I don’t think people realize just how long Olivia Wilde has been in the business. For years now she’s been doing memorable work, often in supporting roles. This year though, she broke through in a big way for me with Meadowland, a darker drama than you might not be used to seeing from her. Wilde is excellent in it, with filmmaker Reed Morano really putting forward a unique view.
I got the chance to speak with Wilde, talking about all sorts of things, up to and including Meadowland. Below you can see the highlights of the interview:
On having this film sort of linger throughout the year and have a long shelf life, going from trying to get it financed, to the festival circuit, now to awards season:
Olivia Wilde – I mean, the thing about this project is that it took a really long time, and that was because it took a really long time to secure financing. It was a huge challenge. And yeah, I think that’s part of the reason why the film was so successful, because once we got to the actual production, we got the opportunity to shoot the movie, we were so grateful to be there! We had prepared, probably more than we would have, since we spent all this time getting the money, so we had this opportunity to really form a partnership, Reed (Morano) and myself. So, once we were on set, we had charged up this incredible form of communication, and we could really let loose. It turned out better than I ever could have imagined!
Discussing what drew her to the project:
OW – Well, first it was the script. I really responded to the script, and to the character. Then Reed really pushed me over the edge, because she is such a compelling person. I was a fan of hers as a DP and knowing that this story would be taken to the next level from the script because she’s such a visual storyteller, I knew it would take on this really fresh perspective. Especially after talking to her and realizing that she and I really connected on why the story was worth being told and why we were going to tell the story differently from other people who would approach this subject matter, she and I really had the same opinion. The same sort of sympathy…a lot of these actually sound sort of patronizing (laughs), the same sort of respect for the character. We saw her slightly unpredictable nature, how unpredictable a story of grief that this is. So, I think Reed’s interpretation of the script and my own interpretation combined to take it to another place, really making me want to be a part of it.
Also, when I first read it I called my agent and was like “wow, I want this”, and they said that everyone wants it, that it was really competitive. I told them that I was going to get it, so put me in a room with Reed! I’d explain to her why I had to play this character. So, that’s what happened and I convinced her to come to my house and film me doing a few scenes, and after that I wanted the part even more, because Reed was inspiring even in an audition setting. She just had great ideas! She was fighting against the cliche, always. I think that’s just in her nature, she has a very fresh perspective on storytelling. So, I found myself inspired even within that environment of auditions, which is typically not so inspiring.
A bit on her cameo in Her and how she often plays parts that feature characters acting differently than you’d expect them to:
OW – It’s interesting, I mean thank you for the compliments, I think I’ve been really lucky to work a few times with directors who have really brought the best out of me by daring me to go in a different direction than may be expected. I think it comes from directors who are truly sympathetic and respectful of actors. I’m thinking of that scene in Her as well because Spike Jonze is such a phenomenal director. He really empathizes with all of his characters, and even that one scene is really important to him, and I found that could be really inspiring. I would love to direct, I’ve directed a short and I would love to direct more one day, so I’m always paying attention, and really what I learned from Spike was a true appreciation for every element of the story. And Reed is like that, that little love for the characters lets the actors feel really liberated and safe in that environment.
I enjoy giving my all, going full force into a project, but Meadowland was like jumping off a cliff. Meadowland was like this deal that Reed and I made with each other that we would not pull our punches, and we protected this project before we even got the production part of it. We protected it as it went through the kind of financing rigamarole where we said we wouldn’t sacrifice certain elements. As you can see from watching the film, I’m sure you can see the things that other people would have cut as they were trying to scratch together pennies to make the movie. We refused to make it more commercial, we refused to make her more likable, we refused to lose larger set pieces. We have one at the very end, but it’s an expensive one, and it’s alive! (Laughs) I kind of threw my body on the tracks, saying we would not lose that elephant. It was so important to me and I so enjoy after every screening when someone comes up to me and asks if the elephant is real. It makes me so happy! You know, I really felt that this movie was an entirely different experience for me, as an actor certainly, and also as a producer. It was a different level of dedication and a different level of passion.
Talking about how it’s interesting to look at the early projects of an actor or an actress:
OW – You know, I liken it to if I were a chef. If I started my career as a short order cook, I think that would be really good training. It wouldn’t be the best cuisine, and it’s not that I’d want to go back and eat that food now, but I think it really teaches you a few things.
I remember being at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, like years ago, and I saw Cate Blanchett receive an award. She said her years on television really helped form her work ethic and that she really had respect for those years on television. That’s a time in television very different from now, where you could be in tremendous ensembles that feel like working in film, but she was making the point that although the beginning of her career, much as you’re saying, a huge departure from where she is now, she’s really grateful for that training. I feel the same way. I think it’s been a really important part of finding out who I am as an actor. Maybe not Skin! (Laughs) That’s a deep, deep cut! (Laughs) It just makes me laugh that you remember.
*(After we mentioned Sylvester Stallone’s early struggles as an example of everyone starting from scratch)*
What’s next for her:
OW – Next is Vinyl, which I’m really really excited about. That’s the HBO series that I’m on, with this amazing cast, led by Bobby Cannavale. It’s the new Terry Winters project, of course. Martin Scorsese is our executive producer, as is Mick Jagger, and it’s all about music in the early 70’s, in the music industry. It’s really a character piece. It’s really the best anti hero story that I’ve ever seen. I’m so lucky to be a part of it. For an actor, it’s just bliss. Every episode is so incredibly tasty and has so much to chew on. I must be hungry, because I’m only making food metaphors! (Laughs) I’m super excited about that one, and really just Meadowland brought me to another place professionally, with what I’m inspired by. And yes, as a producer, now I’m involved in things, some I’m not acting in, but just trying to move forward. There’s this show that will be on Comedy
Central that I’m producing, and that’s a completely different challenge. Right now, I’m just enjoying the experience of Meadowland being out in the world and getting to talk to people who’ve seen it. We’ve had some really profound interactions with audience members who feel the film is an honest depiction of grief, particular the grief of losing someone. I was at a SAG screening a week ago in LA and after it a mother came up to me and she said she lost her child, so we stepped into the corner and had a short conversation. It was a really meaningful moment for me, just to spend a little time with her. To hear her say that she felt what we did was honest was really the highest compliment that we could receive.
Again, Olivia Wilde stars in Meadowland, which is well worth your time, in particular for her performance. Check it out on VOD.
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!