Many New Yorkers suffer an identity crisis when they move to Los Angeles, but for Olivia Wilde, it manifested itself in an unusual form. “Sometimes I feel like a fembot,” says the lethally beautiful 23-year-old actress. “You feel interchangeable: ‘Oh, I couldn’t do that movie, so they put in that person. Am I just one of a billion girls out here?'”
Wilde does have a few qualities that set her apart from the army of fembots populating the soundstages and yoga studios of Southern California. She got married at age 18 (“I’m not even Southern, and I wasn’t pregnant!” she likes to say); her husband, Tao Ruspoli, proposed at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert. It turned out he was not only a documentary filmmaker living on a bus, he was also an Italian prince. Her dog Paco was named Old Navy’s mascot last year. And she comes from a prominent family of journalists: her mother Leslie Cockburn is a 60 Minutes producer. When Wilde was a kid, her parents took turns raising the family in DC and heading out to war zones.
“I plan to read everything my family has written,” Wilde says. “It’d take me a year. I’d read all of Alexander Cockburn [her firebrand journalist uncle], all of Claud Cockburn [her Irish grandfather]. My uncle Patrick Cockburn just came out with a great book about Iraq called The Occupation.” She grins. “And then they have to watch every episode of The O.C.”
Wilde is still probably most famous for her O.C. role as Alex Kelly, Mischa Barton’s bisexual love interest. She’s also been in The Black Donnellys (as the long-suffering Jenny), Turistas (as one of the victims), and Alpha Dog (as an “insane, vile, crazy, nymphomaniac animal”). Wilde not only lights up the screen with her good looks, she throws herself into each role without vanity, flailing around on the ground when it’s called for. “If I weren’t acting, you’d have to put me away in a mental institution, really,” she says.
Now Wilde’s featured in the new season of House as Thirteen, one of forty new fellows hired by Dr. House (many of them quickly get fired for arbitrary reasons). Wilde explains the unusual character name: “At the beginning, we all wear these racing bibs and he doesn’t bother to learn our names. Later on, my character doesn’t openly talk about herself. She does have this great mystery, which no one on the show knows but me and the writers. It’s so hard to keep this secret.” Wilde takes a beat. “God, I just want to tell you right now.”
House films Monday through Friday; on recent weekends, Wilde and Ruspoli were collaborating on Fix, a “scripted documentary” road movie about a day where her husband had 12 hours to get his brother from jail to rehab. The day they felt like they were working on a big-budget James Cameron movie instead of stealing shots on street corners: they shut down the 710 freeway for two hours. “You can do it for like, twelve hundred dollars,” she reports excitedly. “I think we should have freeway parties in the middle of the night. You bring booze and everybody dances, while cars are zipping down the other side of the freeway. You just have to pretend you’re shooting a movie. And at the end of two hours, everyone clears out like nothing has happened.” She leans forward, looking luminous and adventurous–and you just want to find the closest ATM so you can withdraw $1,200.
Article by Gavin Edwards. Originally published (under the rubric “Hot Girl”), in dramatically shorter form, in Rolling Stone 1037 (October 18, 2007).