Patricia Rozema's "Into the Forest," which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, tackles many of our dystopian fears in a world that's on the brink of an apocalypse. But you won't find any zombies here. Instead, the film stars Evan Rachel Wood and Elle Page as two young sisters who do their best to survive in their home in a secluded ancient forest. They are not only forced to fight against the elements, intruders, and starvation -- but also against their own loneliness and sense of isolation. They must fight to keep hope, and each other, alive.
Katherine Brodsky (@mysteriouskat on Twitter) caught up with Evan Rachel Wood on behalf of AICN to discuss her experiences making the film:
Q: Did you read the book before doing the movie? What kind of awareness did you have of the book?
Yes, but I didn't read it until after I've read the script. If you're doing a film based on a book, in certain cases, I feel like it's right to read the book and it's certainly the case here. The book is told from the point of view of Ellen [Page]'s character Nell and so there's a lot of inner dialogue and her observing my character. So it actually really worked out because so much of it is her talking about her sister and the love she has for her and everything she is going through. So it really helped a lot.
Q: Why do you think we are so fascinated by dystopian futures within pop culture?
I think because it's becoming more and more of a reality. One of the things that I loved about our film is that it is set in the not so distant future and there are small elements that are different than the world we know today. The phones and the TVs and the technology is a little different, but for the most part it looks the same. This is a more realistic look at what it would really be like if you lost every luxury in life. No phones no internet, no TV, no gas, no running water…and so we're not fighting zombies, we're just trying to survive.
Q: We're fighting ourselves in a way.
That too. We're fighting loneliness and depression and grief. It's more about just stripping somebody down to the bone and then [seeing] how you adapt and how you survive -- what really makes you feel. It's about getting back in touch with how we're supposed to be relating to nature and our surroundings. Not in a hippy dippy way, but you know, what DO we do when all our resources run out? Because it's kind of an inevitability. It could be a cautionary tale, or even a how-to because I wouldn't know how to build a fire or filter rain water or go hunting…real things you'd have to deal with.
Q: Me neither. I've tried to imagine myself surviving on a deserted island with no knowledge. It sure took a lot of imagination!
You can't google it! [She laughs]
Q: No, you can't. If google was around on a deserted island that would solve everything. And YouTube. Google and YouTube.
Yeah, I think we're all out of touch with knowing how to live off of the land nowadays.
Q: I don't know if you've seen The Walking Dead but I've seen a bit of it, and I love how the real danger isn't really from the 'walkers' because…you know…they are so slow…but rather, other people.
We're playing two young women by themselves in the woods in a lawless world. That would be super dangerous and people would take advantage of that situation so they have to deal with that as well and defend themselves. Everyday you go outside you're looking over your shoulder and waiting for somebody to attack you. You're constantly living in fear and desperation just hanging by a thread.
Q: As soon as you say "two women living alone in the woods" you know exactly where the tension's at…
Definitely. And we certainly touch upon that in the film. But we're also not victims. Nor are we tough-as-nails women who had never lost a battle. They have moments where they break and don't think they can go on and all is lost, but there is also hope. And the relationship that these sisters have, they really are the only two people left -- at least in their world. So it's about how they come together and defy all odds. So it's a really intense and powerful movie, but there's also such a beauty to it because it gets to the core of who we are as people.
Q: Speaking of sisterhood, with you and Ellen playing sisters…how did you two bond in a way that would be believable on the screen? Did you really bond?
We did! We had so much fun. The second she gave me the script and I read it, I basically fell to my knees because I haven't read anything as powerful in a…decade. So we were like 'alright' let's just hang out as much as possible before we have to film this movie because there's certain things that you can't fake. There's a comfortability or just these little looks you give each other…Sisters can talk to each other without saying anything, so we wanted to have that feeling. So we hung out for about a year. It was very easy. We got along famously and became great friends. I still consider her to be one of my best friends and soul sister. But it's funny. We're the same age, but I'm playing her older sister. And Ellen would say, "It's so funny, sometimes I really do feel like the baby." [She laughs]
Q: You hung out for an entire year? That seems...rare.
