Olivia Wilde had two movies at the Toronto International Film Festival. In the true story Rush, she plays Suzy Miller, a model who briefly marries F1 racer James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and moves on to Richard Burton. Hunt was the rival of Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl) and the film chronicles their 1976 racing season. Third Person was screening the day after my interview with Wilde, and I couldn’t even get a ticket this week. It is an ensemble drama written and directed by Paul Haggis.
CraveOnline: Obviously they can never fit everything in the film. Did you shoot any more scenes as Suzy that got cut?
Olivia Wilde: No. No, Suzy was never a big role. The story’s always been about Hunt and Lauda. Actually, Suzy got an extra scene because there was originally a scene between Burton and Hunt. That last scene of me in the restaurant with James was originally a scene with James and Richard Burton where Burton’s explaining that he’s marrying Suzy and that he wants to pay well for her to settle the divorce. In reality he paid about a million pounds. That was a lot in ’76. That scene ended up being my scene so I actually got a little bonus which was fun.
So you really only have three scenes to portray the entire arc of this relationship. What was the exercise of that for you?
Well, I knew that the purpose of including Suzy in this story was to show a different side of James, to show the kind of tumult of his personal life, that he had demons and that he self-medicated and it made him nearly impossible to live with. Behind this kind of smiling charming golden boy public persona, he was quite a tortured person. Also, before that point, that he was actually quite a charming and romantic person who proposed to a woman he had just met, doing something completely spontaneous and wild and she was totally charmed by that as well. I also wanted to make sure that we portrayed their love story as a love story, that you got a sense that there was something real there. She wasn’t just another one of his conquests, nor was she a kind of long-suffering victim. She was very much in love with him.
Normally the breakup happens in the third act of a biographical story. This really changed things up, because they’re divorced before the halfway mark.
I really love the way Peter Morgan structured the script. So complex, and the editor did a brilliant job, I thought as well, of making it all clear. But really, if it’s a love story, it’s between Hunt and Lauda. The structure of it if you think of them as the love story works perfectly. They come back together in that final scene by the airplane which is one of my favorite scenes. My other favorite scene is when the Italians pick them up by the side of the road. Those two Italian guys and they’re like, “Lauda! Niki Lauda!” That scene’s brilliant but the end, the scene by the airplane, I just think it’s so moving. Peter Morgan says he wrote the whole movie for that scene and I love it because you get the sense that Lauda’s begging Hunt to stay in it, to stay his competitor because he is who is driving him to greatness. Without Hunt, can Niki push himself that hard? I thought that was great.
Do we know that Suzy kept watching the races?
Yes, she did.
So that’s not artistic license.
No, she did. She watched him for years and she’s still very fond of him, remembers him fondly and lovingly. She believes that they were in love and it just couldn’t work. I actually think it’s a very evolved, loving line when she says to him, “You’re not terrible. You’re just who you are at this moment in your life.” Most women, when a relationship doesn’t work, or most people I think find it hard to be that understanding. I think it’s quite loving of her to not say, “Yeah, you’re an asshole. You fucked up, you were a terrible husband.” She’s like, “No, it’s just who you are. It’s who you are right now and I have enough self-respect not to deal with it.”
When you see the role of Suzy in the story was to show that side of James, how much research do you do on the real Suzy?
As much as I could. There isn’t a huge amount available, so I read everything I could, I watched anything I could. I looked at all her photos trying to understand her. I learned a lot from the biographies on James Hunt because I thought, “What kind of woman would fall in love with him? What does that take? What kind of spirit was she?” And she’s still, although I think in her young, wild days she was just an amazingly spontaneous wild woman and now is more mature of course and only remembers the good things about James, when at the time I think he could be a nightmare. He could be a total nightmare.
The movie might bring back some memories.
Yeah, yeah, we’ll see.
CraveOnline: You’ve gotten a lot of great roles in film and television, in comedy and drama, but this summer was Drinking Buddies a really monumental role for you?
