EVAN RACHEL WOOD on Pretty Persuasion Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
August 8, 2005
In the dark comedy Pretty Persuasion, an emotionally starved teenage lolita named Kimberly Joyce (Evan Rachel Wood) will stop at nothing in her quest for fame as an actress. Crafty, amoral, and manipulative, Kimberly draws her two close friends (Elisabeth Harnois and Adi Schnall) into a plot to pin a sexual harassment charge on their hapless English teacher, Mr. Anderson (Ron Livingston). The resulting scandal turns high school life in Beverly Hills into a media feeding frenzy, with Kimberly reaping the benefits at the expense of all those around her.
Directed by Marcos Siega from a script by Skander Halim, Pretty Persuasion was an acclaimed entry at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, and also features supporting performances from Selma Blair and Jane Krakowski, and an over-the-top turn by James Woods as Kimberly's crass, racist id of a father.
In this interview, Pretty star Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen, Once and Again) talks about working on the film and playing a character of such wicked design.
MEDIA: How would you say your role of Kimberly compares to the girl you played in Thirteen?
EVAN: She's way worse! [laughs] At least the character in Thirteen wasn't a bad person. She just wanted to be accepted. You know, though...actually, that's kind of what this character's doing, too. They're both just not getting the love and the attention that they need, and so they're acting out in the only ways that they know how. And they both feel alone, and they both [melodramatically] "just wanna be loved!"
But isn't Kimberly after fame and fortune?
I think she's convinced herself that she just wants fame and fortune, but no, she definitely wants love. And I think you see that in certain moments of the film. She crumbles a little bit. And you can see that she's really just this scared little girl. So no, I think she definitely puts up that front of, "No, I don't care, I just want to get famous and it's all about me." And I think deep down, that really kills her.
Have you encountered people like Kimberly in your own life?
Yeah. I based it on one specific girl, actually, who was exactly like this, and was older than everybody else, and totally used her sexuality to just manipulate everybody just so she could get in that queen bee position, and acted like my best friend, and then had no problem stabbing me in the back...but all with a smile on her face. And that's just the worst kind. So that's how I wanted to do Kimberly.
Do you think the movie offers a fair portrayal of high schools in Beverly Hills?
It's a pretty fair portrayal of just high school in general. I mean, not every teenager is like that, but you seriously cannot talk to one person who doesn't know the first and last name of the mean boy or girl at their school. Like you could just point to somebody and they'd be like, "Oh, this person made my life a living hell!" Like there's always somebody there doing it.
But isn't Kimberly a bit of an extreme?
Yeah, of course. [laughs] Although I really wouldn't put it past some people to go as far as she did.
James Woods plays a very foul, over-the-top character in this movie. What was it like working with him?
Oh my God! James Woods...[laughs] I've always loved him and I was so excited about working with him. I think he's an amazing actor, and he's always done constant, flawless work. And working with him, we just never knew what was going to come out of his mouth. So keeping a straight face was the hardest thing ever. We should all get Academy Awards for just managing to stay in the scene with James and not lose it. And he would know it. He would just know. He would just sit there and go, "How far can I go before you're just going to laugh, and you're going to crack?" So you can actually see tears in my eyes in some of the shots.
Director Marcos Siega mentioned the Kleenex scene...
That's it. That's one of them. You see it on my face. Because I didn't know he was going to whip the Kleenex out and do that. And when he does, you just see me look down, and I just kind of lean back and then look up at him like, "Why did you do that? Why? Oh no, we still got a long scene ahead of us! Why?!" [laughs] And the whole movie was shot on one lens. So a lot of the scenes are in one shot, and that was one of them that we couldn't screw up. And it took so long. We couldn't do it to save our lives. It was terrible, man.
You were originally cast as Brittany, the character ultimately played by Elisabeth Harnois. Was there something that particularly attracted you to that role?
I would have played anything in the movie. I loved the script. It was just totally my sense of humor. I love that dark comedy of like, "Oh my God, that's so wrong, it's so funny!" And the "Oh, I shouldn't be laughing at this, but I am, because I know that that is so true." And I just loved how it just didn't shy away from anything. It was completely uncensored. I thought that was really cool.
What convinced Marcos to have you play Kimberly instead?
I don't know. [laughs] You'd have to ask him. He switched me to Kimberly before Thirteen...before any of that. So I don't know.
What was the atmosphere like on set, and do you find many differences in working with a female director, as you did in Thirteen, versus a male director?
[laughs] Thirteen was just so much female energy. It was always so chaotic. All my best friends are guys, so I usually do better with a male director. And the whole crew was guys, too. And it was such a weird female teen sexuality movie...I mean, I couldn't believe how cool and respectful everybody on the set was. And really, everybody just seemed like my older brother and they were always being really protective and taking care of me. Nothing was ever weird or uncomfortable. Yeah, it was really great.
It seems as though some of the scenes could have been uncomfortable for you, despite the mood on set. Were there plot elements you would have liked to change?
I never wanted to change anything. [laughs] I mean, there was stuff I was uncomfortable with, but I knew it was all very important and I wanted to do it. But Marcos had a rule that if you're ever uncomfortable with anything, the crew had to do it first. So I had to do the strip tease dance, and I think Marcos got like five grips to come over and do it first, and that really helped, because I really did feel okay after that. Jane Krakowski, when she had to take her shirt off, made the whole crew shoot the scene with no shirts on, and also made the entire crew fake an orgasm before she had to. It's all on tape. [laughs] That was a fun night. So yeah, that's just kind of how it was.
If you were trying to convince someone to watch Pretty Persuasion, what would you say?
Ummm...[laughs] Everybody says this, but this time it's actually true: it's really got everything in it. You'll laugh till you're crying. You'll be in shock. I think you really learn something from it, and you really take away something from it. And no matter what, it'll definitely have you talking. Whether you love it or you hate it, it'll be in your mind, and you'll definitely have a strong opinion about it.