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Miranda July’s new comedy Kajillionaire may follow a family of con artists as they complete small-scale swindles and heists in search of a quick buck, but that’s not really what the film is about. The movie (which comes out September 25th in select theaters and VOD) is moreso a story of self-realization, with Evan Rachel Wood’s unorthodox heroine Old Dolio finding herself as she enters a meaningful yet unlabeled relationship with the vibrant Melanie (Gina Rodriguez).
“One of the things that I loved about the film is that obviously there's a romance, but that’s not what the film is about,” Wood tells HelloGiggles, speaking via Zoom in early September. "It’s never discussed, gender’s never discussed, sexuality is never discussed…it just is."
“And I think that is the real future of gender and sexuality, especially in film," Wood continues. "It becomes not what the film is about, it's just a part of it organically.”
As played by Wood, Old Dolio—with a name as unique as the character herself—is quiet, socially awkward, and uncomfortable in her own skin, with hunched-over posture and a love for oversized clothing. Wood reveals that she believes her character "could possibly be non-binary had she been exposed to it, but since she isn’t, I don’t even know if that’s even something that she would question."
Courtesy of Focus Features
With so much ambiguity, Old Dolio is very different than some of Wood’s most memorable roles, such as her blood-thirsty vampire queen on True Blood or her weapon-wielding sentient robot on Westworld. But that contrast is what drew the 33-year-old actor to the part. “I love that we are going to see a heroine like Old Dolio which we really don’t get a chance to see very often, if at all,” Wood explains.
The character's naivety is shown in the way she approaches her tender relationship with Melanie, who comes in as an outsider charmed into joining the family’s latest scam. While at first, the newcomer's involvement is simply a way for her pass the time and fill the voids in her own life, it eventually turns into a mission to rescue Old Dolio from her problematic, self-centered parents. As Melanie's sympathy for the unusual young woman morphs into intrigue and, possibly, attraction, their connection blossoms into something intense and personal.
"I love that it catches people by surprise," Wood says of the characters' relationship. “What’s so wonderful about Old Dolio is that none of that is in her awareness."
Wood, who herself openly identifies as bisexual, has been vocal about the harmful stereotypes and misunderstandings surrounding that label, and those of other LGBTQ people. When asked about what advice she would give to Old Dolio about figuring out her identity and navigating her feelings for Melanie, the actor says:
“I think Old Dolio knows instinctively that something is off, but she doesn’t have the language for it. I would tell her to trust her instinct and know that it’s not just her and that sometimes we have these feelings and we don’t know how to express them and so they come out in all these other weird ways. But the good news is, it’s usually something much simpler than we make it out to be.”
Courtesy of Focus Features Theresa (Debra Winger), Robert (Richard Jenkins), and Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood)
For Old Dolio, who has never been shown praise or given any kind of affection, finding herself outside of her very sheltered life is a liberating experience, but also scary uncharted territory. After all, the unconventional (and wildly unhealthy) relationship that she has with her parents is the only thing she’s ever known.
“It's sad, you know, I feel like so many parents do things with the best intentions only to have it backfire later and that's how we learn,” says Wood, who shares 7-year-old son Jack with ex-husband and fellow actor Jamie Bell. “I always say that failures are feedback and unfortunately, we do some of our best work and make some of our greatest mistakes with our children.”
She reveals that some of the best parenting advice she's ever gotten was courtesy of her friend and Westworld co-star Thandie Newton, who has three kids of her own. “She looked at me while our kids were playing one day and said, ‘Isn’t it great? All you have to do is let them be who they are. That’s all you have to do,’” Wood recalls.
Being a parent of a child, she adds, is being a “guardian of their journey. You’re not there to dictate it or tell them who to be or to be like you. You’re just going, “Who are you and how can I help you?”
In Kajillionare, Old Dolio has to figure out the answer to that question herself. It's a slow and clumsy process, but that’s what makes her character so honest, and her journey so real. Says Wood, “I think we’ve all known an Old Dolio in our lives at some point.”