like that, your cupids tumble out onto the street.
It’s the holiday season, after all. A season of gifting, of warmth and of joy’s spreading. How were our actions received? “Oh, they blushed and said, ‘Thanks,’” says Wood. “They were so cute. Maybe one day they’ll look back and remember that moment that brought it all together.” She lights a cigarette and we laugh, self-aware, at the equal possibility of our intrusion throwing everything into confusion.
It’s totally true. We are always capable of disrupting one another’s space-time continuum. Wood must be mindful of her actions’ duplicity, the distinct departure from the physical world into that of the supernatural. For nothing is as it seems, they say. And if Madame Pauline is onto anything with her tarot, her Pomeranian, her crystal ball, her charming lover, her L.A. tendencies to up-sell any and all opportunities, then the “long and spirited” journey, which will include all manner of creative expression, that she’s ascribed to Evan Rachel Wood, no matter how many lives she feels she’s been through in her mere 24 years, has only commenced its transmutation, has only begun to take its unique, ultra-talented, preternatural shape.