AWFJ Women On Film – Evan Rachel Wood re “Whatever Works” – Jennifer Merin
The very pretty, ever popular Evan Rachel Wood has been acting since she was seven. Now, at age 21, she’s coming of age in her first comedy, “Whatever Works,” written and directed by the one and only Woody Allen.
In “Whatever Works,” Wood plays Melodie St. Ann Celestine, an enticing Southern belle who saunters into the life of Boris Yellnikoff, a middle age curmudgeon of a man played by a somewhat Woody-esque Larry David. No spoiler intended but, as the scenario spins, young Melodie and older Boris marry. Well, you know, in movie relationships, it‘s “Whatever Works.”
What attracted you to this project and did it seem daunting to take on, as your first comedy, a movie by Woody Allen?
WOOD: Yes, the thought of working with Woody was intimidating, but everything about the project really appealed to me. The script was so funny. And, my character was so different from anything I’d ever done. But it was a natural fit — she’s Southern, and I’m from North Carolina — so that felt really right.
You’re following in a long line of wonderful Woody Allen leading ladies. Did you watch any of their films so get an idea of what Woody might be looking for?
WOOD: No. I just wanted to make her my own. I grew up with actor parents, and my mother was always telling me to watch Diane Keaton and learn. But I never even dreamed I’d be starring in a Woody Allen movie. I’m very honored to be in that group of actresses, starting with Diane. It’s very cool to be one of the girls.
Your characterization was perfect. Was she a collaboration between you and Woody? Did he guide you to her?
WOOD: Well, like I said, my character and I both have Southern roots. So I actually got a lot of the feeling for her from my step-mother — you know, she sees to good in everything, and has that sweet Southern hospitality. It was challenging to make her endearing and keep her from being annoying. I didn’t want her to be annoying. And I wanted my accent to be perfect because I know the difference, and it drives me crazy when anyone gets it wrong. But Woody wanted the accent to be very broad — broad Southern. More Southern. He said, “You should be in a potato sack with bare feet.” I got that direction, but I wasn’t quite sure what it means. So, I did the best I could and once you get into costume and you get the hair and nails going, it’s easy to become that other person. Just the boobs weren’t mine. And the tan was hard to do.
You’re obviously bright and sophisticated, but Melodie is kind of clueless in many ways. Is it fun or challenging to pay a character who’s less intelligent than you are?
WOOD: It’s really hard to play dumb, and keep her from being annoying. I don’t want to seem pompous, but there’s a fine line and I didn’t want to cross it. I had fun with her. I think she’s sweet, and it was kind of nice to be able to come to the set every day and not have to cry.
Do you think happiness is a function of intelligence and that the less Intelligent you are, the more likely you are to be happy?
WOOD: They say that Ignorance is bliss. Or sometimes. I’ve known people to be so smart they’re stupid. Like, they just get so smart and caught up in themselves that they miss out on so much. And that’s a shame. That’s Boris.
Speaking of Boris, this isn’t the first time you’ve played opposite an older leading man…
WOOD: Yes, that set up seems to follow me everywhere I go…
And how do you feel about that?
WOOD: I think she’s innocent and sweet, and genuine. And I like their relationship. You can compare it with Harold and Maude. It‘s not very romantic. Boris isn’t a very romantic character. But the work was so much fun. When else would I have the chance to be married to Larry David? So, you know, I thought it was cool. I enjoyed it. I felt fine about it. Actually, when I first read the script, I only saw Woody as Boris. But when I met Larry, I thought: “Perfect!” I mean, how many chances would I get to play Larry David’s wife? Come on
There’s not a lot of romance between Melodie and Larry in the movie. In fact, there’s no reference to sex until Melodie mentions Viagra…
WOOD: That was the first question my sisters asked me. “Is there a sex scene?” I was like, “Really? You’re asking me that?” A lot of people seem excited about that idea but there’s a, well, ‘fade to black’.” That’s about the extent of it.
Woody Allen and Larry David are so funny individually. Were they hilarious as a team?
