Scroll To Top

Evan Rachel Wood and Dear John Hughes Help Us Feel 'Less Weird'

Evan Rachel Wood and 'Dear John Hughes' Help Us Feel 'Less Weird'

Evan Rachel Wood and 'Dear John Hughes' Help Us Feel 'Less Weird'

The actress currently plays a couple of outsiders in For the Record: Dear John Hughes, and she's the perfect person for the job.


Audience members, some rocking skinny ties or Madonna-esque lace gloves, sip a drink called “The Simple Mind” while munching on old-fashioned Jiffy Pop in the foil pop-up bag as a lithe young woman in skinny jeans, Converse, and suspenders smashes away at a snare drum in the center of the venue. Her short blond hair whips furiously back and forth to the beat. The scene in For the Record: Dear John Hughes at DBA in West Hollywood is purely tribal. It’s so visceral that watching it feels like time-traveling to 35 years ago when director and excavator of teen heartache John Hughes churned out hit movie after hit movie while speaking, seemingly directly, to every kid who ever felt a little “Left of Center.”

Even die-hard Hughes fans could mistake the young woman on the drums as Mary Stuart Masterson’s ultimate tomboy Watts in Some Kind of Wonderful. Rather, it’s Emmy-nominated actress Evan Rachel Wood, and watching the openly bisexual Wood breathe new life into the character that served as a role model and crush for so many budding queer girls in the ’80s borders on transformative. Watts is tough, sexy, funny — the kind of girl that queer girls wanted to be or date, and Wood in the role speaks to both of those things.

“Watts definitely resonates for the queer community, simply because she didn’t conform to gender stereotypes,” Wood says in a phone interview. “And who knows what her sexuality is or was. I know that when I was a kid I really related to her. I was always a tomboy and there were these guys … and I was always the one that was heartbroken because they wanted the cheerleaders.”

Shortly before her raw percussion sequence that ends with all of the women in Dear John Hughes beating their own drum, Wood has had her breakout moment in the show, belting “Left of Center,” Suzanne Vega’s paean to the marginalized. Wood’s Watts stalks every corner of the venue including the aisles, the top of the bar, and even the tables. Audience members could find themselves scrambling to remove their ’80s movie-night style box of pizza from the table before she sits squarely on it. The effect of the immersive experience makes these retro songs, films, and quotable lines immediate, as if no time had passed since Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark released the pining “If You Leave” (a song featured in the show).

Cast members all inhabit a Hughes' movie archetype -  The Princess, The Geek, The Rebel, The Jock, and The Basket Case. Regarding the cast's proximity to and connection with the the audience, Wood says, “It’s intimidating at first just because you’re worried about falling or getting hurt.” She adds that she actually fell at one of her recent performances. “No one saw, but the bruise on my leg is proof. And the band definitely heard it. I’m fine but it’s very dark, people spill drinks, people get wardrobe thrown on their heads…”

Wood, who landed on the collective radar playing a defiant teen in 2003’s Thirteen, is 27, hardly a Generation X kid, but she proudly identifies as a “huge John Hughes geek!” She says she’d seen For the Record: Tarantino recently and told producers she wanted in on one of the For the Record Live shows (there is also a For the Record: Baz Luhrmann show). When the John Hughes project came along it was the fit for the Hughes aficionado. She may have related to Watts as a kid, but Wood says her first foray into the Hughes oeuvre was with a different film.

“I wanted to be Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) when I grew up. I used to watch the movie every day. And my brother and I can probably still quote every line from it,” she says. Nex, she got into films like Some Kind of Wonderful, and later, The Breakfast Club, she says.

“I think I got into The Breakfast Club when I was older because I had a deeper understanding of it and an appreciation, and that movie moves me until this day. When asked who her Hughes character crushes were growing up, there’s zero hesitation.

“Who didn’t have a crush on Sloane [played by Mia Sara in Ferris Bueller's Day Off]? God, I think everyone was in love with her. I had a little crush on Ferris too. Honestly, he’s like a geeky bad boy,” Wood says. But then her affinity for The Breakfast Club’s deeper themes shines through when she retells her Breakfast Club theory that she’s shared in the past. “Bender (Judd Nelson’s rebel character) is just the conscience of that movie. He’s the witch from Into the Woods. He’s not good, he’s not bad, he’s just right,” a statement she concedes that then had her admitting, “I know, I know my nerd is showing.”

