Olivia Wilde Turned The American Dream Into A Nightmare On-Screen
Olivia Wilde has always demonstrated a 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, the 38-year-old actress has enjoyed the freedom that comes with not worrying about what other people think.
A part of that resonates in her new movie, Don’t Worry Darling, in which she both acts and directs. The utopian American Dream is presented as a dystopian horror thriller, with an all-star cast that notably includes Harry Styles, Wilde’s significant other since January 2021.
Wilde shares her views with RSNG.com on the entertainment business, how directing compares to acting and how society can heal from current troubles.
RSNG What appealed in the storyline of Don’t Worry Darling?
OLIVIA WILDE, AN ACTRESS IN HER ELEMENT “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.”
RSNG Harry Styles has said the movie resonated for him given his experiences in the music industry: that the outward façade very rarely matches the challenges and emotions that go on inside.
OLIVIA WILDE “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 feel-good factor. If you can’t show that to people then you probably shouldn’t be in front of the lens.”
RSNG Social and cultural activism has always been second nature for you [her father is a political journalist and her mother is a producer at 60 Minutes] – where are we going wrong in society now?
OLIVIA WILDE “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.”
RSNG How can we get through current challenging times, as a society?
OLIVIA WILDE “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 ok.
“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.
“I guess I just take my place in the world a little bit more seriously, being a mother.”
RSNG Has your own life defied expectations, like your character in this movie?
OLIVIA WILDE “Not really. I think mine has followed expectations. I grew up in a very rarefied intellectual environment and there was 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.”
RSNG You direct now as well as act – how do the two compare?
OLIVIA WILDE “Directing is not necessarily more important than acting; 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.
“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.
“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.”
RSNG Have you managed to understand why acting calms you?
OLIVIA WILDE “It’s a 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.”
RSNG Could your career have gone a different way?
OLIVIA WILDE “Well my father took me to a taping of Saturday Night Live when I was young and that’s 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 theater 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.”
RSNG What’s your secret for being so good-natured and happy as an individual?
OLIVIA WILDE “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.”
RSNG What still motivates you to work as an actress?
OLIVIA WILDE “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 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.
“But there’s still nothing like sitting in a theater and feeling something with hundreds of other people.”
WHAT NEXT? Find out how getting strong to play Captain Marvel helped Brie Larson see herself in a whole new light by reading RSNG.com’s exclusive interview with the star, here.
Photos: Shutterstock/ Moviestilldb