“If you can’t hear the whole truth, you will never know true empathy,” Wood told the congressional committee as she sat alongside advocates from the anti-sexual violence organization RISE and the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN). “I believe in the saying ‘If we have to live through it, then you should have to hear it.’”
Wood will appear Friday before a different kind of audience ― and in a starkly different role. As the star of the new movie “Allure,” which opens March 16, she plays a former survivor turned abuser who becomes obsessed with, seduces and emotionally abuses a teenage girl.
Wood said she chose the darker role of Laura, initially written for a male actor, for “glaringly obvious” reasons. “I’m one of these artists where the movies that I choose reflect what I’m thinking about or what I’m going through or what I want to communicate,” Wood told HuffPost over the phone this week.
“I have not seen an abuse story told in this way or from this angle,” she added.
Wood speaks as “an artist, survivor, mother and advocate” who’s faced the aftermath of maltreatment herself: feelings of shame, depression, addiction, agoraphobia and even suicide attempts.
“I would be considered a lucky one,” she explained. “I had resources and the means when I needed it, and thank God I had the awareness to say, ‘I have to go get help.’ I was afraid to ask for it for a really long time, but eventually you get to a point where you’re like, I have to do this, otherwise the alternative is death.”
For Wood, playing an abuser on screen was a near-back-breaking experience ― but a fulfilling one, as well. Wood’s character, a housekeeper who’s experienced abuse herself, struggles to maintain mental stability throughout Carlos and Jason Sanchez’s thriller as she manipulates and comes to depend on young Eva, played by Julia Sarah Stone. The story is, as Wood describes it, a 360-degree view of trauma.
Below, Wood discusses “Allure,” her life as an activist and the importance of telling twisted stories.
“Allure” explores the mental trauma that affects survivors of abuse. It’s a dark film to take on, so what made you want to do it?
I do believe in equal opportunities for women on film sets, on screen and behind the scenes. Character-wise, I think that also means not just being heroic but being flawed. Playing the not-likable ones, the darker, more complex ones. So I thought, you want equal opportunity for women? That also means in this way: looking at the dark side.
I was drawn to it because the role was originally written for a man, and I’ve been really curious about taking on a role that was gender-swapped — I think it’s an interesting concept. And then when I read [the script], it struck so close to home and was true. I have not seen an abuse story told in this way or from this angle. I think that’s what I loved about this movie is, usually, you only see the story from one side, and this was a 360-degree view of how this happens, how it’s perpetuated and how it gets passed on to other people. In that way, it was abuse sort of as I know it, which is as a virus that spreads.
Whether you become an abuser or you abuse yourself or your life is altered by abuse, it’s something that’s set in a seed that’s planted, and you never really know what it’s going to grow into. If not dealt with properly, then you have people like Laura, who are prisoners of their own trauma. She lived in poverty, there’s an impression that she’s been gaslit and controlled her whole life, and when she does the things she does, especially in the beginning, she doesn’t even think that what she’s doing is abuse. It’s the only version of love that she’s ever known, and that’s a tragedy in its own right. It’s not an excuse, because I do feel at some point adults are responsible for their own actions and you can make a choice, but it definitely gives us an understanding of the psychology behind an abuser.
Which we don’t often see on screen.
I think we’re not going to answer the problem until we ask why somebody is like that and not just go, “Oh, well, they’re mentally ill or they’re a monster.” But why? You know? I feel like this movie is more about the why, and it was a conversation I wanted us to be having. I knew it wasn’t going to be fun. It was going to be weird for me to play an abuser considering I’ve been abused, but I also thought that it would be therapeutic and that I would have a lot of truth to offer this film, so it seemed like a good fit.
There’s definitely something powerful about an artist doing something that reflects what they’re passionate about.
Absolutely. There’s a real basic view of these things sometimes, very black and white, if you will, which is why I think people don’t understand abuse and don’t understand how a woman could go back to somebody who abused them over and over and over again, or how you could have Stockholm syndrome or how you have no place to go or how manipulative people can be. There are people who don’t have your best interests at heart, who are damaged, who do want to manipulate you and know exactly what they’re doing. We just don’t want to believe that that exists. But more and more people are realizing that we can’t ignore it anymore, and now that we know it’s there, we have to start asking the hard questions — abusers are monsters, yes, but they were a kid once. What happened to the kid?
