News Column

Girl gone Wilde: Olivia talks 'Rush' and 'Third Person'

September 27, 2013


TORONTO _ Olivia Wilde has a small, but important, role in the auto racing movie "Rush," but those cars can't rocket half as fast as the actress' career.

Wilde, who got her start on TV around a decade ago ("Skins," "The O.C."), segued into small, offbeat movies, then showed her acting chops as "13" on the misanthropic TV medical drama, "House."

Thirteen suits her, because, in 2013, Olivia Wilde is having a year _ at home (she's engaged to actor Jason Sudeikis) and on the screen, with three big movies, kicking off with "Rush."

"I didn't know anything about Formula One," Wilde said, two weeks ago at the Toronto International Film Festival. "I didn't know anything about James Hunt or Niki Lauda. (Director Ron Howard) had me in for for a meeting and I just thought the story was sensational. I love stories about athletes. I'm obsessed with the '30 for 30' series and this sounded like a Bird and Magic story _ these rivals who drive each other to greatness. I knew Ron would tell it well. ... And I also love the '70s. So all of these factors came together and I wanted in."

Wilde plays the playboy Hunt's wife, Suzy, who leaves him for another famous playboy, Richard Burton.

"When I learned about that, it was such an interesting twist, because it proved she wasn't this long-suffering victim and conquest of Hunt's who was left sniveling, alone and sad, with pictures of him on her wall.

"She left first, which I liked. She was like, 'I gave you a chance, but you're making it impossible.' And she had a very happy relationship with Burton. . . . He left Elizabeth Taylor for this woman."

It wouldn't have been a stretch for Burton to leave Taylor for Wilde, who's not only beautiful, but smart, funny, likes sports, curses like a longshoreman and has a social conscience to boot.

"I've known Olivia since she wasn't famous," said her "Third Person" co-star Maria Bello, "and she has always been as brilliant, as kind and an activist more than any young woman I've ever met. So to see her become so successful is just the cherry on the sundae. ... I'm so happy young women have a role model like her."

The aforementioned Paul Haggis ensemble drama "Third Person" will be next in theaters for Wilde, followed by Spike Jonze's hard-to-pigeonhole "Her."

"They're all sensational," she said. "I feel pretty damn lucky. 'Third Person' is a really beautiful film. It's (expletive) heartbreaking. ... I think it's Liam Neeson's finest performance in a long time. Everyone was really pushing themselves to make Paul's script come to life. I wanted to be a part of it but I thought, 'Can I play someone in this much pain?' ... It was one of those jobs where every day at work could wring you dry. But it was worth it. I'm really happy with it.

"I sound like I'm being so dramatic but 'Her' is so (expletive) good. It's a story about humanity and loneliness, and Joaquin (Phoneix) is so great in it _ it's such a nuanced performance _ the camera is essentially on him talking to himself the entire film because he's talking to a voice you never see, played by Scarlett Johansson, who is playing an operating system. It's just a voice.

"So he's in love with this voice but he tries to be in love with real people. He tries to be a normal person and I am part of an attempt to do just that."

A lot of Wilde's good fortune as an actress can be traced back to her role as a brilliant, bisexual doctor with Huntington's disease on "House."

"Wearing a lab coat is like wearing Supergirl's cape," Wilde explained. "Once people see you in it, they believe you're very capable. They believe you have skills.

"I really have the writers to thank for anything that came out of that show for me, because they really allowed me to show so many sides of that character, and it was a showcase for me that allowed so many different, interesting filmmakers to hire me afterward."

"It's funny," she added, "because recently I had this film 'Drinking Buddies' which came out, and I produced, and I'm really proud of it, and it's been doing really well and a lot of the press said that before 'Drinking Buddies' I was only in 'Tron' and 'Cowboys & Aliens.' People forget 'House.' People who watch TV don't. But movie people think I started in 'Tron.'"


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