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26 May 2017Last updated
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Real Women

“I tend not to set irrationally high expectations for myself” - Reasons why we love Olivia Wilde

She’s an actor, producer, director, activist, entrepreneur and mother who is fighting back at sexism in Hollywood.

Aoife Stuart-Madge
18 Jan 2017 | 11:51 am

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“I am not in perfect shape. In fact, I’m softer than I have ever been. The truth is I am a mother, and I look like one.”

Olivia Wilde recently experienced two big firsts: she made her first notable directorial debut on the set of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ music video for Dark Necessities, and she gave birth to her first daughter, Daisy Josephine (she is already mum to son, Otis, two, with her partner, actor Jason Sudeikis). And, true to form, she accomplished both like a boss.

The latter occurred on International Day of the Girl Child in October 2016 – fitting for the actress who is a staunch advocate of women’s rights (which she duly noted in a doting Instagram post). Meanwhile, for the former, she managed to marshal four of the most formidable rockers on the planet, including Flea and Anthony Kiedis – all while heavily pregnant.

Then again, Olivia has already earned her rock ’n’ roll stripes playing Devon Finestra in Vinyl – the hit US TV show about the music industry in the Seventies, created by Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese. Besides, the 32-year-old is not easily intimidated, or averse to taking risks, for that matter.

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Challenging the Status Quo

Take her eco-company, Conscious Commerce, which aims to connect brands with charities so that every purchase made through the website has an element of giving back. Olivia has recently launched her own unsweetened mint honeysuckle tea through the platform, which she views as a vehicle for real, meaningful change. “It should be shocking when a product isn’t somehow helping the people who made it,” she says.

“We look for partners who are interested in more than just making more money. We look for partners who see a new way of doing business, and aren’t afraid to take some risks to get there. The common denominator seems to be optimism. We are drawn to people who are excited by their ability to change the world through commerce.”

It’s this same infectious optimism, desire to shake up the status quo and good old-fashioned chutzpah that has seen Olivia’s acting career thrive. After finding fame on the small screen, first on teen soap The OC and then medical drama House, she has been on a one-woman crusade to topple the Hollywood patriarchy, one studio head at a time.

She recently called out the casting director of The Wolf of Wall Street for deeming her “too old” to play Leonardo DiCaprio’s wife at the tender age of 29 (the part later went to Margot Robbie, then 25).

Speaking to Howard Stern on his radio show, Olivia said of the slight: “I had heard for a part that I was too sophisticated, and I was like, ‘Oh that sounds nice. I like that feedback. I didn’t get the part, but at least I’m a sophisticated person.’ And I found out later that they actually said old.” She added, “I want to make a translation sheet for Hollywood that’s like, all the feedback your agent gives you and what it really means.”

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Taking On The Patriarchy

With her almond eyes, angular cheekbones and creamy complexion, it would be easy for Olivia to be typecast in pretty-but-one-dimensional female roles. But she’s flipped the switch (ditching her naturally blonde hair for brunette in the process) and gravitated towards grittier indie projects instead, like 2015’s Meadowlands. Although the film – which Olivia also produced – about a couple grieving their son’s disappearance, almost didn’t get off the ground because of the female-dominated crew.

“Many people said, ‘Come to us when the project is real’,” she recalls. “I answered: ‘The project is real: we have a director, we have an actor, we have a script, it’s real.’ And they said, ‘No – when you get the guy attached.’ Like we were just girls with a little project,” she says.

She adds: “[Sexism in Hollywood] is institutional. It’s not conscious. People don’t realise what they’re saying, because you hear it from both men and women. But there’s this sense that a project is incomplete if there’s no male participation. People are now saying, ‘Listen, you need to hire women, specifically because they are women,’ and although that’s uncomfortable, it’s how things change. When I was younger, it felt like the main point was that [I was] one of the attractive actresses, and I felt totally minimised by it, as everyone does. But it’s worn off, in a good way; I’m happy to have grown out of the place where that is the main point made about me.”

Sticking to worthier fodder, next up she’s set to star in Black Dog, Red Dog, a project directed by the students of James Franco’s NYU class, based on poet Stephen Dobyns’ autobiographical book; and she’s also signed on to star in A Vigilante, as a secret figure who gets rid of domestic abusers.

Both on and off screen, she refuses to cower to the media’s reductive portrayal of womanhood. “The media always chooses one element of you to assign as your identity plaque: ‘She’s the mum, she’s political, she’s the one who is really pretty.’ But we are all of those things,” she says.

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Getting Real On Motherhood

When it comes to motherhood, Olivia is just as straight-talking as she is in her professional life. Addressing her post-baby body after the birth of her first child Otis, the actress admitted, “I am not in perfect shape. In fact, I’m softer than I’ve ever been, including that unfortunate semester in high school when I discovered Krispy Kreme…The truth is, I’m a mother, and I look like one.”

When it came to getting back to the gym post-partum, the actress was just as honest, saying, “It felt like leaving a karaoke bar to go take a physics exam. If I wasn’t at work, I just wanted to stay home and party with my little man — and by ‘party,’ I mean, of course, endless rounds of Itsy Bitsy Spider. Also, I like pizza. And [pizza] is not found in the purely fictional book I like to call How to Look Like You Never Made a Human: A Guide to Socially Acceptable Motherhood.”

She adds, “I believe in a world where mothers are not expected to shed any physical evidence of their child-bearing experience. In that same world I believe there is space for exercise to be as much a gift to your brain as it is to your body. I don’t want to waste my time striving for some subjective definition of perfection. I’d rather rebuild my strength while dancing my butt off … literally.”

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Balancing Act

So how does she juggle acting, directing and producing with family life and her thriving eco-business? “I see these various projects as balancing me. They keep me sane, because they keep me continuously educating myself, challenging myself, and satisfying myself with so many different types of experiences. I tend to thrive when working constantly, when I reach a sort of productive hum. Don’t get me wrong, it also means a sort of acceptance of my own personal failure at one thing or the other at any given time, and that’s okay. I can’t be the best mum and the best director and the best actor and the best business owner in the same day, but I tend not to set irrationally high expectations for myself. It’s healthier to generally set my standards low, and very occasionally blow my own mind.” Well, consider our minds well and truly blown too, Olivia.

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Family Life

Wilde began dating actor Jason Sudeikis in November 2011, and the pair announced their engagement in 2013. They have a son, Otis, born in 2014, and Olivia just gave birth to their daughter, Daisy Josephine, in October 2016; she showed off her baby bump with friend and fellow actress and mum-to-be Emily Blunt in May last year at the Met Gala.

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Ruling the Red Carpet

Olivia’s been quoted as saying “I feel like fashion shouldn’t happen in the morning,” but she obviously thinks differently come night! We love Olivia’s feminine but sophisticated style when she dresses up for the red carpet (although we also love her more grungey dressed-down looks too!).

Photos by Getty/Reuters/Splash News

Aoife Stuart-Madge

Aoife Stuart-Madge