Evan Rachel Wood needed two months of musical training just to prepare for the three-month shoot of the HBO miniseries “Mildred Pierce,” where she played the teenage and adult version of Veda, the evil and manipulative — but immensely talented — daughter of Kate Winslet‘s title character.
That work is paying off, as there’s a good chance that she’ll get a nomination — and be the favorite — for an Emmy in the outstanding supporting actress in a miniseries or movie category. She is also on the ballot for a guest actress nod for playing Queen Spohie-Anne Leclerq on HBO’s “True Blood,” which she continues to play in its just-started fourth season.
Recently, Wood sat with Zap2it to talk about preparing for “Pierce,” the bummed-out mood she was in while she was filming it, and why it seems that her roles mirror her well-documented life off-camera.
Zap2it: There’s a lot of Emmy buzz surrounding your role in “Mildred Pierce.” When that kind of talk starts, do you start to get uncomfortable with it?
Evan Rachel Wood: I don’t usually get uncomfortable. It’s a nice thing; it’s always nice to be appreciated, especially when you’ve worked very hard, and I’m pretty proud of it. So I’m glad it’s for something that I genuinely kinda think I did the work for.
Knowing the history of the part of Veda Pierce, and how tough and emotionally distant shewould be, how did you prepare? Did you read the book or watch the original movie?
I didn’t watch the original film because I didn’t want to have it in my mind. I was immediately excited about the idea of the movie and about Kate and [director/co-writer] Todd [Haynes]; I’m big fans of them both. But, yeah, the part itself was really daunting because having to play somebody so evil and unlikable and still trying to make her human was really difficult. And I knew there would be a lot of work involved with the opera, the piano and the dialect. We all knew that we were accepting a big, big challenge [laughs].
How tough is it for you to play someone so emotionally distant like that?
It’s really difficult, actually [chuckles]. I mean, the frame of mind you have to be in is certainly dark. Veda is an extremely dark person. But to have to go there in your mind and justify the reasons why you’re doing these things in the moment, it’s hard, and it weighs on you at the end of the day, you know? It was hard to shake Veda.
In what way was it hard to shake her?
Well, just having to be in that head space all day, and then you still have to go home and be normal. But it’s kinda like you have this rain cloud over you.
In what ways would that come out?
Just in my mood. I wasn’t mean, and I didn’t become evil or anything [chuckles]. I was just deep in that zone. It was very tiring and exhausting, pretty much.
Was there any good way you were able to decompress from playing Veda, either during filming or after filming was over?
Luckily, we filmed in New York, so it’s a good city to get out in and meet good people and get in a good mood, so that definitely helps. I have good friends here. But there wasn’t a lot of time to play.
For the operatic parts, what did you have to learn in order to embody this great singer you were playing?
I had to learn the breathing, the way the mouth moved, the shape the mouth makes. I had to study the different languages so I was pronouncing everything right [in the music], obviously; just had to do a lot of memorization. I had a great coach. And I didn’t listen to any other music during those three months except the opera, so that’s how I knew it like the back of my hand. I didn’t allow myself to listen to any other music.
So you’d walk around with your iPod on and all you were listening to was opera?
Yeah. I even listened to it in my sleep.
The part you play in “True Blood” is also manipulative and dark. What makes these kinds of characters compelling to you?
Villains are always the most fun to play for some strange reason. They’re more colorful and interesting characters. So I think that might be why, and everyone wants to play a vampire, I think [laughs].
Do you think there’s an element of your personal history in the roles that you pick?
No, I don’t think one has to do with the other. I try to keep the two separate when I can.
Does it surprise you when people do try to link the two and they try to relate what’s gone on in your personal life with the roles you pick?
Sure. But I try not to pay too much attention to it because I don’t want people to associate the roles I do with my personal life. A role is a role, and it’s another person. It’s not me.
What is it about the mother/daughter conflict in “Mildred Pierce,” as well as some of your other roles, like “Thirteen,” that make people want to watch?
Well, I think because I was so young [in ‘Thirteen’] that that was just going to be a storyline, that was what I was always going to be playing until I grew up. That’s just kind of a given when you’re a teenager. I don’t know… I think it’s an important relationship, and I think it’s one of the most complicated ones for any two people. The mother-daughter relationship is always either really great or really terrible. I think it’s just an interesting dynamic. Honestly, I’m not seeking those roles out. I know it must not seem that way. But they kind of just fall into my lap.
Did you use any fights between you and your mom in your acting process?
I used to really just draw from personal stuff, but I think I’ve had enough experience and time now that I don’t have to use my personal pain for roles anymore, which is nice for me.
What do you draw on now?
I’m not sure. I’ve tried to explain it to people before; when I’m on the set and I’m in the wardrobe and they yell “action,” everything disappears. And I can’t see the camera and I can’t see anything and it really becomes real to me in that moment. So I just try and listen. I mean, that’s the best way I can describe it; that’s how I react the way I do. I just listen to what the other person is saying.
Is that something that you need to take some time to learn as an actor?
Absolutely. And I think it’s better that I’ve been doing it since I was little, where that came kind of naturally to me, because when you’re little, that’s what you do, you play make-believe. So I guess I’ve just carried that into adulthood, and I’ve tried to hold onto that as much as I can.
You’ve sung in movies before, but it’s not the same, right?
No, you have to train your whole life. But I do sing. They had me singing an octave lower under the playback when we filmed it so it would really look like I was singing, which I was.
Did anyone come to you and say, “I didn’t know you had such a great voice?”
Oh yeah, some people still really think it’s me. Which is good, but I don’t want to take anything away from the woman [Sumi Jo] that actually did it [laughs]. I’ll say it’s not me, but I will say that what I did was not easy. I almost wish that I’d actually been really si
nging; that would have easier than to have to mimic someone else, basically. That’s much harder, actually.
Most of the scenes between you and Kate Winslet were emotionally charged. Were there things that either of you did to help you get through those scenes?
Kate definitely made everyone laugh, whether it be the middle of the night and we were working all day and we have to do this really emotional, long scene, and she’s just making jokes. And we start giggling and acting silly. To get through something as serious and dramatic as that, you have to act silly in order to keep your sanity.
What’s a good example of that?
I don’t know if I can repeat it [laughs].
Can you give me a little bit of what’s going on with your character on “True Blood?“
I can’t say anything, all I can say is that there’s a big surprise coming, and that’s all I can say.
In the beginning, middle or end of the season?
Beginning. I’ve already said too much [laughs].