“She’s got a maturity beyond her years,” says Annette Bening, who costars with Wood and Gwyneth Paltrow in Running With Scissors. “She’s so much younger than I was when she started acting, so our trajectories are so different. I was going to community college when I was 20.”
That Wood grew up so fast has a lot to do with her breakthrough role as Tracy, the girl who slowly destroys herself in the attempt to win her best friend’s approval in Thirteen—a role that ended up dovetailing into her own adolescent trials. At 9, after the divorce of her parents (both actors), she moved with her mom from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Hollywood. At first, Wood still talked more like you’d expect the popular girl in middle school to talk—about her million friends, about getting her nails done. But something was stirring underneath. “Lots of teenage angst,” Wood says. She was tired of being the popular girl. She looked around and realized she had nothing in common with the mean-girl mall-comber cliques—she was different: “I felt like there was so much going on and I was in so much pain and nobody got it and I was just screaming for somebody out there to tell me that I wasn’t weird.”
So when shooting began for Thirteen, she channeled it all into Tracy. “We did one take and I totally blacked out,” she says. “All I remember is starting the scene, and then the next thing I know, Catherine [Hardwicke, the director] just came and lifted me off the floor and took me in the other room and laid me on the bed.” It took her months to come down from the part. When it was over, Wood kept buying “Tracy” things—clothes that her character would wear.
But now she’s buying Evan things again—her first home among them. “I’m such a crazy perfectionist, I probably stood in Linens ’n Things looking at the square plates or the round plates for, like, 10 minutes, going, “God, this is a big decision. These are my first plates! What am I going to get? What do I do?!”
And though she slept on the floor the first few nights and had to learn hard little realities—drawers, it turns out, do not come with can openers—you get the feeling that the skinny girl picking at the threads around the holes in her jeans can handle it, just as she’s handling an industry that has already elevated her to imminent-Oscar status. Hell, she may even work up the nerve to order a pizza.