Learning to pole dance was something of a bumpy grind for Olivia Wilde.
She had less than two days to master the moves of a brassy, bawdy performer in Butter. But Wilde sashayed with aplomb, with the help of an instructor who specialized in striptease workouts.
“I was stuck in Austria under the volcanic ash cloud and I couldn’t get to Louisiana in time. I got there and they flew a trainer in from S Factor and she taught me at an actual strip club, called Action Central, and got me to the point where they offered me a job there. So if all else fails, you can find me at Action Central,” says Wilde, 28.
From the time she first read the script, Wilde was hot to play Brooke, a BMX-riding exotic dancer who sets out to stymie the butter-carving dreams of a very ambitious small-town bully (Jennifer Garner) in the comedy, opening Friday.
“I thought she was so funny. She made me laugh the hardest when I read it. And I hadn’t played anything like her. She’s an unusual and brassy and witty character. She rides her BMX in her stripper heels, which by the way isn’t easy,” says Wilde.
Director Jim Field Smith cast Wilde because she embodied everything he required to humanize Brooke. “We needed someone who looked right, obviously, but wasn’t self-conscious about how she looked and could be sexy but also kind of dirty and skanky,” says director Smith. “We needed someone who was really funny but also sympathetic. I described her as my hand grenade. There she goes, to blow up a scene.”
Butter aside, Wilde has indeed been blowing up. She’s wrapped the Formula 1 biopic Rush for director Ron Howard, the comedy The Incredible Burt Wonderstone opposite Jim Carrey and Steve Carell, and the sci-fi romance Her, with Joaquin Phoenix, for Spike Jonze. “I now have the luxury of being choosier and choosier. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t have to work all the time. I’m able to do things that don’t need to be blockbuster,” she says. “I’m able to help movies get made, which is really exciting. I’m really picky now and it’s only because there’s no reason not to be. I don’t regret anything I’ve done because I’ve learned something from each experience.”
Best of all, says Wilde, she now has time to have a life. The actress recently relocated from Los Angeles to Manhattan, where she lives downtown with her comedian boyfriend Jason Sudeikis and her rescue mutt Paco. “I’ve been decorating our new apartment. That’s a lot of what I do, too. I’m so domestic. We have a cool new electronic drum kit. It’s a good life. For years, I worked constantly. I was doing the show and doing movies on the weekends,” she says, referring to her breakout role on the Fox medical drama House.
Acting aside, Wilde is active with Artists for Peace and Justice, an organization providing education and health services in Haiti, and also filmed the PBS doc Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which spotlights global activists. It’s the product of her upbringing — Wilde’s parents are both investigative journalists and she grew up surrounded by such movers and shakers as author Christopher Hitchens (who babysat her) and diplomat Richard Holbrooke.
“She’s quite sensible and very charitable and very intelligent and comes from this journalistic background. She’s well-traveled and well-educated. You forget how young she is,” says Smith.
Since moving east, Wilde has become the consummate New Yorker. During a morning off, she went to the Guggenheim to see a retrospective of Dutch artist Rineke Dijkstra. She rides the subway, armed with books and her headphones. At night, she and Sudeikis see theater or live shows. The two have an electronic drum kit in their apartment and spend evenings “nerding out” with fellow actors. And yes, she’d love to work with him, on the right project.
“We talk about it all the time. We’re constantly doing bits together. One day someone will turn a camera on that. It would be a good movie,” smiles Wilde.
And while kids aren’t in her immediate future, Wilde can envision herself starting a family and modeling herself after her mother, who produced segments for 60 Minutes and Frontline. “Yes, yes, absolutely. I think it would be great. My mom was a great example of having a professional life and having a kid. It can be done. No one is saying it’s easy. But I’m totally inspired by the idea of being a badass working professional mom. I’m so into my dog. I can’t imagine how I will smother my child,” she says with a laugh.