Evan Rachel Wood Evan Rachel Wood

She Plays: Snobby opera star — and mega-bitch daughter from hell — Veda Pierce in the HBO Depression-era epic Mildred Pierce. "Veda craves money, status and getting even with her poor mother [Kate Winslet]," Wood says. "She is so horrible I worry that no one will feel bad for her in any way. Playing her almost killed me because I was constantly in this dark head space. There are no light moments with Veda. No relief. It's the most difficult part I've ever done."

Where You've Seen Her: Wood made a smashing transition from playing complex kids, like the anorexic lesbian Jessie on Once and Again, to equally heady adult roles — anti-war Lucy in Across the Universe, Mickey Rourke's estranged daughter in The Wrestler and smartass vampire queen Sophie-Anne Leclerq on True Blood. (Yep, she's coming back for Season 4!)

Why We Love Her: What other actress her age — that would be 23 — can dazzle us with saucy freshness and old-soul complexity and still be tough enough to level the great and formidable Winslet? Plus, Wood is so gorgeous in Mildred she'll make you forget to breathe. "Evan blew us all away," says Todd Haynes, who directed the miniseries. "The girl is absolutely fearless." Need proof? Wood's startling nude scene in the finale is one for the memory books.

Evil or Just Plain Nuts? "I do think Veda's slightly insane," says Wood, who then adds with a laugh, "Oh, who am I kidding? She's a borderline sociopath!" But she's got damn good taste. "I just love Veda's style — the clothes, the hats, the hair. After we finished shooting, I went through a phase where I went everywhere looking like that."

Does She Have Spidey Sense? Originally cast as Mary Jane in the calamity-plagued Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Wood dropped out reportedly due to production delays. Or did she smell turkey? "Not at all!" Wood insists. "I think the songs and the script are spectacular and my heart really goes out to them. The critics just love to rip that show apart, but it will eventually prove 'em all wrong."

Mildred Pierce concludes with Parts 4 and 5 this Sunday at 9/8c on HBO

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