On the small screen, Olivia Wilde plays a beautiful doctor on the hit medical mystery series House. On the big screen, she's quickly turning into the new "it girl" of geek. Take Tron: Legacy, for example. Wrapped in latex, she plays the oddly angelic badass Quorra. Wrapped in latex. Did I mention she's wrapped in latex? Next up, she'll be starring in Cowboys and Aliens. Probably not wrapped in latex, but hey, I'm sure that movie will be equally cool. I sat down with Wilde recently to talk about Tron and what it's like being turned into a super-heroine.
Cole Haddon: What was your reaction, seeing Tron: Legacy for the first time?
Olivia Wilde: It surpassed all my expectations. What happens so often as an actor is, you retain the information about the scene that you yourself shot, and you obsess over certain scenes that you found the most challenging or interesting. But the rest of the film kind of falls away in your memory. It's been so long since I actually kind of read the script in its entirety -- a good year or more -- so being able to watch everyone's performance, watch all elements of the story come together, was just extraordinary. And I was blown away by everyone's work, and that was my reaction -- just, "Oh my God, everyone pulled it together!"
CH: Aside from the effects, I think I was more surprised by the political undertones. The filmmakers tried hard to give the story some gravity.
OW: Yes, absolutely, and I saw it more than ever [in the final cut]. I knew it was there in the script, but I was really excited to see, "Oh good we have a little bit of a political slant." Maybe nobody will ... notice but you and me, but I think that the message ... is that imperfection is beautiful. And the idea of accepting flaws and ... I mean, the story is one of a dictator who has ethnically cleansed this universe. And what's left is this desperate and miserable world. And so the message, I think, of course, is that compassion, humanity, and humility are important in our own lives as well as in -- in politics. But, gosh, again that makes me think of how incredible each performance was because [look at] a character like [Jeff Bridge's] Clu -- [who's] this just merciless dictator, who really kind of sends chills up your spine as you think of who he resembles in actual history. [So yeah], I think it does have a message as well, I mean a political message as well as one just about humanity in general.
CH: One of the most astonishing aspects of Tron: Legacy is that the filmmakers pit Bridges against a version of himself that is 28 years younger. I'm speaking of Kevin Flynn, the character he played in the original, taking on a computer program created in his image called Clu. It's an amazing affect. As an actress, do you think at all about things you're doing now being repurposed in a similar fashion years later?
OW: I think it's such an interesting concept. I think my dream movie is to take Clint Eastwood, Julie Christie, Vanessa Redgrave, and Meryl Streep, and take them all, and put them in like a teen comedy. Because now we can do that. It would be the most expensive teen comedy ever made, but totally worth it. I want to see that movie. But what I really realized while watching [Legacy and Jeff's] performance as Clu was that no matter what effect they come up with, to be able to make actors seem younger or older, it's still driven by the actor. And the effects are extraordinary and Eric Barba's team is incredible, but Jeff was driving that rig and [his] performance is what makes that character so compelling. And it was sort of a relief to know actors will still be needed no matter what they come up with. Even if we're stuck in a booth somewhere hidden away, they'll still need actors to drive these things and make them interesting.
CH: This is your first experience being turned into merchandise, right? How do you feel about that?
OW: This is my first experience with that. I don't think there's a little House 13 doll unless I'm missing something. It's really quite odd. I like Carrie Fisher's take on it. Carrie Fisher is such an incredible writer and actress, and person. I don't know if any of you have read or seen her one-woman show Wishful Drinking, but she talks a lot about the merchandise that came from Star Wars, including the blow-up doll -- which I haven't heard of any of those being created for Quorra. It's a funny out-of-body experience to see some miniature version of yourself on the shelf, but I feel so proud to have created this character, so whenever I see a little Quorra or I see a Quorra costume I just feel that this was something that we created together, and it's just a very different experience when you feel like you designed the character. Every part of her look and being is something that has come from the research that went into creating her personality and her history. And so I've enjoyed the experience so far -- but the second I see a Quorra blow-up doll, I won't.
CH: Talk about that look, and how you guys came up with it. It was great.
OW: The look, yes, it was a true collaboration, to create Quorra. And when we originally started putting together ideas for it, it was really kind of up for grabs because Quorra, of course, was not in the original film. And [the director] Joe Kaczynski was very interested in making her a unique and unusual femme. Not even femme fatale -- a female heroine. And so we worked very hard to make her very intelligent and powerful, but at the same time childlike and nuanced, so that she would not just be there as a kind of foil for the men, not just the eye candy. She could have very easily ... turned into the temptress of the Tron world. She could've just been this sexy femme fatale. With a suit like that, it's easy to fall into that, I think.
We were very inspired by Joan of Arc. I brought the concept of Joan of Arc very early on, six months before we start shooting. And I said, "Joe, I found Quorra. I figured her out. She's Joan of Arc." Because Joan of Arc was this unlikely warrior, this child who could lead an army. She was kind of unnaturally powerful and seemed to have this connection to another world, to a higher power, to be guided by something greater than her and by selflessness. And that was Quorra. And that combination of innocence and strength is unusual in characters, and so, once we found this historical reference, it was really fun to flesh her out.
But Joe was completely on board with that from the beginning. When you've hit the jackpot with directors is when they can be as excited about that stuff as you are. I remember calling or emailing Joe at 3 a.m. again, six months before we started shooting anything: "I think I figured it out. I was looking at ancient Korean Buddhist warriors, and I think that Quorra's one of them. And they fight with swords so Quorra needs a sword." And the next day, great Quorra has a sword.
So that's part of the reason I feel so proud of the finished product of Quorra is because so much hard work went into it, so much collaboration, so much love and I feel very proud of the way she's come out. She's quirky and odd, and I like that. Another reason I was so adamant about making her so intelligent as well as being a warrior, is because I really want her to appeal to the female audience and particularly young females. I wanted her to be a role model for a young audience.
CH: Your imagination sounds as broad as the filmmakers, and now you're starring in Cowboys and Aliens, which should be almost as insanely original. Were you a fan of these kinds of science-fiction fantasy stories as a young girl?
OW: I've always been a fan of science fiction. I, my family, we used to all watch Star Trek together. Sort of a nerdy family activity. But I, as far as reading science fiction, I think Jules Verne was probably the extent of my science-fiction literature in my library. I was much more into romance as a teenager, and it's been a kind of new discovery for me to learn about sci-fi adventure. It's an honor to be a part of it. I think it's a really interesting genre, and it's all about imagination. There's just ... it's boundless what you can do in these stories. And so when you have a creative team like we did for Tron you can just exceed all expectations and all boundaries of the imagination. It's just kind of a beautiful thing to be able to be a part of.