Evan Rachel Wood and Ellen Page play siblings who close ranks when it becomes clear that they are each other's last defence against the world. But while Into the Forest is a stark reminder of vulnerability, it is also a portrait of sisterhood, and the push-and-pull of subsuming love that comes with it.
Wood, who, at 28, has blossomed into a dynamic and magnetic actor, demonstrates tremendous emotional range in her role as Eva, an aspiring dancer and older sister to Nell, the more emotional and impulsive of the pair. On the phone with Refinery29, Wood explained that she was drawn to the film was because of how chillingly true to life the apocalypse at its centre seemed to her. "This is what the world would really look like," she said. "These are the dangers we’d be faced with. All the things that we take for granted — it was an amazing reminder of that."
Here's what else Wood had to say about sisterhood in Hollywood, the pro-choice debate, and what it was like to get lost in Into the Forest.
Into the Forest is heavy stuff — did you feel any anxiety going into filming?
"Ellen and I were attached to it a year before we made it, so we spent that year hanging out and bonding. We already had this amazing foundation going into it and felt like sisters. Then we really kind of starved ourselves: We were on these very regimented diets and everything was kind of measured out. I remember a lot of chickpeas and lettuce throughout filming [laughs].
"I really felt in that headspace of just being deprived and hungry and on edge. It was just one of those movies — one of those roles — that you just knew that was what was called for. It was hard, but it was a really interesting kind of experiment. And certainly, I think I put myself through the most, physically and emotionally, on this film than a lot of things I’ve done."
"Normally we’re always competing for the same roles: Most mainstream films have one main female role, and you don’t normally get to act with your Ellen Pages and your Jennifer Lawrences and your Brie Larsons. It’s usually one or the other. It was just cool for us right away to be like, ‘Wow, I’ve admired you for so long, now I get to watch you work and we get to work together, and it’s like our powers combined are just going to be insane!’
"It was that immediate. And also we both were child actors and have had very similar experiences, so right away we were kind of connected on that level. We met at this point in our lives, we’re both on this precipice of change and growth. She was just about to give her big coming-out speech, and I was just about to get divorced. So we immediately latched onto each other through our journeys. I think going through those experiences together really bonded us almost immediately."
There's a push-and-pull to Nell and Eva's relationship that is just spot-on sister tension: that desire to be fused but also separate. Can you relate?
"Absolutely. Maybe I’m just going to project right now, but... What this film shows is, at the end of the day, you can't take things for granted and you shouldn’t hold back love because when everything is taken away, it’s the bonds you have with people, those relationships, that really get you through everything.
"I’m certainly guilty of withholding love to protect myself or to not overwhelm people, [or] because it makes you just really vulnerable. I think some people view [love] as letting that person have power over you, if they know how much you care about them. I thought that was a really interesting element to their journey in this movie. Also how their roles flip-flop: In the beginning, Eva kind of takes on the mother role. After she goes through all of her trauma, Ellen’s character really takes on the mama-bear role [laughs]. Then by the end, I feel like they’re both women and they’ve gone through this crazy metamorphosis and are just completely different people."
Can we talk about how the power outage is just a little too close for comfort in terms of worst case scenarios these days?
"It made me want to take survival courses and it honestly... When my son gets older, I [will tell him], ‘Alright, I want to go out in the woods and [learn] how to make a shelter and a fire and forage for food.’ Because you just never know nowadays — I feel like you kind of have to be prepared for everything. The world is nuts right now. We don’t have infinite resources and we are being a bit careless, so I think these are going to be skills that may come in handy at some point. If not for him, he can pass it on to his kids, or something."
Most mainstream films have one main female role, and you don’t normally get to act with your Ellen Pages and your Jennifer Lawrences and your Brie Larsons. It’s usually one or the other.
"Honestly, there was no difference. It was just women. We made a movie and it went how it usually goes [laughs]. What did stick out was our crew, which is usually made up of men, and just how wonderful they were, and respectful. I never felt patronised, I always felt they viewed us as equals. I think that’s what really made the difference: that all the people who were behind us really had our backs and respected us and believed in us, so everything went so seamless."
You have a lot of physically and emotionally challenging scenes in the film. What was the most difficult for you?
"Any time I had to see Ellen in pain, that was really hard. Like the scene where she’s having a nightmare and can’t stop crying... I was so protective of her. And the scene where Ellen and I sort of say goodbye for a brief amount of time, that was really hard. And obviously, the scene [of the attack]. I think that was an intense day for everyone. Those are never fun scenes. I was really filled with dread the whole time leading up to it. There’s nothing that can really prepare you for that.
"I think the way that we filmed it doesn’t glamorise [the rape], doesn’t allow you to detach. You really have to sit with the uncomfortableness. We don’t show anything except the pain and the trauma and the evolution of what happens to a person when they’re violated in that way. And I think it’s important to show the aftermath as well — I think that’s one thing people forget, is that it’s not just the act itself, it’s the emotional and psychological scarring that it leaves behind which are really the hardest things to overcome."
I’m certainly guilty of withholding love to protect myself or to not overwhelm people.
"I thought about that a lot... They’re struggling so much already. Everything is constantly being taken away. And I think anything that would resemble another death to her — it was just too much to bear. She made a choice and she chose life. She can’t take anymore, it’s too much. I think we even address it in the film: We say, 'Well, surely you’re not against not having it if you don’t want it.’ And that’s when she says, 'No, absolutely not. I’m making the choice and I want it.' And that is what pro-choice is about: It’s about choice. It’s a case-by-case basis."
Next up for you is the Westworld series on HBO, another look at a semi-dystopian future. Can you spill anything?
"It’s about so much more than a theme park gone wrong — [it's] a real in-depth look at humanity and our future, and it’s very existential and intellectual and meta. The twists are pretty mind-blowing — I’m on the show and I didn’t see some of them coming. What they’re doing with the female characters is going to be really revolutionary, and I think people should know it’s all the fun HBO stuff: We got a shootout, we got all the craziness. But there’s another layer to it that I think is really going to blow the roof off."
Into the Forest, written and directed by Patricia Rozema, opens in theaters on July 29.