Evan Rachel Wood knows how parents probably perceive her, and to them she says: "Go see 'The Upside of Anger.' "
"I'm totally sweet [in that film], I'm not ruining anybody's life, I love my mother," Wood said of the comedic drama, which hit theaters in March. Even at 17, the actress is wisely concerned about being typecast.
"The only thing I ever get worried about is people labeling me the 'dark girl,' " she continued. " 'Cause I really do like light, normal characters as well. I think people just pay more attention to the really dark roles."
Wood, best known for playing troubled teens in "Once and Again" and "Thirteen," is not doing much to salvage her reputation with "Pretty Persuasion," which opens Friday. In the teen satire, Wood plays a scheming high school freshman who accuses her drama teacher of sexual harassment.
"She's pretty evil, but I liked the script," Wood said. "I just liked how it doesn't shy away from anything. It does deal with teenagers, but I like movies that deal with them in a more realistic way, 'cause most movies made for teenagers are just all about boys, high school parties and shopping — there's so much more to it than that."
In the movie, helmed by video director Marcos Siega (see "Marcos Siega's Unlikely Road From Blink-182 Videos To Social-Commentary Film"), Wood's character entices her teacher (Ron Livingston from "Office Space" and "Sex and the City") with a number of overtly sexual ploys, including reading a kinky love letter and performing a striptease.
"Marcos had a rule that if you were ever uncomfortable doing something, he would make the crew do it first," Wood said. "And the one thing I was actually most uncomfortable with — it wasn't any of the sexual stuff — was having to do this sexy kind of dance. I think I'm a terrible dancer anyway and I'd just never had to dance like that. So we had three crew guys come up and give me a little striptease, and it totally made me comfortable."
Although Wood was not even a teenager when she began acting and only 15 when she shot "Pretty Persuasion," the soon-to-be 18-year-old never had an issue with the content.
"The only thing that's weird is if people think I'm like that in real life," Wood said. "All the scenes in 'Pretty Persuasion' are supposed to kind of gross you out because they're so just skanky."
After "Pretty Persuasion," Wood has a few other projects due this year, beginning with Green Day's video for "Wake Me Up When September Ends" (see "It's A Dark Day For Green Day In Somber 'September' Video"). In the clip, Wood and Jamie Bell ("Billy Elliot") play high school sweethearts whose relationship is threatened when he joins the service and leaves for the war in Iraq.
"It's not really taking a stance either way," Wood said. "It's not anti-war, it's not pro-war, it's just about these two lovers and how it's sad that this boy was so poor and he really had no other choices."
Although she was only on the set for a day, Wood considers it some of the best work of her 12-year career.
"It was awesome because my two passions are acting and music," said Wood, who is currently shooting a musical written around Beatles songs. "It was really emotional, though. Everyone was in tears after this scene where we are both crying at the screen to each other. It was intense."
Later in the year, Wood will return to the big screen opposite Edward Norton in the drama "Down in the Valley," which she describes as the kind of movie people will either love or not understand.
"It's about lonely people doing desperate things," she said. "It mainly centers around this man who has had a rough life and was in foster homes and thinks he's a cowboy. And he meets this girl who also comes from this kind of weird background. They connect because they're both lonely and desperate, and things are great for awhile but then everything goes wrong. She realizes how lost he is and then he snaps and everything takes a turn for the worst and he kidnaps her brother. It feels epic to me because so much happens in the movie."
Wood also has a movie adaptation of "Running With Scissors" in the can that could hit theaters as soon as December. "Nip/Tuck" creator Ryan Murphy directed the movie, which also stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Annette Bening, Vanessa Redgrave and Alec Baldwin.
"I was obsessed with the book, so being able to be on the set was like, 'Oh my God, I'm actually that person,' " she said. "And getting to watch all these legendary actors up close was pretty cool — you really see why they're legendary actors once you see them in person."
To thrive in the same movies with such actors, a teenager needs to be well-grounded, and Woods points to one of her "dark girl" roles for helping her find that maturity.
"When I filmed 'Thirteen,' that was kind of the head space I was in," she explained. "I wasn't doing drugs and going crazy with guys or anything, but I was really lost and really just hanging out with people 'cause I wanted to be popular. I realized how stupid I was after I did the movie and I was like, 'Wait a minute. I've really got to change my life around,' and it all changed. It sounds corny, but that movie really did change my entire life."
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