Evan Rachel Wood Turns Her Trauma Into Good. On ‘Westworld’ and in Life.


Twenty-four hours later, Ms. Wood was in Los Angeles, about to perform at a touring Bowie tribute. She has a lightning bolt tattoo, from Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane” album cover, and songs like “Rock n Roll Suicide” were her beacon. “I used to just put that on when I was at my lowest points and just wait for him to scream, ‘You’re not alone!’ And that would get me through another night,” she said.

When she opened the lyric page for that song, onstage at the Wiltern in Los Angeles, her hand trembled. The words looked like symbols — “like I couldn’t even read,” she said. “Everything went white. And I thought, ‘Oh boy. Breathe, girl, breathe.’” In videos from the show, you can see her hesitate and back off, then regain her momentum. She finished the number with shattering intensity.

“Evan is a powerhouse,” said her friend Linda Perry (4 Non Blondes, Pink’s “Get the Party Started”), the vocalist, songwriter and producer, who recommended her for the Bowie gig. “What I like about her is, she’s not afraid to be vulnerable, and that to me is an extremely powerful position to be in. She stands right there with her feet on the ground and her arms open, saying, This is who I am, this is how I’m going to be, and this is how I’m going to walk through life. Take it or leave it.”

In Ms. Wood’s telling, that position is hard won. The daughter of two actors from Raleigh, N.C., where her father runs a community theater, she began performing early, and moved to Los Angeles with her mother, an acting coach, after her parents split when she was 9. A steady career followed, but looking back, she said: “I didn’t feel like I had proper training for the world. I lived my whole life asking, ‘What do you want me to do and who do you want me to be?’ I was so insecure and didn’t feel worthy of much.” As a teenager, she began a much-ogled relationship with Marilyn Manson, the older goth rocker, to whom she was briefly engaged.

Only later in her 20s, she said, and especially after she became a mother, did she find her voice. The 2016 election also impelled her to act, to set an example for her son.

In between Seasons 1 and 2 of “Westworld,” Ms. Wood filmed an indie drama, “Allure,” out now, in which she plays the gaslighting abuser of a teenage girl. It was not fun to play, she said, but a painful story she felt needed to be told. “If you’re going to be famous, for me it has to mean something, or be used for something, because otherwise it just freaks me out,” she said.


In the recent indie film “Allure,” Ms. Wood plays the gaslighting abuser of a teenage girl. It was not a part she enjoyed, she said, but a painful story she felt needed to be told. Credit Samuel Goldwyn Films

The playlist we’d been listening to all day — her soundtrack for the revolution — is called “Invincible,” she said. In a flannel shirt, dark jeans and cowboy boots embossed with stars, she was unguarded and casual, peppering the conversation with “Dude!” and the click, every now and then, of a fidget cube, to channel her energy. Her house is cozy but feels half-lived in — she’s still in Los Angeles often. “Westworld” shoots in the Utah desert; to lighten the mood on set, she and her co-star James Marsden, as a “host” gunfighter, run their lines as Veronica Corningstone and Ron Burgundy, from “Anchorman.” (She puts on her coaching voice; he’s dense. It works.)

But Dolores’s transformation, in Season 2, left Ms. Wood unnerved.

“I’ve worked for a very long time to not be angry and vengeful,” she said, “so it was hard to take pleasure in that, even though I knew that the character had definitely earned it.”

Ms. Wood’s mission is always to turn her trauma into some other force. Before she went to Congress, she had her aura read at a Nashville shop. It told her some of her energy was blocked, that she needed to get something out. Now, a week afterward, we went back, to see if anything had changed.

She was still glowing lavender — “wonderful storytellers, writers and artists,” the description said. “They have the talent to visualize and describe magical, mystical worlds.” But where before her emotional chart looked like a jagged mountain range, now it was flat, calm. “Speaking your truth!” she said.

Her hope was that — especially post #MeToo — “Westworld” would do for others what Dolores did for her: help them to feel powerful, and be heard.

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear,” she said.

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