GQ (UK Edition) – 2012
Olivia Wilde lightens up!
By Jonathan Heaf
GQ (UK Edition) – April 2012
We know what you’re thinking. And, yes, Olivia knows what you’re thinking, too. Of course she does. How could she not? Look at her. Look deep into those eyes. Theeyes, man. Feels good, right? Warm. Like coming home after an away win. Or pocketing the black off two cushions. It’s a look that could feng shui a man’s soul in seconds. Nevertheless, we’re all thinking it: the soda-slurping, front-row Comic-Con fanboys who fell in love with Olivia (and her “light suit”) in TRON: Legacy are thinking it; the sitcom junkies who burnt through all five series of the actress’ hugely successful stint in House over the course of one gloriously horizontal duvet day are thinking it; hell, even director Jon Favreau’s extraterrestrials in Cowboys & Aliens – the sci-fi Western Olivia starred in alongside Daniel Craig that “didn’t perform” (her words) – are no doubt thinking it. And Barack Obama? A man for whom Olivia campaigned in Iowa back in 2007 before he was elected… he’s definitely thinking it.
Comedy? Olivia Wilde doesn’t do comedy. Does she?
“I wanted to be on Saturday Night Live since I was ten,” says 27-year-old Olivia, who at this precise moment is expertly sucking on a bowl of linguine at Little Dom’s, a soporifically cosy Italian eatery a short drive in her “mum car” (again, her words, not ours) from her house in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles that she shares with two girlfriends. (No, not at all like that.) “My father took me to a live taping on my birthday. Chris Farley [early Nineties SNL wild man] was still in the cast and at the after party he had a brownie-eating contest. It became, like, a very valuable, powerful moment in my childhood. Although it was the only eating contest I have ever lost.”
The way in which Olivia delivers this anecdote is typical. She’s smart. And up for a bit of mischief. Either to keep me amiably entertained as the interviewer, or – and this is more likely – to keep herself entertained while having dinner with someone she doesn’t know, a journalist, but is required to talk to for a couple of hours. She’s fun. That “like” Olivia threw in there, which made her sound as if she was some ditzy actress harking on about some overly significant event that happened during her childhood? On purpose. Just to make sure you know that she knows that you know she’s no dumb broad. Let’s just call it a warning shot.
“Seeing the energy of SNL made me want to be a part of it. If that was a job, I thought, that was the job I wanted. That was my plan. Comedy. When I first did theatre I was always doing comedies; it was always my first love. But it wasn’t what I was picked for at first, for films and TV. But in the past couple of years, I’ve had the chance to do those things. And it doesn’t feel like, ‘OK, now I’ve done the action thing I’m going to learn how to be funny.’ Because this was always what I wanted to do; now I’m getting the chance to be around some of the greatest.”
Olivia’s first foray into funny wasn’t, in fact, when she appeared as a bottle blonde in hit TV teen drama The O.C. back in 2004 and smooched Mischa Barton on a Californian beach. No, you giggled then from an entirely different part of your brain. And I’m pretty sure we can discount Bickford Shmeckler’s Cool Ideas, released in 2006, because – although officially pegged as a comedy – it was big on the “rom”, less so on the “com”. Then there was a bit part as Princess Inanna in Year One (2009), with Michael Cera (hipster clown) and Jack Black (hairy clown), which GQ admits we haven’t seen, although neither has Bill Murray: “I never went to see Year One,” Murray commented recently, “but people who did, including other Ghostbusters, said it was one of the worst things they had ever seen in their lives.” Ouch. Although, remember, this coming from the man who said “yes” to voicing Garfield because a “Cohen” brother was attached. Wrong Cohen, Bill.
So it wouldn’t be too disingenuous to start tracking Olivia’s more prolific comedy career with The Change-Up, starring American dreamboat Ryan Reynolds and bona fide funny guy Jason Bateman – a tale of switched identity via a lightning bolt (what else?), released last summer. It was a decent enough first-date movie. And genuinely funny in places. Soon, however, the laughter is going to ring louder for Olivia. First up, there’s Butter, in which she plays “sort of an opportunistic stripper”, with a skill set that includes being able to carve said dairy product into elaborate shapes while also bedding politicians – it’s as bonkers as it sounds. Next comes The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, a comedy about magicians with Steve Carell, Jim Carrey and Steve Buscemi, that looks set to perform some serious hocus-pocus on Olivia’s comedy credentials.
