Editor's Note: Back in 2003 – before she was a starring in films like 'Rush' and 'Drinking Buddies' – Olivia Wilde was a television actress notable for good looks and giving great quote. Only three episodes of 'Skin,' the show she was promoting in this interview, aired on Fox before the network killed it. Another eight would eventually air on SOAPNet. None of that would affect Wilde's career much.
Consider, for a moment, the charmed life of Olivia Wilde. Several months after she moved to Los Angeles in 2002, while she was interning at an agency that was casting 'The Girl Next Door' – a comedy about a former porn star – the movie's director walked in and said, "Hey, let's put Olivia in the movie." Not a bad start for someone who had no previous big screen – or small screen – experience. Then, last winter, Wilde heard that Jerry Bruckheimer's latest television drama was having casting trouble, and she read for a lead part.
"Before I got the role they asked me to come down to the set, which was actually a strip club downtown," Wilde says. "I was like, 'What is this show? What's going on?'" Turns out the show was 'Skin,' a Romeo and Juliet story in which the daughter of a porn magnate falls in love with the son of the district attorney, who is on a crusade to take down the porn kingpin. Wilde, 19, got the role, beating out more established actresses, including Dominique Swain, and now faces the pressure of being on one of the most hyped shows of the fall season. "It's been all parties and press," she says. "But now we actually have to start working."
'Men's Journal' caught up with Wilde in late July, 2003, just before she started shooting new episodes for 'Skin.'
You're doing 'The Girl Next Door' [it opens in early 2004], which is about porn, and you're starring in 'Skin,' in which you play a porn impresario's daughter. Do I detect a trend here?
Yeah, it's in my contract. No, I'm kidding. But the fact that this is happening all at once, I think, is just an indication that porn is becoming more mainstream. To pretend that it's this marginalized underground society is just ridiculous.
You grew up in Washington, D.C., but before you moved to L.A. you were in school at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. That's a pretty elite prep school.
I went there because my sister went to boarding school – it's sort of a tradition in our family. It wasn't a forced thing. But I had a little bit of a rebellious adolescence, so I was encouraged to go.
Rebellious? Like what? Staying out late?
I had been going on these joy rides to New York City, and my parents hadn't found out about them. I didn't think they were that big a deal. And then I went to Philadelphia for a week or so and, um, was living with these musicians on the street.
How old were you?
I was 13, and when I came home my parents were outraged, obviously. I was grounded for four months. But secretly I think they were impressed that I'd gotten organized enough; I had sold all my sister's clothes to buy a ticket to get there. They're like that. When I got a tattoo they were both like, "Oh, that's terrible you got a tattoo" – and then I'd hear them sort of bragging about it.
When you were at Andover, did you ever think of going into politics? Or journalism? Your mom's a producer for '60 Minutes' and your dad writes for 'National Geographic.'
I love to write, and I think I'll always love to write; it's kind of this background thing. My sister's an artist, and the rest of our family are journalists: my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, my cousins – everyone. It's definitely something I have a huge appreciation for.
It certainly doesn't pay as well as acting.
Not at all!
So you went to Andover knowing you wanted to act?
Yeah, I think that's the reason I got in. I mean, not that I wasn't intelligent, but they let me in because they needed more actors. They have great facilities for drama, but it's known more for these very elitist kind of Republicans. I mean, George W. Bush went there. But Humphrey Bogart went there, too.
There are some pretty intense scenes in the 'Skin' pilot. I mean, a lot of kissing.
A lot of kissing you didn't even see. When we tested for the role, each of us had to go in and have sort of a chemistry test with D.J. [Cotrona, who plays her love interest], where we would kiss him a little bit and have a scene, and then they would decide who looked most natural.
That must have been really tough for him.
I think he had to do that with six girls.
Yeah, I'm sure he hated it. But was that hard for you, especially as a newcomer to TV?
It was . . . interesting. The first time D.J. and I had to kiss for a real shoot was on the beach, with waves crashing on top of us, and the director was screaming at us in his Australian accent, "We're waiting for the perfect wave – wait, keep kissing!" And it was, like, three in the morning or something, and really cold. So that broke the ice.
At least it's network TV – you don't have to do any nude scenes.
Well, there were a couple of scenes in which I had to be not very clothed. It was funny: The day before I had to do my first semi-naked scene, they shot all the porn stars. Compared with that, I was nothing. I was thinking, The crew's not even going to notice me after what they saw yesterday.
Have you ever played the porn name game? You take your first pet's name and your middle name.
Mine would be Bridget Jane.
Well, that just won't cut it.
Yeah, my real name is porn star enough.