PLAYBOY: You aren’t known for doing action movies. But after co-starring in Tron: Legacy, have you discovered a hidden talent and enthusiasm for kicking ass?
OLIVIA WILDE: Yes! I love it! The great thing about doing movies with lots of stunts is that it feels like I’m having the athletic experience I never had in high school. I was a theater nerd and I always envied my friends who were on the field hockey team or the soccer team. They had a relationship with their coach that was so supportive, where the coach was like, “I believe in you! You’re amazing! Go get ‘em, tiger!” And now, working with these movie stunt teams, I’m finally able to experience that. You can show up for a movie weak and scrawny, with 80% body fat, and they’ll say, “You can do these stunts!” For actors who probably weren’t athletes in high school, that’s an amazing feeling.
PLAYBOY: Your costume for Tron is a skintight suit made out of rubber and neon. Is your character a stripper from the future?
OLIVIA WILDE: (Laughs.) My costume is actually the toughest, most bad-ass thing I’ve ever seen. And it doesn’t show very much skin. It’d be difficult to be a stripper in that suit, because it’s almost impossible to get it off. It’d be like a three-hour strip-tease. And you’d need at least five assistants on stage with you.
PLAYBOY: We’re guessing you didn’t get a lot of pee breaks during filming.
OLIVIA WILDE: Not many, no. I’m sure we were all severely dehydrated. But I try to avoid complaining about these things. Sure, it was uncomfortable to wear a tight rubber costume for four-and-a-half months. But it was also such an amazing experience. These suits were created with a new technology, where they take a body scan and design it completely on a computer. And the helmets were fitted to the bone scripture of our faces. It’s like this crazy architectural sculpture with electroluminescent lamps woven into it. It was like being inside a work of art.
PLAYBOY: Your Tron co-star, Jeff Bridges, is best known to many of us as the Dude from Big Lebowski. Did his inner bowling guru ever make an appearance?
OLIVIA WILDE: When we were in Vancouver, I heard that the cast of New Moon was in town, shooting at the same time. I jokingly said we should challenge them to a bowl-off. But it never happened. And it’s probably a good thing, because we obviously would have kicked their asses. How could we not, with the Dude on our team? The thing about Jeff is, in a lot of ways he really is the Dude. He has an inner peace that I tried to learn from, and this easy-going, come-what-may, go-with-the-flow attitude that’s such a joy to be around. Nothing really fazes him. With Jeff, it’s all going to be okay.
PLAYBOY: Were there any cool gadgets in Tron that you wanted to take home with you?
OLIVIA WILDE: The light cycles, for sure. Have you seen those things? I’ve been badgering Disney to give me one. I’ve been like, “I know you have real ones!” I think it’d be cool if we got a bunch of stunt guys to dress up in the Tron suits and ride the light cycles through rush hour traffic in major cities. No cameras or anything, just light cycles weaving through traffic. People would be in their cars and they’d be like, “Oh my god, I think I just saw the light cycles from Tron!” And then they’d blog about it or text or tweet or whatever. (Laughs.) I probably should’ve been in marketing. That’s where I belong.
PLAYBOY: In the upcoming movie Cowboys & Aliens, you’re part of the human uprising against an extraterrestrial invasion. Do you believe aliens exist?
OLIVIA WILDE: Well, like Stephen Hawking says, we have no reason to believe they don’t exist. But I don’t know why they’d be interested in us, unless they’re trying to stop us from destroying the universe. I think there’s a certain amount of arrogance in thinking that they’d want to come to this planet at all, or that they’d look like us or versions of us. I love that Moby video, “In This World,” where the aliens are tiny little creatures who wander through New York City, holding little signs that say “Hello” and “Hola” but nobody can see them. Who’s to say that’s not the form they’re taking?
PLAYBOY: During the Cowboys & Aliens shoot, you’d host weekly dinners for the cast, which sometimes ended with a Michael Jackson dance-off. Who usually won those contests?
OLIVIA WILDE: I think we all considered ourselves the winner. I’m telling you, we have some amazing dancers in this movie. Sam Rockwell is, in fact, a breakdancer. That was a surprise. He can breakdance to any type of music. Abigail Spencer, who’s a beautiful actress, is a great dancer as well, and Daniel Craig (the new James Bond) can break it down. We even got Harrison Ford to dance a little at one of the parties.
PLAYBOY: Your real surname is Cockburn, and you changed it to Wilde while still in high school. Is that a life decision a teenager is qualified to make?
