Born to be Wilde

Olivia Wilde has always had a bold and fearless nature. Whether it comes to voicing her opinions on political issues, marrying an Italian Count/musician at 18, or funding educational and start-up business ventures in Haiti and Africa, Wilde has always enjoyed the freedom that comes with not worrying about what other people think.

A part of that resonates in her latest movie, Don’t Worry Darling, where the utopian American Dream is presented as a dystopian horror thriller in an all-star cast that includes Florence Pugh, Chris Pine and Gemma Chan. Notably, the movie also stars Harry Styles, Wilde’s significant other since the couple got together in January 2021.

While she found fame on small screen’s smashes The OC and House, and moved onto blockbuster fare with Tron: Legacy, Cowboys and Aliens, Rush and critically lauded independent features Her, Butter and Better Living Through Chemistry, Wilde is only too aware of the transition beyond the ingénue roles to a more mature chapter in her career.

Q: What appealed in this storyline?
For me it’s the whole social aspect of who we are, and not what we present, as well as what we represent. It’s the fact that while everything from the outside seems pleasant and normal, there is a disturbing undercurrent that begins to gnaw away. That could be applied to the 1950s community shown in the movie, or to our actual lives now, in 2022. And I think social media has only ramped up the sense of falseness and fakery that our lives have become about.

Q: Harry [Styles] has said there was a real resonation in the movie for him given his experiences in the music industry, and that the outward facade very rarely matches the challenges and emotions that go on inside.
I think that’s entertainment as a whole. The clue is in the name – the task in hand is to entertain, and most entertainment for most people means a feelgood factor. If you can’t show that to people then you probably shouldn’t be in front of the lens.

Q: Social and cultural activism has always been second nature for you — [her father is left-leaning political journalist and mother is a producer at 60 Minutes]. Are we experiencing a real cultural breakdown, do you think?
When I was young, I had a lot of nervous and creative energy, I found acting very therapeutic as a child. A lot of children manifest their creativity and enthusiasm through a kind of erratic energy, and a lot of parents these days are prone to medicating their kids rather than finding outlets for that energy.

I’m not saying this is the source of the problem where society doesn’t quite know where it’s at, but I don’t believe it helps. We’ve got to set young people free again from a young age.

Q: Is there any purity left in society at the moment? Is there real, genuine, human emotion and tolerance in some of our values?
I think we are progressing through a difficult time — politics, the pandemic, war. Ultimately, the human condition will always come back, and things will be okay.

I think there are plenty of ways we can still celebrate the human spirit — take motherhood for instance. Motherhood – and parenthood as a whole — is a great lesson in selflessness. You look at your life very differently because of the responsibility that looking after your child imposes upon you. It’s a beautiful and amazing experience. Being a parent also broadens your storytelling ability… I guess I just take my place in the world a little bit more seriously being a mother.”

Q: Has your own life defied the same expectations as those in this movie?
Not really. I think mine has followed expectations. I grew up in a very rarefied intellectual environment and there was a swell; a circle of artists and intellectuals who frequented my parents’ house.

They undoubtedly added to my artistic ambitions and were a source of stimulation, so I don’t think I have strayed too far off that track.

Sure enough, I grew up with a lot of untamed energy, and my imagination was incredibly active… sometimes so active I found it difficult to restrain it. I sort of existed in many di­fferent worlds at once; I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night, because I would have a running reel of di­fferent films in my head, di­fferent stories in my head.

Q: Is directing more important than acting?
It’s not necessarily more important; it’s just different. The truth is I have wanted to act since I was young, and acting was very therapeutic for me as a child. I had a lot of energy, in a way that was unbridled and unfocused.

“Sure enough, I grew up with a lot of untamed energy, and my imagination was incredibly active… sometimes so active I find it difficult to restrain it.”

I wasn’t out of control and violent or anything, but I was certainly an exploding, spinning top and my parents were gracious and wise enough to help me focus that into something artistic and they encouraged me to act. It was immediately therapeutic. It calmed me and it still does. Even if I was acting for no one, I would still have to keep acting. It’s just what I love to do.

Directing calms me in a way that’s similar but makes me feel as if I have so much more takeout from things… and that’s very magical.

Q: Have you managed to isolate why it is that it calms you?
It’s way of focusing. Telling a story is very calming for me. All the research, I love that process, I love just saying that’s what I’m doing so I’m going to read everything I can about that, and then analyze it. I read scripts like a writer and that’s because of my parents.

Q: Indeed, you’re from a family of writers aren’t you?
Yes, they’re all writers. Hopefully I will be a writer one day. When I grow up [laughs].

Q: How did you get into acting then, and not go into the family business?
I have wanted to act since I was young, and acting was very therapeutic for me as a child. I had a lot of energy, in a way that was unbridled and unfocused. And I think maybe with other parents, I would have been medicated!

Q: You didn’t act though, as a child, professionally. Was that your parents’ doing?
Yes, they did not want that. They didn’t know that world and it was never a consideration. And it wasn’t ever really a consideration on my part either so there was no battle as it were. There was no talk of an agent, none of that.

However, when I made the declaration at 10 years old that this was what I wanted to do, instead of dismissing me and being like, ‘Okay, that’s nice,’ my parents, particularly my mom, said to me, ‘If you want to be an actor, you have to train like an actor; and they work hard. They read, they study, the devote themselves’. And that was so supportive, it was never seen by them as a frivolous activity.

Q: Could your career have gone a different way after that?
I never felt that. From the night my father took me to a taping of Saturday Night Live, that was the moment I fell in love with acting. I loved the fact that they were doing it all in front of a live audience, but it wasn’t like the traditional theatre I’d seen — they were in front of you, throwing on costumes and changing and assuming another character in front of your eyes. That’s what I wanted to do.

Q: You seem very good-natured and happy as an individual?
I don’t spend too much time torturing myself with doubts. I have a pretty optimistic outlook on what I feel I can accomplish and how my life is moving forward.

I’ve grown a lot over the last few years, and I can feel that change in me. I like the way things have been evolving and I enjoy taking each day as it comes.

Q: What still motivates you to work as an actress?
It’s so fun to act, I enjoy it. I enjoy acting and playing totally different people each time and it’s extraordinary that we get to call it a profession. Not that long ago it wasn’t a very respectable one, so I feel very lucky to be living in a time when I can actually get paid for it and I am not considered trash for doing it.

I think this movie, Don’t Worry Darling, works because it taps into that edge where I think an audience will allow itself to ‘feel’ through watching films. I think it gives them permission to confront different emotions and it’s so beautiful that we do it in this collective manner, even though that’s changing… the model is changing, people are watching things in a much more isolated way now.

There’s still nothing like sitting in a theater and feeling something with hundreds of other people.

Q: What are your plans for this Christmas?
Lots and lots of family time. I’m not sure exactly the plans but it’s going to be lots of food and conversation, charades some time off from work and commitments and schedules… just recharge and focus on being mom and nothing more.

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