Evan Rachel Wood: Artist.
The iconoclastic actor/activist goes to Washington D.C. and sings Bowie - but not necessarily at the same time

By Lee Valentine Smith

It's not unusual to interview an artist on their way to an airport; sometimes it's their only window of quiet time in a daily schedule. But in the case of busy actor/musician/activist Evan Rachel Wood, a call to INsite on her way to LAX was her only respite in an otherwise hectic day.

This time her destination wasn't another film set. She was on her way to Capitol Hill to speak to Congress about the Sexual Assault Bill of Rights. Not exactly the typical stuff of an actor's life, but then Wood, also an editor at Nylon Magazine and star of HBO's Westworld, isn't your typical actor.

"Allure," her latest film, is slated for release this month and the inventive Westworld returns to cable soon but music and activism remain her favorite forms of expression. Music has been a constant presence in her life since growing up in an artist's enclave in North Carolina and it remains a recurring thread in all of her work.

You'll be speaking to a House Judiciary Subcommittee tomorrow. That sounds especially imposing; how do you feel about it?

I'm not so much scared as overwhelmed with the reality of the situation and what it means to be there representing so many people. It's incredible because it means we are being heard. I don't have to be nervous about what I'm going to say, I just have to be as honest and as vulnerable as possible. Luckily that's what I do for a living but it's different when it's your own story.

We shouldn't even have to discuss this in modern times, but the reality of it is we still need to stand up and talk about it.

It is amazing we still have to do it, but the reality is somebody's gotta do it. Amanda Nguyen [of www.risenow.us] has been my lifeline in all this and she will be there with me. She was not happy with the laws and she went to Congress and helped to change them. Her story was so inspiring to me and made me believe in the power that I have.

You'll be there representing the Sexual Assault Survivors Bill of Rights, which is so important and timely.

I think people don't quite know what sexual assault survivors' rights are, what the aftermath is like or the hoops they'll have to jump through. I didn't even know until I heard Amanda's story. When you start delving into the issue, there's so many things and factors that contribute to it, but one glaring issue is there are roughly 400,000 untested rape kits. When you ask the question as to why, it's for the worst reason, in that there isn't a reason. It's just a matter of importance. I think by us going in there and telling our stories as honestly as possible, it will give people context as to why it is important.

As a man, it's unconscionable that this is still an issue to be discussed.

But a lot of men don't realize that it's a men's issue too. For every woman that's raped, there's a young boy that grew up to be a rapist. That's a tragedy in itself. So we're losing just as many men to this epidemic. It's time to stop writing it off as, 'Oh that's just how men are.' I have a son and I believe he's much more valuable than that. I want him to grow up in a world where he realizes this is one step in the right direction. Everyone has their own reality and their own story and unless we tell those stories, we'll never really understand each other. It's time we all listen to one another and put the pieces together.

Change will happen - but only if we continue to stand up.

It's happening right now and there's been a real shift, I think. Now we have to work to implement those changes.

Let's shift over to the Celebrating David Bowie show. How old were you when you discovered his music? Many of his classic albums were actually released before you were born.

That's true. Well for me, it started with "Labyrinth" (1986). I was 5. I saw this movie and this person was unlike anything I'd ever seen before. I immediately fell in love with his voice and his energy. After that, I stumbled upon one his albums in a music store with my mother when I was about 10. I had no idea he sang other songs so I was just so happy and shocked that I got more content from him.

So much content, and the catalog is ever-expanding.

Oh I'm still finding new songs! After I bought that best-of compilation with my mom, it really changed everything. I've grown to love everything he stood for: his art, his films, everything about him really. Losing him was such a turning point for me. It was another time when I thought, 'Ok, the torch has been passed. We have to keep it alive and keep his spirit going.'

He's such an icon, especially for creative people.

Yes, for being myself and not being afraid to be myself - especially if you have ideas that are a little out there. I was raised in North Carolina and I live in Tennessee now. But I was lucky in that I grew up in the arts triangle and I was encouraged to be expressive and weird and artistic. I've learned to be happy and be myself rather than trying to make other people happy.

And that's the main thing Bowie represents. No matter what sort of creative person you are, whether visual, musical or even an activist, he represented all of those things.

Yeah, he was everything. Now that I'm going to Washington, they asked me what my title was, what should be under my name. I said, 'artist.' It's not a profession for me, it's a way of life. In the same way his life was his art and it's how he expressed himself. That's how I live my life, or at least try to.

He's definitely one of the most iconic rock stars ever.

I've got pictures of him all over my house. I wasn't raised very religious; I study a lot of religions, but it wasn't really hardwired into me growing up. Art was our religion and to me Bowie was a beacon of light and hope. Anytime I ever felt weak or scared, I would listen to a song of his or look at his picture and I'd see him emanating this confidence and otherworldly wisdom. It kept me going. And now I think he's still with us as long as we're keeping the music alive.

What songs are you doing for the shows?

I kind of want it to be a surprise and it will probably be different for each show. But I will say that when [musical director and longtime Bowie collaborator] Mike Garson asked me to be a part of this, he hadn't read my eulogy for Bowie in Nylon or anything. He just asked me to pick five songs I might want to sing. I sent him a list I knew would be off the beaten path, maybe not the obvious choices. He wrote me back: 'Oh you really do get it.' I said, 'Yes, I do!' So to step in, sing his parts and try to capture his essence may be even more insane and unexpected than working with Bowie himself. It's something I definitely didn't see coming.

Celebrating David Bowie plays Atlanta on March 18 at the Buckhead Theater. To follow Evan's Nylon Magazine features, visit www.nylon.com/author/evan-rachel-wood. Wood's testimony can be seen via risenow.us.



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