WOOD: They were amazing! People always ask about what they said, and I can’t really recall because I was so in awe the whole time I was with them. I was too afraid to laugh most of the time, ‘though. I had to really pay attention to keep up with the work. This was really fun and funny, but it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. With Woody, you do really have to know what your doing when you walk on the set everyday.
Woody Allen is so famously neurotic. Can you talk a little bit about working with him — about his approach to working with actors?
WOOD: Well, he’s very kind, but he doesn’t comment much. I wasn’t used to that and, on the first day, I almost had a panic attack because I was certain I was going to get fired. I’d ask him, “Was that okay?,” and he’d say, “Yeah, that was fine.” But I wasn’t sure what that meant, if it was good or not. But then I figured out that he doesn’t want to distract you or have you over think it. And I got to like that a lot. Then, you know, sometimes he’d say, “Oh, that was good” or “That was really funny,” and you‘d breathe a sigh of relief. My favorite was when he said “That was a lot funnier than I thought it was going to be.” He just wants everything to be as natural and real as possible. I think his favorite takes were when we messed up.
I understand that his takes are really long, like the entire scene in one take. How was that?
WOOD: Yes, he does an entire scene — ten pages even — in one take from beginning to end. It’s a little unpredictable. If he gets it in one take it’s done and that’s it. But if you screw up on the next to the last line, you do the entire take again. He’s not like, “Can I take that line again?” It’s “Can I take that scene again?” With Woody, you have to work hard to be ready all the time. Like we’d sit in Larry’s room and run lines. We were lucky we all got along really well, and that we had time to keep running our massive amount of lines.
Did you improvise at all, or did you all go with what was in the script?
WOOD: Actually, I tried it once when we were shooting at Grant’s Tomb, and I just lost it completely. I didn’t even know where I was. So I didn’t try that again. I’d say I was afraid to change anything, but even more than that, the script was so good we really didn’t want to change it.
You’ve been working and in the media spotlight since you were a kid. Do you find it difficult to live your professional and private life under such close public scrutiny?
WOOD: It’s not my problem. I don’t really care. I’m going to be, who I’m going to be and if someone’s got an issue with that, I’m sorry. But I’m happy being who I am. I mean, yeah, it is hard — actually harder — to know that my friends and family have to read stuff. It actually affects them more than it does me, and that’s what makes me angry. But you know life’s too short, to pay that much attention to these things…
Of all the characters you’ve played, which one’s closest to you?
Probably Lucy in ‘Across the Universe.’ I mean, I felt like everything she was going through in that movie, I was going through, too, at the same time.
We’re looking forward to seeing you this season as Queen of the Vampires in “True Blood.” Are you excited about playing a vampire?
WOOD: I’m very excited. I’ve wanted to play a vampire since I was five. So, I’ve been preparing for this role my whole life and I’m ready. I’m playing the Vampire Queen of Louisiana. She’s 400 years old and gay, so it’s going to be a good one. I got fitted for my fangs — they just take over. You can’t help but just snarl and be evil. It’s great. I’m ready to go. I’m in the last two episodes — which upsets me a little because I know how the season ends and I‘m such a fan of the show I just like to watch it play out. But she’s fierce and very scary. And, after the way the season ends, I think I kind of have to be back next season. But we’ll see.
Do you have an opinion about why vampires are so popular right now?
WOOD: You know, the vampire craze comes and goes in waves but it’s always around even if it‘s underground. There’s been this whole teenage vampires thing. Like “The Lost Boys” thing, you know. Which I liked a lot. And now there’s this whole “Twilight” thing. It’s romantic. They’re sexy and scary at the same time.
You’re set to play Mary Jane in the Spiderman musical. How‘re things going with that?
WOOD: Great. It’s going to be a crazy, rock ‘n roll circus show. Julie Taymor’s doing what she did for “The Lion King” with “Spiderman.“ It’s just a whole other level of stuff. We did the workshop, then I worked with Julie and Bono and The Edge to learn the songs. I love the music and they did a fantastic job writing for the stage. We start rehearsing in October. Then we open in February. I’m sworn to secrecy on the other details — it is going to be really good.
Do you have a favorite Woody Allen film?
WOOD: I couldn’t say. They’re all so different. But, well, I guess I’d have to say, I’m partial to “Whatever Works.”