Wood uneasy in spotlight

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      TORONTO–At 20, Evan Rachel Wood has already won praise and awards for her performances in independent films like Thirteen, The Upside of Anger, and Running With Scissors. She is also one of the most talked-about actors at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, thanks to her work in two movies, King of California and Across the Universe, the latter opening Friday (September 14) in Vancouver. She has also received some bad publicity lately, due to her relationship with an older (by 18 years) married man, rocker Marilyn Manson.

      "I have stopped reading everything," she says in a hotel room at the festival, "but people will still come up to you and say, 'Have you heard what this person is saying about you?' I will say, 'Thanks, I was trying to ignore that.' So it has been hard recently, but it [bad press] is just like being bullied in school. You don't know the bully and you don't care what that bully thinks, but it doesn't stop it from hurting. I am trying to not let the outside world affect what I am doing or hold me back."

      Wood had never come to the attention of the tabloid press before her relationship with Manson. Now, apparently, she has the paparazzi on her trail, and since she is unhappy with the attention she's getting, it's not surprising that she's critical of those who seek the spotlight.

      "I don't buy it when people say it [being harassed by photographers] is not their fault, because there is a way to control it. My taste of celebrity has convinced me that I wasn't built for it. Maybe it was the way I was brought up, but it is really terrifying for me when a bunch of people are staring at me or chasing me. Just the other night, people were jumping on the car and banging on the windows. I don't think people can imagine how scary that is. It is like a strange dream. It becomes animalistic to me, and that is creepy. I try my best to stay out of it. It was never why I became an actress at all. It was not what I was raised for, and it is not for me."

      Wood's parents are actors who raised her on a diet of theatre productions ranging from Anton Chekhov to William Shakespeare. Her big break was in 2004's indie hit Thirteen, and she has been busy ever since. In Across the Universe, she plays an Ohio cheerleader who follows her brother and a friend to New York in the 1960s, and then becomes involved in the anti–Vietnam War movement.

      The film, directed by award-winning theatre director Julie Taymor, is a musical that uses Beatles songs for its inspiration and soundtrack. Taymor asked her actors to sing their songs live in front of the camera. Wood says although she has always thought of herself as a singer, she wasn't sure that she was ready to sing them the way that Taymor wanted them sung.

      "I was horrified when I learned we were doing them live," she says. "I was certain that I would have to lip-synch. I got over that fear, but the work wasn't easy. We all had to wear earphones on set. The actors were the only people who could hear the music, and when you are in a room full of people and you can hear a pin drop when people start singing, it is like hearing someone sing to their iPod. It never sounds good."

      Although the film's being released by Columbia Pictures, its risky approach is more characteristic of independent works. Wood says that she, too, isn't interested in making movies that are easy to market.

      "I am a very passionate person, which is why I try to get involved with people who are making movies for the right reasons. That is kind of why I am drawn to independent film. There isn't a lot of money to be made”¦so everyone is only there because they love the film. I am not against money or making big films, but if I am miserable, I am not inspired. It will make me hate myself, because so much of me is what I do, and acting is so much a part of me and how I express myself. I have to be able to take something away from it and to learn something about myself. Otherwise, I am going to feel that I sold my soul."