It is. But we just had to completely open ourselves up in every way. I felt that we were so connected and cared about each other. By the time we did the movie, there were certain moments where we'd be doing the scene and I'd totally forget that we were doing a scene and I'd think it was really happening. And when I'd see Ellen either shivering or crying, this instinct would just kick in and I had to mother her and take care of her. We really got each other through this movie. We were each other's rocks, for sure.
Q: In the movie, you're quite isolated. How did you create that feeling, despite having crews around you…and, you know, being on a movie set?!
We had a lot of fun in between takes -- because you had to or else you'd go crazy. So we kept it light. The crews were very respectful about giving us our space because I think they knew what we were trying to do. So for the most part it just felt like Ellen, me, and Patricia staying in the moment. When weren't filming, we only hung out with each other and were on super strict diets because they'd only have beans and rice, so it was crazy regimented. They'd measure everything out -- this is what you'd eat for the day. It's brutal. But necessary. I wanted to feel that "want" - to just look at chocolate and drool. And feel that.
Q: I'm not sure I need to be that deprived to drool over chocolate.
It doesn't feel good, but it was good for the movie. I tried not to use any luxury. I tried not to use my phone too much on set. I don't think that I watched any TV -- I tried to just hang out with Ellen and stay in it.
Q: What did you learn about survival from this experience?
Well, that it is possible. And so much of it is instinct. I think a lot of it we're born with and then we forget. I learned how to chop wood, filter water, dry out fruit, and can things so you could save them. Ellen got to learn how to hunt and skin animals.
Q: Wow. That's, uh--
You do what you've got to do to survive. She's upset the whole time she's doing it, but she has to because we'd starve otherwise. I actually really wanted to take a crazy survival course and go out in the wilderness to learn how to do everything, but we didn't have time.
Q: There's still time.
That's right, there's still the inevitable future. When the robots take over.
Q: That's right, when the robots take over. Speaking of the inevitable future, how do you find the light and hope in a hopeless situation filled with despair?
I don't want to give up too much, but what you learn is that classic tale of…it's all cycles. Where there's death, there's life. Where there's love, there's hope. I think that's kind of what the film is about. It's heavy but there's so much rebirth in the movie. They end up stronger and more together than when the movie started. So much has been taken away from them, but they've been given back so much priceless things -- not just stuff.
Q: Do you have something that you think about when the situation is harder, or darker?
When I was younger, before I had perspective, I was slightly more hopeless. When you're depressed you just think that this is forever. But now I've been through enough that I know how strong I am. When I have a bad time, I just go: 'This is just life. Up and down. There's peaks and valleys. This is a low, so that means there can only be a high.' There's a balance to everything. I usually hang on and just wait for that light.
Q: The next day.
That's right! You just have to hang on. That's what I've learned. You just hang on, it's a part of life. And if it's painful, you're probably learning something. So keep it mind! At least that's what I tell myself. [she laughs]
Q: Me too. When there's a really bad dark day, sometimes you feel just complete despair. But then another day arrives, the sun comes out and everything looks kind of pretty in the right light - something in you changes. You feel different.
You appreciate things more, yeah.
Q: You do, but it's also this sense of things being so temporary.
Yeah. Everything. The only consistent thing about life is change! Don't worry, nothing is forever.
Q: It's so easy to fall into the downward spiral, especially with all the news…
Yeah, and we definitely tend to report on a lot more of the bad things, so it's easy to think that's just the whole world. I'll feel that way every now and then. I'll walk down the street and feel like I can't handle it and that we're all going to hell in a hand-basket -- and then I'll see a couple making out on the street totally in love. And then I'll go: 'That's right. That's right! Don't be such a pessimist.' There is still love and connection. It's out there.