OLIVIA WILDE: It was meant as an homage to the writers in my family, many of whom created pen names for their careers. I have a grandfather who changed his name to James Helvick to write the novel “Beat the Devil”, which got turned into a movie with Humphrey Bogart. I always thought that having a pen name was so romantic. I honestly didn’t forsee that people would look at it as a sexy name. Like, “She’s wiiiild!” Any time there’s a story written about me, the title is usually some pun on my last name. “Born to be Wilde” or “Take a Walk on the Wilde Side.” (Laughs.) I don’t mind it, it’s just not something I ever considered when I picked the name.
PLAYBOY: You were a wild teenager, getting your first tattoo at just 13, and then piercings and shaving your head and hanging out with street musicians. What were you rebelling against?
OLIVIA WILDE: I don’t think I was rebelling against anything. It definitely wasn’t a rebellion against my family. In a way, I was paying tribute to a family that has a very adventurous and independent spirit. Everything I did was about being in the moment, living every moment like it was my last, which is pretty typical for a teenage girl. And we were in New York City, where it’s pretty easy to act crazy. If I was in Omaha, I probably wouldn’t have had so many opportunities.
PLAYBOY: Is there anything you regret from your wild period?
OLIVIA WILDE: Agreeing to wear a cheerleader outfit. (Laughs.) I was on the step team in my high school. Stepping is a really cool form of dance, and I’m happy I learned how to do it. But being on the step team meant you were basically a basketball cheerleader. Our routines weren’t like the typical cheerleading bouncing and bopping. But when I look back at pictures, I’m like, “Oh dear.” You couldn’t force me into a skirt that short now.
PLAYBOY: Your parents are both journalists who’ve travelled to war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Iraq. Growing up, did you ever join them?
OLIVIA WILDE: Never. They only went to really dangerous places, not kid-friendly places. It’s not like they could’ve left us with the babysitter in the hotel while they went to interview the Taliban. They still travel to some amazing places. In fact, my mom’s getting ready to go to Yemen for 60 Minutes. It’s actually kind of adorable, they still try to pretend like my job is more interesting than theirs. We’ll have conversations, and they’ll act like me fighting fake aliens in a movie is more exciting than my mom going to Yemen.
PLAYBOY: You’ve played a doctor for over three years on the Fox TV drama House. At this point, do you feel like you could make a medical diagnosis?
OLIVIA WILDE: Oh yeah, absolutely. Just come to me. I’ve learned a lot about medicine from the show, like what constitutes a symptom for jaundice. I’m always diagnosing people with jaundice. It’s the yellowing in the eyes. Your eyeballs are connected to your liver, and so is your tongue. I learn all these things and then I see my friends and I’m like, “Oh no, you have jaundice.” The human body is just so complex, and there’s no limit to what can go wrong with it.
PLAYBOY: In a pinch, what’s the most advanced medical procedure you could perform?
OLIVIA WILDE: I could give enthusiastic support from the sidelines of any surgery. (Laughs.) I did recently get to stand in on a surgery in Haiti. A little girl was having hand surgery after she was bitten by rats in a refuge tent, and I got to peek over the shoulders of the surgeon. I was so focused on what was happening, the way they were exploring this tiny, tiny little palm of a hand, and everything had to be so precise. When I walked out of there, I was like, “I should’ve been a doctor.”
PLAYBOY: You’ve kissed a few women on TV, first on the teen drama The O.C. and then on House. What’s the trick to a believable lesbian kiss if you’re not actually gay?
OLIVIA WILDE: It’s the same trick I use when I’m in a movie like Tron and pretending to fly a plane. Acting is acting. It’s not like most of the time I play myself and kissing a woman is the one time I depart from that. It’s fun to play things that are very different from you.
PLAYBOY: Your husband, Tao Ruspoli, is an Italian prince. Does that technically make you a princess?
OLIVIA WILDE: Technically, yeah. But I never call myself that. I occasionally get mail that says Principessa. It’s all part of being this lucky person who’s been welcome into a really interesting family with a long history. I’m really into European history, so it’s exciting to trace our family back to the 14th century and beyond. How many people get to say, “This castle has been in our family since the 1400s?”
PLAYBOY: Most people can’t even say they have a castle.
OLIVIA WILDE: (Laughs.) That’s true. In America, we’re still so young. The oldest building in Los Angeles is probably from the 1920s. But this castle is so old, it’s practically from another planet. There are dungeons in the basement where they used to torture people. There’s a table down there that, when they sanded it, still had blood stains from hundreds of years ago. Medieval times weren’t a fun time to be alive. The castle is in this village called Vignanello, which is an hour north of Rome, and there are tunnels under the village that are still functional. You can walk through them, and the walls are lined with skulls and skeletons.
PLAYBOY: You and Ruspoli had your wedding on a school bus. Shouldn’t a princess be able to afford something a little more extravagant?
