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As a sexual assault survivor, Westworld star Evan Rachel Wood was hesitant to take on the role of an abused woman who becomes a predator herself in the new Canadian film Allure, opening Friday in Toronto at the Lightbox.
“I really didn’t want to take the job but I knew I had to,” she said in an interview at last September’s Toronto International Film Festival, where the thriller by Montreal’s Carlos Sanchez and Jason Sanchez premiered under the original title A Worthy Companion.
“I was like, ‘Oh God, this is going to be awful but it’s important’ — because I hadn’t seen the film written like this, nuanced like that, with two women showing how far back things go.”
Opening Friday in Toronto, Allure stars Wood as Laura, a 30-year-old house cleaner whose emotional trauma from being abused in the past manifests in certain sexual proclivities that cross the boundaries of consent.
When the teenage daughter (played by Canadian actress Julia Sarah Stone) of one of her cleaning clients wants to run away, Laura takes her in, strikes up an intimate relationship with her and becomes manipulative and abusive.
Canadian actress Maxim Roy plays the teen’s mother in the story that made an eerily prescient festival debut just before the Harvey Weinstein allegations broke and sparked worldwide conversations about abuse of power and sexual misconduct.
“I think I gravitate towards things that push the boundaries, because I think that’s one thing that movies are for: to keep expanding people’s minds and get people talking,” Wood said.
“But this was one of the most challenging roles I’ve ever played. It was really difficult and intense. It took me a while to recover from.”
Wood has explored abuse in her projects before. In the HBO series Westworld and the 2015 Canadian film Into the Forest, her characters were sexually violated, although the actual act was never depicted onscreen.
But this is the first time she’s played a physically violent predator and there were moments when it was overwhelming for the 30-year-old North Carolina native, who has testified before U.S. Congress and talked on social media about being raped and abused.
“I would tear up during rehearsal and have to go, ‘No, no, no, you’re playing a character, come on!’ ” Wood said, recalling a scene where she has to throw Stone to the ground.
“I had to push through. And Julia is also just the sweetest, most amazing young girl. I hated doing the things I had to do.”
Wood persisted because she feels it’s crucial to explore the lasting effects trauma can have on someone if left untreated.
“What I love about this film is that it shows the grey areas, and especially the grey areas of abuse and how the abused become the abusers,” she said.
“It was much more about the psychology of abuse and not just a clear cut, ‘Here’s the victim, here’s the monster and this is the bad guy.’ It’s really delving into why — what happens to people that drives them to this point.”
It also shows the grey areas from the victim’s perspective.
“You hear so many people saying, ‘Why did they stay? Why didn’t she leave?’ ” Wood said. “It is so complicated, and in certain situations abuse is disguised as love and sometimes you don’t realize you’re being abused, you just think you’re with a really complicated person.
“Then we delve into all kinds of mental disorders, like cognitive dissonance and disassociation, and things that we’re not really in control of but that our brain does literally as self-defence.
“It’s really easy for us to lie to ourselves, because the reality of the situation is too hard, and I think that’s why I really wanted to do the project.”