Olivia Wilde steps onto the red carpet at the Tribeca Grand Hotel and the flashbulbs explode. She’s in town for the premiere of her latest film “Fix” (which opens on Friday) and banks and banks of press photographers are vying for a perfect shot. “Look to the left, Olivia! Look to the right!” they shout, as cameras focus and refocus.
Asked what she makes of all the heady attention, the 25-year-old shrugs playfully. “It’s a circus. All filmmaking is like a circus from start to finish. Some part of me really enjoys it,” she told IrishCentral’s sister publication the Irish Voice during an interview last week.
But Wilde has a particularly Irish combination of beauty and brains, so it’s fairly safe to assume she’ll never be seduced by the empty glamour of fame that seems to consume so many of her contemporaries.
In the midst of the big media scrum she’s as cool as ice, relaxed and focused and doing what she came to do -- promote her new film. Other people are losing their heads all around her -- behind the velvet ropes male photographers are shouting at her like naughty schoolboys, press agents are jumping in and out of her way -- but she keeps her composure, never once frowning or making a face. She’s that rare thing in Hollywood, a class act, and a throwback to the golden age of movie stars who stayed unruffled and ready no matter where or when.
“Fix,” written and directed by her documentary filmmaking husband Tao Ruspoli, is a breakneck thrill ride of a movie. In this fictionalized version of a factual tale, Wilde plays Bella, a young documentary maker who together with her boyfriend Milo (played by Ruspoli) has to race across town in order to get Milo’s brother Leo (Shawn Andrews) from jail to a rehab clinic before 8 p.m. on the same day -- or Leo goes to jail for three years.
It’s a story inspired by true events, and the trio journey from a police station in the middle of nowhere in California all the way through the mansions of Beverly Hills in a desperate attempt to raise the $5,000 they need to get Leo into the rehab clinic.
For Wilde and Ruspoli it wasn’t the big budget Hollywood thrillers that inspired them. Rather, it was a made for peanuts Irish film that gave them the courage to write, direct and star in it themselves.
It also helped that Wilde is now a household name here thanks to her recurring role opposite Golden Globe winning actor Hugh Laurie in Fox’s hit show “House.” All the exposure has made it easier to raise the budget for their cinematic labor of love.
“If you think of films like ‘Once,’ starring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, it’s similar to ‘Fix’ because that film was a labor of love and it was made for nearly nothing and look at how it exploded. I think that’s good because they cared so much and it was also based on a real story,” Wilde tells the Irish Voice.
“‘Once’ was a huge inspiration to us when we were making ‘Fix.’ It was a very simple story about people connecting, and music was a huge part of it as well. They’re the little movies that can!”
Wilde, a native of New York whose father is the celebrated Irish journalist Andrew Cockburn, and whose mother Leslie is an award winning writer and filmmaker, takes fierce pride in her heritage and is very upfront about her plans to pursue projects in Ireland.
“It’s no mistake that many of our best actors happen to be Irish,” she says. “It’s the way they train there, and I am honored to be considered among the Irish acting community even though I’m American.
“I really love that people connect me to that community. It’s such an honor because I have such respect for them.”
In case anyone is in doubt about her heritage, she spells it out succinctly. “I’m Irish. I’m an Irish citizen. Right now I’m trying to put together an Irish film.
“I really want to make a film in Ireland, and I really want to work with Irish actors. And acting on the stage of the Irish national theatre, the Abbey, would be my dream.
“I went to the Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin and I just fell in love with the way Irish people approach theater, approach the arts. So it really is my dream to go back there and do a film and do a play and really join the artistic community there. It’s my ultimate dream.”
With “Fix” Wilde got to work closely with her husband, a film director known for his hard-hitting urban documentaries. That closeness between them allowed her to give a much more focused performance. It also freed her up to take risks she wouldn’t ordinarily have.
“It was fun working with my husband because when you know someone so well you have a really quick line of communication. I found that that made everything run really smoothly,” she says.
“Also, when you love someone hopefully it means that you really trust them and the best thing is to be able to trust your director -- that’s an ideal for an actor. So I thought it was actually really great.”
The pair came up with the idea for “Fix” together because they wanted to make a story based on Ruspoli’s own family. That’s how they hit on the story about his drug addicted brother, and the film follows their plans to save him.
“It was something very close to us, and I think there’s nothing more interesting than the love between siblings,” Wilde says.
“It’s a very interesting, very profound and strong bond, and his brother’s such an eccentric and fascinating character. I told Tao there must be one day in his life that you can tell the story of and he immediately remembered one. That was the story of ‘Fix.’”
For Wilde it was the closest she’s ever been to the material before and the experience was completely positive, touching on themes that Irish audiences and audiences everywhere can relate to.
Says Wilde, “It’s been really interesting to go around the world and have different audiences respond to ideas of addiction in the family, and trying to force someone you love to do something they may not want. It’s a universal theme even though it’s a very personal story.”
Meanwhile, science fiction fan boys -- and there are millions of them -- are awaiting her performance in “Tron Legacy,” the 2010 sequel to the 1981 sci-fi classic “Tron.” Wilde knows that just one word from her on the veiled-in-secrecy project lights up the web.
“I’m enjoying working on ‘Tron Legacy’ with Jeff Bridges, who is amazing. It’s very different from ‘Fix.’ It’ll be fun to watch,” she says.
“It’s an amazing honor to carry on the legacy of that film and I don’t think diehard fans will be disappointed -- they’ll be very happy with the film. It’s going to look cool but that’s not all. There’s a real story.”
“Fix” opens nationwide on Friday.