OLIVIA WILDE: We didn’t want that. The bus was the only place we could be completely alone. The wedding was a secret, and we wanted to do it someplace where we could hide with our best friends. It was all about the intimacy of the promise we were making. When I go to weddings, it usually feels like it’s all about the party and the place settings and the dress and the flower arrangements. Our wedding wasn’t about any of that. I mean come on, we got engaged at Burning Man. We were hippies! We lived on that bus for months. It meant a lot that we were staying true to ourselves, that we weren’t having any conservative church wedding that didn’t actually reflect what we were trying to do.
PLAYBOY: As somebody who’s called a school bus home, do you have any helpful tips for bus living?
OLIVIA WILDE: The best thing about living on a bus is that you’re nomadic. I recommend taking advantage of your wheels. Sometimes I’d wake up and Tao would be driving and I’d be like, “Where are we going?” And he’d be like, “Malibu.” You wake up on the beach. The other great thing is that you’re forced to limit your possessions. We tend to cart around a lot of unnecessary junk with us. I used to lug around everything, just in case I needed it. And the truth is, of course you don’t. It’s healthy to limit your baggage in life. Whenever I travel, I’ve learned to narrow it down to only the things I absolutely need.
PLAYBOY: And what would those things be?
OLIVIA WILDE: A change of clothes is always good. And for me, I inherited this from my dad, but my biggest fear is being stuck somewhere with nothing to read. So I always carry too many books. That’s my one excess. I also have this thing where I’m very sensitive to smell. So I carry around these different essential oils. If you’re stuck in an airport in Dallas, you can pull this out and it’ll make you feel like you are where you want to be.
PLAYBOY: You collect antique classic cars. What’s your dream car?
OLIVIA WILDE: I think I own it. I have a ’58 Chevy Biscayne. It’s cool because I grew up wanting the ’54 Bel Air, but the Bel Air is almost too perfect. There’s something about the Biscayne that’s a little funkier. My husband has a ’59 Thunderbird convertible and it’s awesome. It’s cream with red interiors. It’s gorgeous. It looks like a shark. I love our cars, but we don’t drive them as much as we should. They suck up so much gas, and they’re not exactly eco-friendly.
PLAYBOY: Isn’t it a crime to own a car like that and never drive it?
OLIVIA WILDE: Probably. The great thing about driving one of these cars is that it makes other drivers happy. People smile at you. They let you cut in. It’s like they’re grateful that you’re still driving it. But they’re not exactly indiscrete. My life has changed so that I try to blend in more than ever. When I was younger, it was always about standing out and being different. Now, the last thing I want to do is drive down the street and call attention to myself. That’s what driving my Biscayne does.
PLAYBOY: In the Funny or Die spoof “The Ballad of G.I. Joe,” you play a super-villain named the Baroness, who dances seductively in a black leather jumpsuit while playing the clarinet. Can the clarinet now officially be considered a sexy instrument?
OLIVIA WILDE: I think it always has been. Woody Allen made the clarinet sexy long before I did. I just loved the whole experience of making videos for Funny or Die. I’ve done a few of them now, and they’re always relaxed and low-key and so much fun. It’s like doing a high school project where someone says “Hey, will you be in my art video?” And then you show up at their garage, and they have a bunch of costumes lying around, and everybody just plays and makes each other laugh. But then the video comes out and a million people see it. And you’re like, “Whoa. I thought we were just playing around in the garage.”
PLAYBOY: You once won a pancake eating contest in Australia, eating 33 pancakes in just 20 minutes. Were you born to be a competitive eater, or did it come after years of practice?
OLIVIA WILDE: I only entered the contest because they said a woman could never win, and that’s a sure-fire way to get me to do something. I’ve always had a huge appetite and don’t get full very easily, so I guess I was meant to be a competitive eater, the way some people are born to be long distance runners. But I’d never do it again. When I watch competitive eating now, it’s usually hot dogs or meat pies or something revolting like that. At least with pancakes, it’s just carbs and sugar. You’re not eating as much animal meat as you possibly can.
PLAYBOY: You have a dog named Paco who was briefly a “spokesdog” for Old Navy before retiring. Did stardom go to his head?
OLIVIA WILDE: I think so, yeah. You know how it is with child actors. They never end up so healthy. He’s absolutely convinced that he’s a human. I don’t know if that comes from being a star, but I think it might. I remember we were having a party once and we had some brie cheese on the table. We left the kitchen for a second and when we came back, we were like, “Where’s that cheese?” And there’s Paco, licking his lips. He’d eaten an entire wheel of brie by himself. Can you imagine? What a diva!
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the December 2010 issue of Playboy magazine.)