'Phoenix Rising' Director Responds to Marilyn Manson's Lawsuit

Amy Berg, the director of HBO's documentary Phoenix Rising, has shared her response to Marilyn Manson's defamation lawsuit against Evan Rachel Wood with Newsweek.

Wood has accused Manson of grooming her as a teen, and said in an Instagram post on February 1, 2021 that he "horrifically abused [her] for years" during their relationship.

The Westworld star spoke in greater detail about her alleged abuser in the documentary, including her claim that Manson raped her on camera while filming his music video "Heart-Shaped Glasses" in 2007.

Manson, whose real name is Brian Warner, has vehemently denied all allegations made against him and is suing Wood and activist Illma Gore for the accusations made in Phoenix Rising.

The musician's lawyer Howard King told Deadline on March 2 that Berg and HBO were not named in the lawsuit because they were "also victims of Wood and Gore" and claimed they were "duped into making a documentary based on false claims and fraudulent documents."

When asked for her response to these claims, Berg told Newsweek: "There were a lot of lawyers that looked at every single second of this film, and every frame.

"So I don't know, like, what else we could do, our film is completely legally sound. And that's all I can really say about that."

With regards to the defamation case itself, Berg added: "I can't talk about the details of the lawsuit or the specific allegations that have been made, that's out of my realm. I'm sorry."

In response to Berg's comments, a spokesperson for Manson told Newsweek: "As documented in Brian's lawsuit, Evan Rachel Wood impersonated a federal agent by signing and submitting a fake FBI letter as evidence in court.

"The whole premise of the fake letter—suggesting that a federal agency was investigating Brian and that Wood and her family were in danger—created the plot of Part 2 of Phoenix Rising.

"If Wood was willing to deceive the court and HBO about that, what else is she willing to say or do? If HBO was willing to script a meeting between Wood and the FBI that never happened, what other portions of the purported documentary were similarly scripted to portray false impressions?"

Amy Berg on Working With Evan Rachel Wood

Berg told Newsweek she met Wood through mutual friends seven to 10 years prior to the release of the documentary, and it was because of conversations they had together that they decided to collaborate on the film.

"I came to work with her because she did approach me at the point when she had met with Gloria Allred, and she was told that the statute of limitations had expired on her case," Berg said. "So she wanted to, she was going to change the law in California and she told me about that.

"I was really intrigued in her journey and what she was planning to do, and so we kind of loosely followed her around a bit through that first couple years, and then decided to make this into a formal documentary around the summer of 2020.

"Kind of around the time when Dan Cleary tweeted out that he stands with Evan Rachel Wood, that was when we kind of started really going at that point. That's when production picked up."

Cleary spoke out in September 2020, sharing a Twitter thread in which he claimed Manson had "turned [Wood] into a different person" and "broke her."

Standing with the women who came forward to accuse Manson of abuse, Cleary also said: "My sole focus is for people to not call these women liars. They're not."

The documentary also charts the work Wood put into establishing The Phoenix Act, which called to extend the statute of limitations for survivors of abuse in the state of California to 10 years.

Of working with her during this period, Berg said: "She's very determined, she's very focused on the work and it was, you know, really encouraging to see that she could actually make these changes. And so [the fact] we were watching things happen in real time is really incredible."

Berg went on to comment on how Wood felt safe discussing her experiences with her, with the director saying Wood "was ready" to talk openly about it even before she'd publicly named Manson as her alleged abuser.

"I think she felt safe with me, that was already established before we started filming," Berg said. "You'd have to ask her, but I feel like we created a safe environment. But she was ready.

"So, she was just ready, she was ready to tell the story, and so it came out of her, and she was very clear and articulate about what she had experienced. And she had done a lot of work on herself, which, you know, shows."

There is also a moment in the documentary, in October 2020, where Wood met with Cleary and a number of other survivors who claimed Manson had abused them and spoke about their alleged experiences.

Sharing how they ensured these men and women felt safe while reliving their trauma through the discussion, Berg explained: "There was a therapist that was basically on call, a trauma therapist that was on call that day, and she introduced the group to her, and that was available to everybody as we went along.

"We we didn't do that Evan and Illma had provided that, we were documenting."

Berg added that the creative team also worked with a group from Columbia University who help survivors, and said the resource was "available to not just the survivors, but also the film team and anyone who might need that."

How Evan Rachel Wood has Been 'Empowered' by Phoenix Rising

Since naming Manson publicly as her alleged abuser, and even before as is shown in the documentary, Wood has been subjected to victim-blaming and even death threats online.

Berg commented on this, saying she and Wood had discussed the way in which the public might react to her making the documentary.

"Evan and I spoke about this a lot in the beginning. I mean, it's hard for people to believe that somebody that they idolize could do something wrong," Berg said. "And we've seen that historically, especially over the past 10 years, but probably more than that.

"And it's difficult because, you know, this is a person who represents certain things for his fans, but what is going on behind closed doors is not... this isn't an exaggeration, this has affected a lot of people in a very negative way. And the story needs to be told."

Adding her own thoughts on how Wood has handled the situation since making her accusations public, Berg added: "I would just imagine that she's relieved today, because [Phoenix Rising is] finally all out. I mean, this is a thing that she's been carrying around with her for many years.

"And so it's been really empowering to see her on The View or, you know, any of the talk shows, I haven't seen the Drew Barrymore show, I'm going to see it today. But, she's really empowered right now.

"She says she's not afraid, and she's bringing up new points in this discussion. Like, [on The View] she said they don't ask the perpetrator why he didn't leave if he was upset. I was like, those are things that we need to talk about. It's true.

"You know, it's like we're always blaming the victims. She warned me that there will be a lot of victim blaming [with] this story and I have seen it, you know, over the past two months, especially since the Sundance [Film Festival] cut aired.

"But it's a next level type of victim blaming, this story. And, you know, I've never really seen anything quite like it."

When asked if she would consider working with Wood again to follow her in the aftermath of the documentary, Berg said: "I mean, we told this story, and I think it's pretty complete at this point, so I'm interested to see what happens.

"I never would say never, but I feel like this film stands for itself and it speaks to what we wanted to say, it feels very complete to me."

Phoenix Rising part 1 and 2 is available to stream on HBO Max now.

Update 03/18/2022, 3.54 a.m. ET: This article was updated to include comment from a spokesperson of Marilyn Manson.

Amy Berg and Evan Rachel Wood
Left: Director/executive producer Amy Berg attends Q&A for NY premiere of HBO's "The Case Against Adnan Syed" at PURE NON FICTION on February 26, 2019 in New York City. Right: Evan Rachel Wood in "Phoenix Rising". Berg spoke to Newsweek about the documentary. Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for HBO/HBO

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