Do you find that now, with the Me Too and Time’s Up movements, these harder conversations are opening up and people are no longer afraid to address issues anymore?
Oh, yeah. I think the gloves are off for everyone right now. We tried it one way and it’s not working, and, not only that, I think it’s the last straw. Again, I can only speak from my experience, as a woman ― and what I’m gathering from other women is everybody has a limit. You can get to a point where all the things that scare you start to define you, and then after a while you’re just flipping into gear and not actually living your life. I feel like I’m at a point where its involuntary to be, safely, as honest and open and as vulnerable with people, whether it’s my work or my activism or my writing, because nowadays it’s this sea of information of black and white.
The thing that shocks people now is real vulnerability and honesty and someone willing to go, “Hey, I’m not perfect and I’m in pain.” It’s not popular opinions or opinions we’re all in denial of. It’s funny to me that all of us are still trying to walk around like we’re not imperfect and trying to be whoever you want to be instead of just connecting with each other about our imperfections and talking about it.
It brings me back to seeing video of you testifying last month alongside other victims of abuse — using your platform to help others fight the same fight as you.
You only have five minutes to sum up your whole life trauma [laughs], and you’re watching the clock tick down as you’re doing it. On the day of my testimony, they were asking me, “Are you nervous or intimidated to do this?” Luckily, it’s my job to walk into really surreal, overwhelming, intense situations and bare my soul — that I’m not worried about. That’s why I feel like art and politics can meet. We need help making policies, but we also need artists to come in and put their hats in the ring once in a while because it’s their life work to show the core of humanity and figure out why people do the things they do, and we could bridge that gap more and have the conversation.
Your character Laura in “Allure” is bringing pain into someone else’s life while dealing with her own trauma. You play her beautifully, even though it’s not an easy role to take on. How did you mentally prepare?
First thing I do is usually make a playlist. Music is really where I kind of go to disappear into a world or a vibe. I’m also one of those people who can feel sound. I think that’s why I love music so much, because I can just feel it in my body — a violin can just make me cry, because it feels like it’s literally bowing at my heart. So it helps put me in a headspace. And then I was really a recluse during this film. I shut myself away. I wanted to be like Laura. I wanted to be alone and left with my own thoughts and my own darkness to explore that.
Luckily, I’ve done enough work on myself and with my trauma, which is still a work in progress and I’m still going through it a bit. I was at a point in my life that I felt strong enough that I could do this and go there but know that I could get back. It was like I had a little rope tied around me and I could go in deep and be able to pull myself back out. It was difficult but therapeutic, and it did take a second to shake. It was not easy.
Let’s talk about Julia Sarah Stone, who was wonderful as Eva. What kind of prep went into building that bond between the two of you?
We looked at so many [actresses], because it was really important that we got this right. As wrong as it was and is, if the relationship didn’t work, you couldn’t believe it or understand how it might happen or believe that there was some weird version of attraction or love in there. Then, it’s just “you’re my captive,” and it’s black and white again. But this was more complicated. This was psychological and talked about a lot of things we don’t talk about in abusive relationships, which is all this abuse is disguised as love. If you’re already vulnerable, if you’re already powerless, if you’re looking for belonging, if you’re looking for love, [it’s there]. Some people have never experienced unconditional love. It’s a foreign concept to most people who know love, but if you’ve never experienced it, how are you supposed to know?
Right, the same goes for Laura.
She doesn’t realize she’s abusing Eva in the beginning. She sees herself in that — she thinks she’s saving her. And because of her mental illnesses and her traumas, there’s that dichotomy of Laura. I think there are times that Laura is regretful and is not in control of herself and doesn’t know what she’s doing and is scared of herself, but ultimately can’t stop this because it’s bigger than her now and she needs real fucking help. If it goes unchecked, it can develop into that. Again, it was important to me that you empathize with her. In no way is what she’s doing OK nor is her past an excuse; it’s definitely a reason and an understanding. The goal is not to let her off the hook. It’s to paint a broader, more detailed, complex picture of abuse and abusers so that we can do something instead of just writing it off.
“Allure” is in theaters and on-demand Friday.