In the new film Drinking Buddies, Olivia Wilde delivers the best performance of her career by painting a stunning portrait of a woman absentmindedly approaching an emotional precipice. A feat made all the more impressive once you learn that the entire film was improvised by Wilde and fellow actors, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston.
That’s the signature of writer/director Joe Swanberg and the biggest reason why Olivia accepted the role of Kate, a brewery manager who attempts to juggle feelings for boyfriend Chris (Livingston) and co-worker/drinking buddy Luke (Johnson) with little success.
I caught up with Wilde to talk about tackling this intimidating role, uncover her personal history with alcohol and find out what she makes of Josh Schwartz revealing where her character from The O.C. is today!
ETonline: What attracted you to Drinking Buddies?
Olivia Wilde: This was not a project that I did for the result, and it’s probably the only project I can say that about. I did this movie for the process. I didn’t think anyone would ever see this movie [laughs]. They approached me and I was honored they asked. I didn’t know much about Joe, I had seen Hannah Takes The Stairs and I appreciated that he embraced complex female characters, and heard that the process was really intense and fun. Like every other actor I’ve always wanted to work with Mike Leigh, but that’s a year of preparation. This was sort of the opposite way of approaching an improvised film: you show up and just jump off the cliff. I have to give credit to my lovely fiance [Jason Sudeikis] for telling me to do the film because I was on the fence about it. There was no script — that’s scary! He really pushed me to do it and I’m so grateful because I did love every part of making this movie!
ETonline: Jason knows a thing or two about improvisation. What was the best piece of advice he gave you?
Wilde: “Don’t try to be funny.” That’s an important thing. You feel a certain amount of pressure with improvisation to push so you keep people excited and interested and fill the space, but I think one of the most important parts of this movie is the silence. So relaxing and not pushing anything and not trying to make people laugh and just being. Kate is sort of like me in that she deals with awkwardness by making jokes. And that’s in there, but it was not intended to be a comedy beyond the fact it’s about the hilarious and tragic parts of life.
ETonline: Kate is very much an imperfect woman, which is an archetype Hollywood doesn’t seem very interested in centering movies around, while imperfect men are omnipresent. Why do you think that is?
Wilde: I think people are quick to assume that a woman who is emotionally unavailable is cold, whereas a man who is emotionally unavailable is damaged or brooding. I think the inability to embrace the female imperfection is a romantic concept because women are seen as nurturers, as wiser, as being somehow more evolved. But it’s so important for us not to lose touch with the fact that women are human and female characters should be as complex as their male counterparts. Joe seems to really understand that. The more characters we see like this, the more people will come to accept imperfect women.
ETonline: To you, what makes an ideal drinking buddy?
Wilde: A good sense of humor and an ability to hold your liquor. I can’t stand drunks. Keep it together people [laughs]. The real definition of a drinking buddy is someone you feel comfortable letting your guard down in front of and that’s a great quality in a friend. I think that’s what Kate and Luke have with each other — the ability to be completely themselves; messy, selfish, silly. But that’s precisely why they can’t be lovers.
ETonline: Of all the characters you’ve played, who would make the best drinking buddy?
Wilde: Thirteen on House was pretty cool. I spent the most time with her, but she’s also extremely intelligent yet doesn’t wear it on her sleeve. I think she likes to have a good time.
ETonline: Part of me thought you were going to say Brooke from Butter.
Wilde: I’d end up in Mexico with a face tattoo if I went drinking with Brooke! I don’t need that! I mean, maybe once in a lifetime. If you really want to shake things up, go drinking with Brooke.
ETonline: What’s your drink of choice?
Wilde: I like beer. So this [movie] was good for me. In the summer, I’m a gin and tonic girl. In the winter, I’m a scotch girl. I don’t get down with that whole vodka soda thing.
ETonline: Have you ever broken up with a liquor?
Wilde: Tequila and I had to take a break. It was amicable. But, yeah, we got in trouble together. It’s like that friend you hung out with in school who almost got you expelled. At a certain point you just have to say, “Maybe we shouldn’t hang out any more.”
ETonline: What was your first drink?
Wilde: My dad is Irish and we grew up going back and forth to Ireland, so it was a Guinness.
ETonline: Lastly, and totally off topic, it was recently the 10 year anniversary of The O.C. and Josh Schwartz did an interview where he revealed what all the characters were up to today, and he said Alex was dating Ryan!
Wilde: What? What! WHAT!?!
ETonline: Yeah, he said they ran into each other on a flight and are going on a date. Thoughts?
Wilde: That’s awesome. I can see that. I love how Ryan was the quiet confident dude who came from the wrong side of the tracks, and sorta suggested Alex did as well. They’re both totally independent spirits. I could see it working out!
ETonline: Who would wear the pants in that relationship?
Wilde: Oh, Alex does! Come on. She wears the pants … and the purple hair streaks and butterfly tattoo.