By Serena Kappes with Amy Longsdorf and Nick White
Updated March 09, 2005 06:00 AM

Age: 17
Hometown: Raleigh, N.C.
Current gig: Playing a precocious teen in the black comedy The Upside of Anger

Evan Rachel Wood has never gone the sunny Disney teen movie route. From playing an anorexic teenager in the TV series Once and Again to her turn as a girl experimenting with sex and drugs in the critically acclaimed 2003 movie thirteen, the The Upside of Anger actress (who costars with Kevin Costner and Joan Allen) likes portraying the dark side of growing up.

“I was annoyed when I was in junior high when all of the movies about teenagers were about the big party at the end of the year, who likes who, and what am I going to wear,” she says. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, this sucks so much. This is not helping.’ And it’s not honest.”

Offscreen, the Los Angeles-based Wood describes herself as a “dork. I sing karaoke – get a bunch of people together and go crazy. It’s great!” (Her personal favorite? Guns ‘N Roses’ “Paradise City.”)

The daughter of a theater director and an acting teacher, Wood has been acting since age 5. At 6, she played the Ghost of Christmas Past in her dad’s production of A Christmas Carol. After her parents’ divorce three years later, Wood, her mom and two older brothers (Ira, 19, is also an actor) moved from their native Raleigh, N.C., to Los Angeles to nurture her career.

Wood made her big-screen debut in 1996’s Digging to China, followed by 1998’s Practical Magic with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. “That’s when I had the idea that I’m not doing too badly here!” she says. Then in 1998, she was cast in ABC’s Once and Again, which had a three-season run.

Since then, Wood has been busy on the big screen, garnering SAG Award and Golden Globe nominations for her role in thirteen and starring alongside Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones in 2003’s Ron Howard-directed drama The Missing. At the moment, she’s got four movies in the works, including the dramedy Running with Scissors, costarring Gwyneth Paltrow and Annette Bening, and the drama Down in the Valley, with Ed Norton.

Yet as well as her career is going, the single Wood admits the dating front is more difficult. “This has been a pretty crazy year when it comes to love,” she admits. “Oh my God. It’s so hard.” But she’s staying positive. “This year I hope to get a better sense of myself and know what I want out of life.”