Sporting Watts’s chain wallet and fingerless leather gloves for nearly the duration of the show, Wood also plays the best friend in 16 Candles, Ferris Bueller’s overlooked and slightly bitter little sister, and, of course, she takes on the role of the basket case Allison in The Breakfast Club, a role made sublimely iconic by Ally Sheedy.



There’s a certain symmetry to Wood portraying the characters of Watts and Allison, inspirations to queer girls simply for their individuality and refusal to conform to gender norms at a time when there were no queer teen characters to emulate in pop culture. Early in her career, Wood portrayed Jessie, a teen struggling with her sexual identity, on the family drama Once and Again, a role she says she knows was important to so many LGBT people but that also impacted her personally.

“It [the storyline] was around the time I was becoming aware of my sexuality and I was terrified of it,” Wood recalls. “I remember I did an interview once, and I was right next to my brother talking about Jessie and Katie, the characters, and they asked me if I was straight, and I was too scared. And knew I wasn’t, [but] felt like I had to say yes.”

Still, Wood, who was 14 at the time those episodes aired, says she is fully aware of how meaningful that character was to LGBT people. “I was really overwhelmed by the response I got from people on the streets,” she says. “I think that was the first time I realized the impact that you can have by taking a chance and putting yourself out there and pushing the boundaries a bit — especially for things you care about. It just so happened that I was kind of going through something similar at the same time, so it affected me a lot as well.”

Dear John Hughes closes with perhaps his most enduring depiction of teen angst, politics, and trauma with an homage to The Breakfast Club, a film that pits jocks, geeks, homecoming darlings, bad boys, and one wildly individualistic basket case in the same room for one eight-hour detention, in which a lot happens, including a very memorable dance sequence that Wood says is one of her favorite parts of the show.

Evan Rachel Wood

But while Wood may share more traits with Watts — they’re both tomboys, musically inclined etc. — like Allison, Wood has carved her own distinctive path in her career and personal life, always remaining fierce in her individuality. She’s played in a huge variety of roles, from queer in Once and Again, True Blood, andThe Wrestler to her Emmy-nominated role as the ultimate spoiled brat of a daughter, Veda, to Kate Winslet’s put-upon mother in HBO’s epic reboot of Mildred Pierce.

Despite her continued outstanding, thoughtful work in Hollywood, Wood’s crowning achievement for LGBT people was coming out as bisexual in 2011, an aspect of herself she continually puts out in the world, helping to maintain bi visibility. While she says she’d known for a while that she was bisexual, she had her reasons for not coming out earlier in her career.

“I purposefully waited until I was older to come out because I didn’t want people to roll their eyes and be like, ‘Oh, she’s just a young girl who thinks that being bisexual is making out at bars to get guys' attention,’” Wood says.

Although she says it’s gotten easier to be out, it is an ongoing struggle to garner respect for her identity. “I’ve always been attracted to both men and women and I’ve always felt pressured from both sides to kind of take a stance either way, but that is my stance, and I can’t change it,” she says.  “The fear, the insecurity, and the terror was just as real if I had been whatever other label.”

Wood may seem to have it all figured out, but she says she’s faced struggle and backlash. “I’ve definitely gone through periods where I felt ashamed to even use the word [bisexual] because I feel like certain people who are straight might feel differently about it or have some misconception,” she says. “And it’s been surprising to find that there are some people in the gay and lesbian community that would shun me — I’m not saying all of them, of course — but I think a lot of bisexual people would agree with that. And I thought, 'How weird it is that we’re in a community that fights so hard against being stereotyped or to show that we exist or treat us with respect, and to get that in the community is weird to me.''

But like the ending of a Hughes’ film, where the characters have made their journey of self-discovery, often discovering, in the end, that they are happy being “left of center,” Wood says that she has mainly felt embraced by people since coming out.

“It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s a weight off of my shoulders, I feel more confident, I’m happier,” she says. “It always meant a lot to me when people were honest about it when I was a kid. It made me feel less weird and alone, so any way that I could give that back was important to me.”

Find out more about For the Record: Dear John Hughes. 

Banner Image OneOut Magazine - Fellow Travelers

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories