Her personal life, particularly her relationship with Marilyn Manson, to whom she was previously engaged, has attracted press attention. In 2012, she married English actor Jamie Bell, with whom she has one son. They separated in 2014 after two years of marriage.
Wood was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. Her mother, Sara Lynn Moore, is an actress, director, and acting coach, and has converted to Judaism. Her father, Ira David Wood III, is a locally prominent actor, singer, theater director, playwright, and from a Christian family; he is the Executive Director of a local regional theatre company called Theatre in the Park. Wood's brother, Ira David Wood IV, is also an actor; she has two other brothers, Dana and Thomas, and a sister named Aden. Her paternal aunt, Carol Winstead Wood, was a Hollywood production designer.
Wood and her brothers were actively involved in Theatre in the Park while growing up, including an appearance by her in the 1987 production of her father's musical comedy adaptation of A Christmas Carol when she was just a few months old. Subsequently, she played the Ghost of Christmas Past in several productions at the theater, and she later starred as Helen Keller alongside her mother (who played Anne Sullivan) in a production of The Miracle Worker, under her father's direction. Wood's parents separated in 1996, and later divorced, and Wood moved with her mother to her mother's native Los Angeles County, California.
Wood briefly attended Cary Elementary, a public school in Cary, North Carolina. She was subsequently home-schooled and received her high school diploma at age 15.
Wood began her career appearing in several made-for-television films from 1994 onward, also playing an occasional role in the television series American Gothic. After a one-season role on the television drama Profiler, Wood was cast in the supporting role of Jessie Sammler on the television show Once and Again.
Wood's first major screen role was in the low-budget 1998 film Digging to China, which also starred Kevin Bacon and Mary Stuart Masterson. The film won the Children's Jury Award at the Chicago International Children's Film Festival. Wood remembers the role as initially being hard, but notes that it "eventually led to her decision that acting is something she might never want to stop doing." She also had a role in Practical Magic, a fantasy film directed by Griffin Dunne, starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman, that same year.
Wood made her teenage debut as a leading film actress in 2002's Little Secrets, directed by Blair Treu, where she played aspiring 14-year-old concert violinist Emily Lindstrom. For that role, she was nominated for Best Leading Young Actress at the Young Artist Awards. That same year, Wood played a supporting role in the Andrew Niccol-directed science fiction satirical drama film, Simone, which starred Al Pacino.
Wood's breakthrough movie role followed with the 2003 film Thirteen. She played the role of Tracy Louise Freeland, one of two young teens who sink into a downward spiral of hard drugs, sex, and petty crime. Her performance was nominated for a Golden Globe Award as Best Actress - Drama and for a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award for Best Actress. During the time of Thirteen's release, Vanity Fair named Wood as one of the It Girls of Hollywood, and she appeared, along with the other actresses, on the magazine's July 2003 cover. A supporting role opposite Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones in Ron Howard's The Missing, in which she played the kidnapped daughter, Lilly Gilkeson, followed the same year, as well as a role in the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode "Got Murder?".
In 2005, Wood appeared in the Mike Binder-directed The Upside of Anger, opposite Kevin Costner and Joan Allen, a well-reviewed film in which Wood played Lavender "Popeye" Wolfmeyer, one of four sisters dealing with their father's absence. Her character also narrated the film. Wood's next two starring roles were in dark independent films. In the 2005 Grand Jury Prize Sundance Film Festival nominee Pretty Persuasion, a black comedy/satirical focusing on themes of sexual harassment and discrimination in schools and attitudes about females in media and society, Wood played Kimberly Joyce, a manipulative, sexually active high-schooler. One critic commented, "Wood does flip cynicism with such precise, easy rhythms and with such obvious pleasure in naughtiness that she's impossible to hate."
In Down in the Valley, which was directed by David Jacobson, Wood's character, Tobe, falls in love with an older man, a cowboy who is at odds with modern society (Edward Norton). Of her performance, it was written that "Wood conveys every bit of the adamant certainty and aching vulnerability inherent in late adolescence." Wood has commented on her choice of sexually themed roles, saying that she is not aiming for the "shock factor" in her film choices.
In 2005, Wood starred in the music videos for Bright Eyes' "At the Bottom of Everything" and Green Day's "Wake Me Up When September Ends".
In September 2006, Wood received Premiere magazine's "Spotlight Award for Emerging Talent." Also in 2006, she was described by The Guardian as being "wise beyond her years" and as "one of the best actresses of her generation."
Later in 2006, Wood appeared with an all-star ensemble cast as Natalie Finch in the Golden Globe-nominated 2006 comedy-drama film Running with Scissors. Directed by Ryan Murphy and starring Annette Bening, the film was based on the memoir by Augusten Burroughs, which is a semi-autobiographical account of Burroughs' childhood in a dysfunctional family. Wood was awarded the 2007 Cannes Film Festival Chopard Trophy for Female Revelation for her performance.
Wood had roles in two films released in September 2007. King of California, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, a story of a bipolar jazz musician (Michael Douglas) and his long-suffering teenage daughter, Miranda (Wood), who are reunited after his two-year stay in a mental institution and who embark on a quixotic search for Spanish treasure. One review praised Wood's performance as "excellent".
