By Jeff Labrecque
Updated August 16, 2011 at 06:07 PM EDT
Everett Collection

Evan Rachel Wood is a force of nature. Since dazzling audiences — and unsettling parents — as the provocative and precocious teen in 2003’s Thirteen, she’s made one bold career move after another. Last March, she played another difficult daughter in HBO’s Mildred Pierce, in which she appeared completely naked. But in director Robert Redford’s The Conspirator, which arrives on DVD and Blu-ray today, she gets to play nice — as the loyal daughter of Mary Surratt, the Confederate woman executed for her role in the plot to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. But lurking beneath her character’s polished veneer is the hint of something more, something wild, something uniquely Wood. The 24-year-old actress talks about her career, her ode to Butch Cassidy, and the pressure to star in a blockbuster franchise.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There are some resumes that are just fun to read, and yours is very eclectic. I’m sure every project is different but what’s most important to you when you choose a project?

EVAN RACHEL WOOD: I just go off of instinct, and whatever I read that I would want to see. I really loved this part. I thought she was strong, and I wanted to do a period piece, and I’m a huge fan of Robert Redford. So it all screamed, “Please do it.”

Did you already know Redford?

I met him really briefly at Sundance for Thirteen, when I was was 14 years old. He remembered me from then, and he said ever since then he’s just been a fan, so he asked me to do the movie. Literally, I got a call, and it was like, “Can you be in Georgia in two days?” And I was like, “Um, sure. Anything for Mr. Redford.”

It can be awkward at first to work with someone you admire, but you don’t seem to be the easily intimidated type. In fact, Redford has said he was a little intimidated by you.

I honestly was not aware of it. When I’m getting to know somebody, and especially a director, I make a point of really looking into their eyes and really trying to soak everything that they’re saying and I get really close. So I don’t know… but he said he didn’t know what I was thinking — that he couldn’t read me — and that’s what he wanted for the character. He said, “Just do what you did when you met me and it will be fine.”

You moved from North Carolina to California when you were a kid, but do you still consider yourself a Southerner?

Definitely. I’ve been away from North Carolina for half of my life but I’m still a complete Southerner at heart.

Did that assist you in playing this character in some ways?

I just loved how she’s very strong, and she has to keep it together. She’s the only one left in that house from her family. I think you can tell her and her mother and her brother have a very strong bond, and family is the most important thing in the world to them. And they’ll do whatever they can to protect him obviously. And she’s not budging, and she’s taking her mother’s lead in that way. I have a feeling that they were very close.

Robin Wright, who plays your mother, is the latest in a collection of esteemed actresses you’ve worked with — from Holly Hunter to Cate Blanchett to Joan Allen to Patricia Clarkson to Kate Winslet…

The best of the best, man.

Are you drawn to them as co-workers and role models, or is this just good luck?

I think it’s both, and I definitely am drawn to them. They are all my favorite actresses. I don’t know, I guess I just put it out there and somebody was listening because it all seemed to work out.

What did you learn from Robin?

We had a really great time. She’s a very powerful woman. And funny. Her and James [McAvoy] would be laughing literally up to the point where they said, “Action.” And then in a second, they’d be in this jail cell and all dramatic. And I was so thrown. I was just like, “God, I can’t keep up with you.” But she was really fun. And her and James and I went karaoking all night, and it was really fun.

Karaoke? What’s your go-to song?

“Piece of My Heart,” Janis Joplin. James did “Copacabana,” and Robin and I sang the Beatles. And “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Didn’t you also write a song about Redford? Well, about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?

Years ago, yeah. I ended up singing it for Robin and James at karaoke — they made me.

You have The Ides of March coming out on October, a political film with Ryan Gosling and George Clooney. That makes two back-to-back political films. Coincidence?

It is a coincidence, but my dad is really big in to conspiracy theories. He has a replica gun of the gun that John Wilkes Booth used. So he’s a real history buff. I took him to the premiere at the Ford Theater and he was in tears.

What else is on the horizon?

We’ll be taking Ides of March to the Venice Film Festival [in early September]. And I just got back from the Ojai Playwrights Conference where I did Black Sun [a musical collaboration with Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz]. It was great. The music was amazing and I think it went really well. It’s in the really early stages. I don’t know [if it will come to Broadway] but I think it certainly has potential.

You’ve been acting for a decade, and you’ve been quite savvy in choosing challenging roles and working with talented people. Do you feel pressure to grab a blockbuster franchise or star in some holiday rom-com?

No, I don’t. I don’t need a mansion. I’m totally fine just doing cool movies and playing interesting roles, so I wait for those. I mean, if there was a really cool, interesting franchise, I’d probably do it. I’m not against it or anything. I just haven’t found one that I liked.

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