What follows is the second in a series of one-on-one interviews conducted during the 2009 FOX Midseason Press Junket. We'll post each as they relate to that week's premieres.
Brian Ford Sullivan: When you joined the show there was this "Survivor"-esque intrigue about who was going to make the cut. What were your expectations going into it?
Olivia Wilde: Oh I had none. I really was having so much fun with the eight episodes that I knew I would have that I wasn't even really thinking ahead. It was just such a blast to be in that group of people that were going to possibly be the new doctors, possibly not. We had such a fantastic time. It was really one of the highlights of my career. So I was not sure what was going to happen. I was honored to be on one episode of "House." It's a rare opportunity to be able to say material that's as intelligent as that. And to be able to play an independent, professional woman is rare so I was honored to be on one episode. And then I got to eight and it was like, maybe this is the last one and nobody had any idea. But I was happy with that. And then finding out that I got to be part of the family was just incredible. And it's been amazing, it hasn't let me down. I'm really enjoying it.
Brian Ford Sullivan: What was the initial description you were given for Thirteen?
Olivia Wilde: This was funny. My first meeting with the producers I was like, "Who am I? Who is she?" And they were like, "She's a mystery." And I was like, "Oh God, that gives me nothing." They're like, "She, you know, she holds everything very tightly to the vest. She's not going to give House any tools with which to manipulate her. She's very, very intelligent. She often knows the answer but maybe will not always be the one to give it. She's humble and smart and stubborn and quiet and independent." And I was like, "Okay, well, I can take that with me but I'm going to have to fill it in with the human parts." So I kind of made her a nerd, even if it's only in my head. She has my inner nerd in her. That's the only part of Olivia that's in Thirteen - her nerdiness.
She's not superhuman, she has insecurities. And then as the writers got to know her they created other things for her, such as this Huntington's diagnosis, which is just incredibly tragic and brings up such great philosophical questions about life - would you want to know if you had this genetic disorder, would you want to know if you had only nine years to live? Questions like that I think are really interesting and profound and the show brings them up a lot. The stakes are always very high on the show. There's a question about mortality on almost every single week.
Brian Ford Sullivan: Were you told for sure she would have Huntington's or did they hold that back?
Olivia Wilde: I sort of found out as the audience did. I got the script where she revealed her mother had died of Huntington's. Then I started learning more about it and realized that if her mother died from it she had a 50 percent chance. Of course House is urging her to test for it because he doesn't like the idea of the unknown. House and Thirteen are very similar in certain ways but dissimilar in many ways such as her ambiguity, sexually and otherwise. House doesn't like the idea of bisexuality - everything has to be black or white, gay or straight, you know you have Huntington's or you don't have Huntington's. He doesn't like that she's able to exist in this nether region of the unknown and be comfortable there. And he encourages her to find out and she does. And at that point I learned she definitely had it and was going to have to struggle with it.
And then she started her downward spiral of destruction, which is always interesting to play as an actor but for this was really intense. There was an episode that aired a while ago where a patient takes a few of us hostage ["Last Resort"] and that episode was really transformational for the character and kind of revelatory because I realize that that was the point where she decided she was going to live. And she's decided to become the martyr from the very beginning of the episode, she's going to use this easy way out of having to deal with realness. And by the end she realizes she's not going to take the easy way out. House calls her a coward, she processes that and realizes that she wants to live, has reasons to live and fight this disease, even though she has no chance. It's very tragic! But she decides she wants to deal with it. And from that point on the character's forever changed.
And it's been really interesting to see how the writers have given her all these different twists and turns and now this new, very kind of sweet with Foreman who has been the one from the very beginning encouraging her to be healthy and asking her to choose life and there are some pretty unpredictable consequences to that. So far it's been so exciting, such a honor, I can't even believe it! I started out hoping I would have, you know, gosh, one scene an episode with House would be very interesting. There's so many actors on the show now that'd I be happy just being around them. And to have such a great season five is a huge honor and a huge surprise to me and I'm just excited to be part of it period.
Brian Ford Sullivan: What was your first exposure to the show as a viewer?
Olivia Wilde: I saw it because I had been a huge Hugh Laurie fan from "Blackadder," from "Fry and Laurie." A lot of my family's English so I had sort of known him as the English Jim Carrey. And someone said, "You know, Hugh Laurie's in this American television show and he's playing a very dramatic character." And I tuned in just to see him because as an actor that kind of departure from oneself is so impressive. The risks he takes every day as an actor are so impressive. He does things in close ups that other actors would rather die than do because he risks looking like a jackass and it comes off looking brilliant. And he's the only one who can do it. I originally started watching just to see his work and learn from it and started noticing the women on the show had pretty interesting things to do. So that's when I became aware of it.
Brian Ford Sullivan: And what have you learned from working with Hugh?
Olivia Wilde: Oh God! To take risks with acting, to make choices, definite choices and to follow them. And to have fun with it. I've learned to be a professional - he sets a tone on set that everyone really follows. There's no drama on the set, people are very generous with their time, with their talent. Whether you're on or off camera, you give 100% and he really sets that tone. So I've learned a lot about that from him. And just how to exist in this business. He deals with all of the accolades very wisely. He doesn't let the bubbles go to his head, he's very, very grounded and has a great sense of humor about it. Maybe because he's English, he's very dry and witty about it. He knows this business in temporary and fragile and so I think we all take the fantastic nominations and the parties and the awards with a huge boulder of salt. And to appreciate every day at work. So it's a great lesson I've learned.
Brian Ford Sullivan: And lastly, you've been on the show for almost two years - where do you see your character two years from now?
Olivia Wilde: Hopefully not dead. [Laughs.] You never know - she could be blind, deaf with no legs by then. I think I'd like for her to continue exploring life and being good to herself. I don't know though - she's pretty powerful, I could see her taking over the hospital - she and Cuddy would be good partners. [Or] she could just continue learning from House and one day be as brilliant a diagnostician as he is.
"House" moves to Mondays at 8:00/7:00c beginning tonight.