Olivia Wilde: Hitting It Big
By Carole Radziwill
Glamour – June 2011
If you know her only as the sexy-brilliant doctor from House, get ready for the summer of Olivia. With two new movies about to drop—and a royal divorce behind her—Olivia Wilde is unstoppable.
As I sit in a Los Angeles restaurant waiting to interview Olivia Wilde, my mind trails back 20 years earlier, to a restaurant in Bangkok where I once waited for Olivia’s mother, award-winning producer and journalist Leslie Cockburn. (I was a young production associate at ABC News and assigned to work with Leslie on a documentary about Cambodia.) I first met Olivia, in fact, while working for her mother. Leslie had an editing room set up in the family’s Georgetown home, where I sat and logged videotapes. Olivia was just a little kid, but she already had a unique poise.
Back then, Olivia’s mother was one of the hottest young producers in news. She and journalist husband Andrew Cockburn hosted dinner parties in D.C. teeming with movie stars, world leaders and the occasional spy. Now Olivia is just the sort of person her parents would have wanted at the table: charming and famous, yes, but also as smart and serious-minded as she is stunning. She plays the brainy character Thirteen on the TV series House M.D. and was a sultry cybervixen in last year’s blockbuster Tron: Legacy. Over the next two years, she’s got seven films coming out, including Cowboys & Aliens and The Change-Up (from the guy who directed Wedding Crashers!).
Married at 18 to Tao Ruspoli, an Italian prince whom she met through friends, Olivia filed for divorce in March. Now 27, she seems wise and confident beyond her years, but she’s sweetly vulnerable too. Single for the first time in her adulthood (she’s been spotted lately with Ryan Gosling and Justin Timberlake), Olivia opened up about what’s next.
GLAMOUR: Your mother is my idol. I did my first big story with her.
OLIVIA WILDE: I love that! I’m 27, and to think that she was already working at ABC at my age, already kicking ass in that world. She’d also had my older sister. That blows my mind.
GLAMOUR: I first met you when you were six.
OLIVIA WILDE: I remember the dining room table was covered with every newspaper from eight in the morning until night.
GLAMOUR: Stacks of paper. Did you grow up talking politics around the dinner table?
OLIVIA WILDE: Yes, we did. They had these epic dinner parties…. I would always crawl under the table and just listen. I remember Mick Jagger [talking] politics with my parents…. At 13 I came to L.A. for a press junket, and it was this magical land of palm trees and George Clooney. But [then] I saw George talking to my dad about politics, and I thought what makes these people special is that they’re not just actors…. I saw people being valued for their intelligence and their interests as opposed to their stardom. It was instilled in us that stardom is meaningless.
GLAMOUR: You went to Haiti after the earthquake. I wasn’t surprised.
OLIVIA WILDE: Going to Haiti was really amazing. I felt very comfortable and calm in the dangerous places. I would write [my mother] e-mails saying, “Today we got caught in a riot. Then there was a shooting, then later we were at a morgue.” Most mothers would write back, “Be careful,” but she writes, “Send me more. Find out what’s going on with so-and-so.” It was an incredible bonding experience.
GLAMOUR: But how did you become an actress? It’s like a Kennedy becoming a fashion designer.
OLIVIA WILDE: Ha! I never wanted to be a journalist. But I can’t tell you how profound it’s been to realize that [my mother] is so within me…. She’s gorgeous, and she taught me that a real feminist doesn’t apologize for her beauty. You can be a sexy, beautiful woman and be the smartest person in the room.
GLAMOUR: You have both presence and intellect. Does it put people off in Hollywood?
OLIVIA WILDE: With Tron, I walked in there and said, “[My character] can’t be this slinky temptress of the sci-fi world. It’s boring.” I would sit with the writers for hours. And when I did Cowboys & Aliens, the writers from Tron called them and said, “She’s going to want to talk for hours, and she’s going to want to write.” I was happy with that reputation—good! And we did.
GLAMOUR: Daniel Craig, Ryan Reynolds, Justin Timberlake—the list of your costars reads like People’s Sexiest Men Alive.
OLIVIA WILDE: It’s not bad! I’ve been lucky to have chemistry with my costars, and I really enjoy pretend kissing. If you’re pretending to love each other, you’ve got to find something to fall in love with.
GLAMOUR: Speaking of love: You were a child bride. Marrying at 18 after a whirlwind courtship is so old-fashioned.
OLIVIA WILDE: It is. I found out after I did it that my grandmother did the same thing. My mom also [married] very young.
GLAMOUR: What was her reaction when you came home and said, “I’m getting married”?
OLIVIA WILDE: She found out, like a good journalist, without my telling her.
GLAMOUR: Of course she did!
OLIVIA WILDE: Why would I try to keep anything from this woman? She embraced [Tao] and really encouraged me to thrive in this choice that I made. And then when it didn’t work out, in just the same way she encouraged me to find the positive thing about [that].
GLAMOUR: Your parents have been married for what, 35 years? What is the mark of a successful marriage—should it be measured by length of years? Because I don’t think every successful relationship ends with “happily ever after.”
OLIVIA WILDE: Sometimes it’s eight years and it’s great, and you have to know when it ends. The mark of a good marriage is partnership and continuing to feel inspired by your spouse. I had that with Tao. But the end is not necessarily the tragedy. Staying in a relationship that is no longer working is the tragedy. Living unhappily—that’s the tragedy.
GLAMOUR: What is the lesson of a young marriage?
OLIVIA WILDE: Everyone said it to me—and I had to figure it out for myself—but you change so much. I’ve learned that it’s important to spend some time in a relationship with yourself and not being defined by your partner.
GLAMOUR: Was it hard to finally say, “It’s over”?
OLIVIA WILDE: It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do…. We got engaged at Burning Man and married on a school bus. We were not conventional. I think the promise we always made was that if we are no longer happy, we won’t continue. And it got to the point where I was working 10 months of the year outside of L.A. and he was doing incredible things in other places. We were no longer partners in crime.
GLAMOUR: Are you dating again?
OLIVIA WILDE: I’m opening my heart up to the idea of dating. It’s funny—my friends would always come to me for romantic advice, [but] I know nothing, and things have changed since I was dating in high school! I’m really trying hard to spend this time working on myself.
GLAMOUR: How is that possible with seven films coming out in the next two years?
OLIVIA WILDE: I’m going to Haiti to work on a documentary about a Little League team. After, I’m thinking about traveling, but I should stay in one place. I just bought a house [in L.A.]. I’ve already filled it with girlfriends who are going to live there!
GLAMOUR: I have a feeling you’ll be in a relationship soon.
OLIVIA WILDE: I don’t want to, but I probably will. I wish I could play the field. But it’s so not me. I go 100 percent into everything. And I’m a really good girlfriend.