“I auditioned for it, which I love,” she adds. “You feel more secure. I competed against some wonderful comedians – real comedians – and was this wild card. I know Steve [Carell], who’s producing the film, didn’t expect anything from me. I don’t see why sexuality and comedy have to be mutually exclusive. That’s a tragic concept when it comes to women – you can be sexy and funny. I think Kristen Wiig is the perfect example: she’s quirky and nerdy and, like, ‘I’m a f***ing sex bomb but I’m also the funniest person you’ve ever met.’ And I worship her for that.”
Olivia isn’t one to shy away from confrontation, perhaps something passed on from her parents, both investigative journalists who filled their home with rowdy intellectuals. Christopher Hitchens baby-sat the young star, while Mick Jagger once shooed Olivia away from the dinner table and told her to “Go to bed”. She’s not unaware of how many other women have heard (or have wanted to hear) Jagger utter such a command. Such bohemian surroundings gave Olivia a spark. Or what she describes as “a fire in me”.
On poor box-office figures, she’s honest yet ferociously unapologetic: “They were big movies. Or rather supposed to be. The Change-Up, an enormous production that was going to be the next Wedding Crashers, didn’t perform. Cowboys? It was supposed to be this huge thing – it didn’t perform. People felt it was too clichéd. Look, it’s not a cliché if we’re paying homage to a John Ford movie! And TRON, too, was supposed to be as big as Avatar and, well, it wasn’t. But I have no regrets. There have been so many roles I wanted but didn’t get. I screen-tested for Casino Royale; I went to Prague to play Vesper Lynd. I didn’t get it and I thought, ‘It’s over. It’s over. It’s f***ing over.’ But of course, I got over it. Eventually.”
Olivia takes an equally impenitent attitude when reflecting on her private life, something she’s refreshingly candid about. The star eloped at 18, got engaged at Burning Man festival and then got hitched on an old school bus on the beach to a flamenco guitar-playing Italian prince named Tao Ruspoli. “I thought I was going to die young,” she adds. “It was a pretty juvenile mind-set.” The marriage wasn’t to last, however, and Olivia filed for divorce in March last year. The actress recently found it cathartic to direct a short movie (her first) called Free Hugs, a film that makes light of the terrible self-indulgence purported by someone in the early stages of a break-up.
“When you split with someone you love you think you’re the only person who has ever gone through it: ‘Oh did you listen to the National on repeat and live on Marlboro Lights and chocolate for three months? Me too!’ But I was lucky to have such a peaceful parting. It’s never easy; it’s f***ed up and I wouldn’t recommend it. But there were no kids involved, so we could see it as this wonderful chapter. And anyway, you fall in love again. Oh God, to think that you only fall in love once in your entire life is such a depressing thought. I actually think the subject of young divorce is pretty funny; I’d like to write a movie about it. Can you imagine a young couple fighting over Ikea furniture?”
The comedic prospects of dissembling and dividing flat-pack furniture aside, another project on Olivia’s Hollywood horizon includes Niki Lauda biopic Rush, the highly anticipated Formula One flick directed by Ron Howard. Although excited about the costumes – “Gucci is doing my entire wardrobe, that era in the Seventies was so sexy.” – Olivia’s keen to shake off the sex-symbol label that’s been such an integral part of her appeal up until now. “I was very sexually mature at a very young age. I was very comfortable with it and talking about it, and once someone hears a young woman speak candidly about sexuality, it’s like, ‘Whoa!’ You get labelled.
“I pulled out of the Linda Lovelace biopic. I decided that it should go to someone who is not already sexualised by the public – Linda Lovelace was an innocent. Amanda [Seyfried, who was eventually cast] will do an amazing job. I would like to play roles that are in no way sexualised. But I’m not apologising for it either. I do subscribe, in part, to the Gloria Steinem view of sexuality – there’s nothing about it that makes you less of a feminist.”
Well Olivia, if this is what feminism looks like in 2012, you can count on GQ’s vote.