Evan Rachel Wood on Her Bisexuality and Our Divided World: ‘Listen to Your Opponent’
The acclaimed actress sat down to discuss her new film Into the Forest, the tragedy of Orlando, and how co-star Ellen Page inspired her coming out.
“After last week I called so many people and told them I loved them,” Evan Rachel Wood confided to The Daily Beast just days after 2016 saw one of its most horrific tragedies of gun violence: the massacre of LGBT men and women celebrating Pride Week in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. “I felt my walls coming down, just wanting to connect with people and let them know that they’re loved.”
In the month since I sat down to speak with the actress, musician, and LGBT activist, there have been more heartbreaking killings, more attacks across the world, more unspeakable tragedies, more division. Orlando happened to America just 38 days ago. But then so did Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Dallas. Nice.
Talking about movies in the face of such unrelenting real-life horrors can feel so insignificant. At least on this afternoon, with Orlando fresh in both of our minds and the entire country mourning the deaths of 49 strangers in Florida, it seemed to foster some semblance of hope in solidarity.
Wood stars with Ellen Page in this week’s Into the Forest, a quietly commanding post-apocalyptic drama about two sisters forced to become their strongest selves when the world as they know it, a world very much like ours, transforms overnight. The end of modern civilization sneaks up silently one evening, when all the lights in the smart house they share with their father in the forested countryside go dark.
Nell (Page), studying for college exams, and older sister Eva (Wood), training for a dance audition, light candles. They wait for the power to come back on. It never does.
Adapted and directed by Patricia Rozema (Mansfield Park) from the novel by Jean Heglund, Into the Forest delivers powerful performances from both of its stars as the sisters live through the everyday hells that follow. When tragedy leaves them to fend for themselves in an increasingly hostile and unknowable future, they panic, fight, and despair as any one of us might if society took a nosedive into chaos tomorrow.
It’s a film that left me in a panic, exiting the theater into a darkness that felt all too viscerally real. Sitting across from me in a quiet West Hollywood hotel, Wood offered her sympathies.
“I’m sure that was very intense, especially having to watch it in the current state that we’re in,” she told me. “We’re in a weird place right now. But that’s one thing I love about this film and the message behind it, what things like Orlando and intense loss and tragedy can do—and yes, I wish it didn’t take that to bring this out of people—but it shows you what really matters.”
There’s darkness aplenty around every corner of Into the Forest, puncturing scenes of Nell and Eva’s mundane home life as the reality of their new life—no electricity, no internet, no outside help, and plenty of new predators—sinks in. As their dynamic slowly but seismically shifts, the two young women discover strength in themselves and each other.
“They go through so much,” Wood said. “But with death comes birth, and life, and hope. And that’s the natural cycle of life. For all the bad, there’s just as much good. There’s a balance and an order to things. I think once we can connect with our humanity and our primal nature and see ourselves in our enemies and in other people, that’s when we really can make a change.”
Into the Forest is one of Page’s first films as a producer. It’s all the more unusual of a film for the simple fact that it offers a more complete chronicle of female life than most films about women ever try to.
“I started correcting myself because I started saying, ‘It’s so good to be given a chance to play a strong woman and to show these strong women,’ but all women are strong, and this is a movie about women as I know them,” smiled Wood. “That’s why I was excited when I got the script. It’s a side of women we don’t normally get to see and don’t normally give them credit for. There’s no man helping us out or protecting us, or chopping the wood for us or hunting for us. It’s all us.
“I think that the other thing we show that sometimes can be missing in post-apocalyptic films filled with violence or machine guns or explosions or aliens and stuff is the vulnerability,” she added. “Yes, they’re defying the odds and surviving, but they also have moments where they’re not. They break. They’re vulnerable. They’re fucking scared, and sometimes they don’t know if they can go on.”
Into the Forest also marked Wood’s first film after giving birth to her son in 2013. It’s evident that motherhood was a transformative experience for the now 28-year-old. Her own decision to have a natural birth at home, she says, opened a connection “to something primal.”
“It wasn’t painful. It was just intense,” she beamed. “There’s nothing you can compare it to. It literally felt like I was connected to the source. Everything I knew, language even, English—just went out the window. It was just sounds, just grunts. Primal. That reminded me that we are animals, and that women are made to do this. We’ve been told so many times that we can’t, and that we can’t handle it, and that it’s too painful or this or that. But we were made to.”
The film’s gift to audiences is that it frequently demonstrates the fortitude people, and especially women, can find in the face of a daunting world as Nell and Eva go from thoroughly modern girls to living without the comforts of contemporary living. And unlike 99 percent of movies, Wood proudly says, this one depicts a natural childbirth in all its glory.
“I was excited to show the strength and to show people what it can be and that it is possible,” said Wood. “The synergy was really cool because I was like, ‘I know how this feels! I know how this sounds. I got it!’ It changed me. It changes everyone, being a part of that. It’s one person becoming two. It’s wild.”
The takeaways from making a movie like this were twofold, according to Wood. For starters, “it made me want to go and take survival courses with my son—which I’m going to do,” she laughed. It also imparted an appreciation for the little things we take for granted.
“One of the most powerful moments in the film to me is after they’ve lost power and water and they’re conserving this gas for an emergency, they finally give in and put a little bit in the generator and they get their luxuries back for an hour,” explained Wood. “You see popping popcorn in the microwave, turning on a lamp, watching home movies, playing music—all these things that we don’t even think about. And you also see what luxuries they are.”
Early last month, Wood woke up with a need to share something with the world. She grabbed a camera and began recording herself talking—frankly and without a script—about her experiences and struggles as a bisexual woman. Her video, posted on June 10 during Pride month, appeared with little fanfare.
“First of all, I’ve had it up to here with all of the misconceptions about bisexuals and bisexuality,” she began. “Four little letters for the whole spectrum of queerness… whether or not you’re gay or lesbian or bisexual or trans, no matter what category you’re put into, we’re all individuals. And we all have our own stories.”
“I sent it out to a few people before I posted it. ‘Am I insane? Is this a death wish?’” she said of the video, in which she addressed issues like biphobia, invisibility, and the related mental health issues she and others have faced. “I was nervous because it is very personal and there are a lot of things that could be taken out of context and used against you or exploited. But it’s something that’s very close to my heart, and I was tired of it so I figured other people were also tired of it.
“After reading the statistics I realized my story wasn’t unique, because it was like reading an autobiography. That’s what made me want to tell my story. And it’s not just my story; it’s so many people’s stories. We just need voices and faces to back it up so people know that it’s real.”
Wood took inspiration from her co-star Page, who came out as gay in a stirring speech at the 2014 Time to Thrive conference.
“She has been so inspiring for me on every level. And I did think, there isn’t really a bisexual Ellen Page—you know what I mean?” Wood laughed. “It did inspire me to want to speak out and also show that it doesn’t matter who you are, you’re affected by the way we perceive certain people in the world and the messages that we send out to society.”
With all of these topics swirling and converging during our brief afternoon chat, the rawness of recent real-life horrors colliding with an inextinguishable faith in humanity, Wood offered her take on surviving the uncertain future.
“See yourself in your so-called enemies or the people you’re afraid of,” she considered. “Instead of fighting, listen. Really listen, and listen to your opponents. You have to try to understand. It is good to be angry because it’s motivating, as long as it’s not a hopeless anger and it’s motivating you to change things. But I feel like we have to find another way to communicate. Otherwise it’s just all barking and anger and blame, and we’re all to blame. And we all bear the responsibility.”