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Age of innocence: how does Once and Again's Evan Rachel Wood describe her on-screen romance with another girl? "Beautiful". (television).

It's one thing for a mature actor to play gay in TV or film; it's another for an adolescent thespian, still growing into her womanhood, to handle a same-sex screen romance. But for 14-year-old Evan Rachel Wood--who portrays Jessie Sammler on ABC's drama Once and Again--it was no big deal.

"It wasn't hard, and it wasn't weird," insists the girlish-voiced Wood, who's been acting since she was 4. "I was always raised to just accept people for who they are, and it wasn't any different than if I was playing a stow line with a boy. It was just fine."

In the upcoming plot twist, set to air in March after the three-year-old series takes a forced hiatus, Jessie finds herself dealing with confused feelings about her best friend, Katie, played by Mischa Barton (the wide-eyed roommate of the lovers in the 2001 girls-school film Lost and Delirious).

"Both of these girls are just, I don't know, growing up and starting to question their sexuality," explains Wood. "They're both a little confused, and they aren't necessarily gay or straight--all they know is that they love who the other person is, and they just sort of fall in love with each other that way."

After rumors fly around school that Katie is gay, Jessie distances herself from her friend, even as she questions her own sexuality. "But then finally they have a scene in the attic where they are just themselves, and they end up kissing each other," Wood reveals. She's not sure how the story line will proceed from there, and the fate of the series itself currently remains up in the air.

Jessie, the character Wood started playing in the show's pilot at age 11, has already gone through the trauma of her parents' divorce, a bout with anorexia, and the uncomfortable formation of a stepfamily. Wood could relate to the divorce, since her own parents--who ran a theater company in Raleigh, N.C.--split when she was 9 (which was followed by a move with her mom and older brother to Los Angeles). For experiences she hasn't had, she relies on her actor's training and a well-honed sense of empathy.

"Everybody has some kind of pain in their lives, and if you're an actor, you do have to sometimes go to places that make you sad," says Wood, who has an upcoming role as Al Pacino's daughter in the film Simone. "Sometimes you get so into the scene that it almost becomes real--your mind almost makes it real."

Wood is pretty sure that she's straight--she giggles shyly when asked whether she's dating--but she's a strong champion of everyone's right to love whom they choose. "It's something I'm very passionate about," she says. "It's really unfair to judge somebody by something that they never really asked for--[being gay] is who you are. Even people who say, `It's in the Bible' or `It's a sin'--I thought those [biblical] teachings were about accepting all mankind and treating people equally."

Wood expects that Jessie Sammler's explorations, sweet and adolescent as they are, will nonetheless cause a stir. "I'm sure it will shock some people," says Wood. "I'm sure some people will strongly disagree with it. But I'm sure others will see it for what it is, which is very innocent. It's very beautiful. Just two people who care about each other, just two people in love with each other's personalities, with who they are. Which is really how it should be."

Kort is author of Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro, to be published in April by St. Martin's Press.
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Article Details
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Author:Kort, Michele
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 19, 2002
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