Olivia Wilde: Yes, game changer. That one was a passion project of mine and I think one of the reasons that people responded well to it is because we made it for the right reasons. We made it not for the result. We made it for the process. It was an exercise in telling a story honestly. I was so proud of it from beginning to end. It was a movie we made for no money, just in Chicago, literally working in a brewery with people working around us, borrowing people’s offices so we could shoot for an hour and then let them back in, and it was just a wonderful experience and I learned a lot from it. So to see it being embraced has been really great and I think it emboldens my drive to do more films like it.
How is it going to change the way you approach characters moving forward?
Well, aside from I doubt I’ll be able to improvise every movie from now on, but I think if you took that process of Drinking Buddies which really helped me understand a character very, very well because I had to be so aware of who she was. I had to be ready for any situation, any conversation at any point so I had to know her in such a deep way so that if another actor decided to bring up a question in a scene, “Where did you go to college? What do you like to eat? What’s your dream in life?” I’d be able to answer those questions. That should be a part of every process for every character. That should be part of the preparation. So if I take every script from now on and imagine having to put the entire thing into my own words and to really understand that person in a very deep way, I think it would serve me in a positive way.
Have you found that even people who never watched “House” know who 13 is?
That’s funny. I always assumed if they knew 13 then they watched the show, but maybe you’re right.
I think there were people who wanted to know who you were and they learned about number 13.
That’s hilarious. Well, I do hear it quite often and it makes me laugh because I remember the day I was in the writers room in “House” and David Shore, our head writer, said, because it was a nickname that House had come up with for me because I had a racing bib on that said 13. Shore said, “I think your name will be 13.” And I said, “Really? That’s ambitious. Won’t people find it confusing or odd?” He said, “No, it’s a name that is memorable and it will become a symbol of the show. You’ll see, it’ll stick.” So when people yell, “13!” I always think of David Shore saying that. I’m like, “You were right, man.”
Third Person hasn’t shown yet, so what kind of character did you get to play in that?
That’s a really exciting film. I play a young writer who is having an affair with Liam Neeson’s character who is also a writer, a quite well known novelist. She’s an icier character than I’ve played. She’s complex. She’s kind of damaged. She’s very smart and very mercurial and we learn a lot of tragic things about her but I spend most of the movie in a conversation with Liam. It’s fascinating because he’s so good and so subtle that when I watched the film I saw even more dimensions than I saw in person. He’s really, really good in this role. I call him the big friendly giant but he also carries this weight of a survivor on him that I think he’s probably had since he was a kid. I bet he was one of those little kids with grown-up eyes. So I’m really excited for people to see that. It’s a really intricate film. It’s three simultaneous stories and great actors. I think it’s Paul Haggis’ best thing in a while.
Did that come as an offer with your history with Paul?
I originally worked with him on a show called “The Black Donnellys” so we became good friends and then we started an organization together in Haiti with a couple people in the entertainment world called Artists for Peace and Justice. Paul and I have known each other a long time and this was an intimate experience, working on really difficult material with the writer who’s also the screenwriter. I was very honored to get this role. It was one of those roles you get and you’re like, “Whew, okay, this is the big leagues. This is varsity.”
What can we expect from Better Living Through Chemistry?
That’s a funny film. I play a pill popping drunk miserable trophy wife who convinces Sam Rockwell to kill my husband. I love Sam Rockwell so in that instance it was just getting to play with one of the most amazing actors of my generation, just so interesting and funny. That’s a great film. I can’t wait for people to see that.
Do you hear anything from Team Tron?
Occasionally it bubbles up and I hear things, little whispers of sequels. I told them at this point I don’t know who I would play because I can’t fit into that suit, so I told them I’ll play the mom.
Do you think you wouldn’t continue that story with Quorra in the real world?
Oh no, in seriousness, yes. I’d be into it. I liked Quorra a lot. I helped create that character from such an early stage that she felt very much my own and I was very proud of her. The film went through this kind of corporatization process. It’s a difficult story to tell and difficult to know what audience it’s for, but I would have a lot of fun being Quorra again. The last couple times we’ve talked, I said I would do it if they asked. We’ll see. We’ll see. Maybe they’ll take their time with it.
You can wear real clothes this time.
That’d be nice. I said they can make the suit out of sweatpants.