Across the Universe, a Julie Taymor-directed musical that was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award and was set in Liverpool, New York City, and Vietnam, focused on the tribulations of several characters during the counter-cultural revolution of the 1960s. It was set to the songs of The Beatles. Wood, who has described the music of The Beatles as a major part of her life, played Lucy, who develops a relationship with Jude (Jim Sturgess). The film featured her singing musical numbers and she describes the role as her favorite, calling director Julie Taymor "one of the most amazing directors out there." One critic wrote that "Wood brings much-needed emotional depth." Wood provided the voice of an alien named Mala, a mechanically inclined free-thinker, in Battle for Terra, a 2008 computer-animated science fiction film about a peaceful alien planet that faces destruction from colonization by the displaced remainder of the human race. The film won the 2008 Grand Prize at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. The film showed at the San Francisco International Film Festival, where she received an award at the Midnight Awards along with Elijah Wood.
Wood starred in 2008's Vadim Perelman-directed The Life Before Her Eyes, based on the Laura Kasischke novel of the same name, about the friendship of two teens of opposite character who are involved in a Columbine-like shooting incident at their school and are forced to make an impossible choice. Wood played the younger version of Uma Thurman's character, Diana. One critic cited her performance as "hands-down extraordinary". Wood stated that she intended the film to be the last one in which she played a teenager.
In the same year, she also co-starred in director Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler, winner of the Golden Lion Award for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival, about Randy "Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke), a professional wrestler from the 1980s who is forced to retire after a heart attack threatens to kill him the next time he wrestles. Wood played Stephanie, Randy "Ram" Robinson's estranged daughter. Of her performance, one critic wrote, "Once her character stops stonewalling her father and hears him out, Wood provides a fine foil for Rourke in their turbulent scenes together."
Wood co-starred in Woody Allen's Whatever Works, which premiered at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival, playing the young wife of Larry David's character. In May 2009, she played Juliet in six fundraising performances of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet at the Theater In The Park; the production was directed by her brother, who also starred.
Wood had a recurring role in the second and third seasons of the HBO supernatural drama series, True Blood, from 2009 to 2011 as Sophie-Anne Leclerq. Wood had a role in the film The Conspirator, which premiered at Ford's Theatre in Washington D. C. in April, 2011, directed by Robert Redford (about the conspiracy surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln). She also had a role in The Ides of March. She portrayed the title character's daughter in the 2011 HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce, for which she was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie.
Wood played Gabi in the 2013 psychological romantic thriller film Charlie Countryman with Shia LaBeouf and Rupert Grint. She voiced Marianne in the 2015 film Strange Magic. She is featured with Chris Evans in a 2016 ad for Gucci Guilty Eau fragrances. Wood currently has a starring role as Dolores Abernathy in the HBO series Westworld.
In 2012 Wood recorded "I'd Have You Anytime" which is on the fourth CD of Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International, a compilation production for the benefit of the organization.
Wood is one-half of electro-pop formation Rebel and a Basketcase, which she formed with multi-instrumentalist Zach Villa in 2016.
Wood appeared at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards on September 12, 2010.
In June 2016, the Human Rights Campaign released a video in tribute to the victims of the 2016 Orlando gay nightclub shooting; in the video, Wood and others told the stories of the people killed there.
In 2003, Wood described herself as Jewish. In 2012, Evan stated, "I believe in God but I am not religious. I am spiritual. My definition of God isn't in any religion. It's very personal." Wood's mother is a convert to Judaism, and Wood's father is Christian.
Wood began dating British actor Jamie Bell in 2005 after they co-starred in the music video for Green Day's song "Wake Me Up When September Ends." They got matching tattoos of each other's initials; in Wood's case, a "J" on her left ankle. After a year together, the relationship ended in 2006. Wood later commented that, "We had matching tattoos because we knew our love would last forever. Trouble is, it didn't, things happened, we split. But I don't regret the tattoo. It reminds me of a great, great period in my life."
In January 2007, Wood's relationship with Marilyn Manson became public. The two met at a party at the Chateau Marmont Hotel; Wood has stated that she was attracted to Manson's frequent use of black eye liner and once described their relationship as "healthy and loving". Two portraits of Wood, painted by Manson, have been exhibited at the Celebritarian Corporation Gallery of Fine Art. Wood is also the inspiration behind Manson's song "Heart-Shaped Glasses", and she appeared with Manson in the song's music video. Manson has said that Wood's appearance was the highest-paid music video role ever. The couple split in November 2008; according to Wood, they "both decided to take some time apart so [they] could concentrate on work". They later re-united and it was reported in early January 2010 that the couple was engaged to be married. Wood and Manson ended their engagement in August 2010.
In 2011, Wood disclosed that she was bisexual via Twitter, and discussed her sexuality in an interview with Esquire, saying, "I'm up for anything. Meet a nice guy, meet a nice girl..."
In the summer of 2011, Wood was reported to have rekindled her relationship with Jamie Bell, five years after they first broke up. They were married in a small ceremony on October 30, 2012, and have one son, born in July 2013. Wood had a home birth with her son, and publicly thanked Ricki Lake, creator of the documentary The Business of Being Born, for inspiring her decision. In May 2014, Wood and Bell announced that they had separated after 19 months of marriage.
After her split from Bell, Wood dated The L Word actress Katherine Moennig.
In January 2017, Wood became engaged to her Rebel and a Basketcase bandmate, Zach Villa. In September 2017, they called off the engagement.
In 2016, Wood told a Rolling Stone reporter that she had been raped. She said she had been raped twice, "many years ago." She said she still suffered from the experience, but "I don't believe we live in a time where people can stay silent any longer," and that she was mentioning her past to help other survivors.
She was awarded a black belt in taekwondo when she was 12 years old.