Olivia Wilde on ‘Drinking Buddies,’ Skinny-Dipping, Booze, and More

The actress tells Marlow Stern about ‘Drinking Buddies,’ her favorite booze, skinny-dipping, and more.

Dan Steinberg/AP

Olivia Wilde is a cool cat. She’s what rags like Maxim call “a guy’s girl”—a woman blessed with a blend of poise, wit, and self-assuredness that has men shaking in their boots. It makes her the perfect actress to play Kate, an office manager who oversees a group of burly fellas at a Chicago craft brewery, in filmmaker Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies.

Kate spends her days guzzling down beers and flirting with her coworker Luke (Jake Johnson). The two seem like an ideal couple, but Kate is seeing the disinterested Chris (Ron Livingston), while Luke is on the verge of marrying Jill (Anna Kendrick). When the foursome go on a weekend excursion to a lake house, the couples’ relationship problems come to a head.

Congrats on the engagement. Are you planning the mother of all bachelorette parties?

My life is a bachelorette party ... [Laughs] I don’t know! I have really fun friends, and they seem to be cooking something special up, but I’m the last to know about it. I think they are, but we’ll see.

Jake’s character is bearding out in Drinking Buddies, and your fiancé, Jason Sudeikis, recently laid one on a bearded Will Forte in that great Mumford & Sons music video. What’s the verdict on bearded dudes, yay or nay?

Depends on the dude, depends on the beard. I think it can be great. I loved Jake’s beard in this movie. Every guy we met on the craft-beer-brewing scene, they were all bearded, so it was perfect that he had that beard. And he’s a pretty dude, and the beard takes down the prettiness a little bit, which is what we needed for this character.

I’m used to seeing him on New Girl, so this was a totally different look.

It does really change a guy. I guess it would on a woman, too. My beard makes me look a little older, so I shave it.

[Laughs] Understandable. I first saw this at SXSW. It was entirely improvised, right?

It was, which was so much fun. You can only do that if you have costars like Jake, Anna, and Ron—people who are so good that they make it a seamless, comfortable process. There was no script. Joe [Swanberg] had a one-page outline with basic plot points, and everything in between we all discovered together. We were all very excited about the process and not very concerned about the result. For an actor to be able to improvise with really talented people is kind of like our dream.

What was the toughest scene for you to film?

There was a fight scene later in the film between Jake and me, and all we knew was that they were going to have some conflict, and we didn’t know how it was going to turn out. We tried a very intense one with a lot of tears, and also a very sexual one where they finally kiss, but they felt wrong. When you’re fighting and you’re improvising, you’re using real pain points—things that really shake you up—and I think shooting this scene really shook us both up. Jake called me later that night and said, “Are we cool? Because I feel a little shaken up.” And I said, “I feel the same way, but we’re cool.”

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Were you guys taking low blows at each other? Is that why he felt the need to phone you later?

I don’t think we hit below the belt, but in the scene he kind of mimics the way I talk, and I’m like, “Don’t do that!” and that’s something that, in fighting, I really don’t like. It’s bad.

What’s your take on your and Jake’s characters? They seem like they’d make a perfect couple.

They do, on the surface. In a lot of these types of friendships, the things that make you great friends are usually the things that would make you terrible romantic partners. In this case, what makes them such good buddies is that Kate isn’t very sensitive; she’s kind of a bruiser. She’s really low maintenance, can dish it as well as she can take it, and is easy to be around because she’s fun and easygoing. That lack of sensitivity is actually what makes her a terrible romantic partner for Luke, because when the shit hits the fan and he needs her to be nurturing, she can’t be there for him. And it’s not really her fault because she’s been honest with him the whole time, and he suddenly expects her to be somebody else so that their fantasy they’re living out can work out in his favor.

Have you ever been through this with a guy friend, where it’s gotten a bit weird and romantic feelings have gotten involved?

Yeah! Because it’s confusing. You think, “Wait a minute, I love being around this person, I love his jokes, he likes my jokes, we have so much fun, he’s the one I want to go to everything with ...” And yet usually that’s not the person who actually makes a great boyfriend. I’m sure it can happen. There’s also the danger that, once you’ve gotten to know someone as a friend, you’ve shown them all your dirty laundry so there’s a lack of mystery there. I’ve never had something as intense as Luke and Kate have. I definitely have really close guy friends, but it’s more of a brother-sister relationship.

This is also about drinking...

Yeah. A lot of people think this movie is about youth alcoholism, which is interesting...

What? I didn’t get that at all. Perhaps those are people who’ve never drunk before. Was there a lot of drinking on the set?

[Laughs] Yeah. Every time you see us drinking, we’re drinking beer.

Who can handle their booze the best? Jake told me during SXSW that Anna was the worst drinker and got wasted after one beer.

Yeah! Well, she’s so small. It’s not her fault! I think Jake and I match up pretty well. And the reason we wanted to drink the beer wasn’t to loosen up, it was because we were working within this very specific world in the film—the craft-beer world of Chicago—so we wanted to be able to improvise accordingly. And this community had really adopted us, and we were working in an actual brewery. We’d have to pause scenes so a guy in a forklift could carry kegs across the floor. So drinking would be organic. It’s like Sideways. That movie was set in a very specific environment, too, and I imagine they drank copious amounts of wine. At least I hope they did, for their sakes. [Laughs]

Any fun, drunken shenanigans the cast got into?

Well, we shot long days and it was pretty exhausting to be improvising all day long, because you can’t really rest on the job and are constantly listening and creating. And we didn’t have any of the comforts you usually find on a film set, like trailers or whatever. We had a few fun nights in Chicago, but then when we went to Michigan, it was so much fun. We were staying in this cool, rickety, haunted hotel on Lake Michigan and just had an amazing time. Things that we would do after work would find their way into the actual film. The beach bonfire scene that ended up in the movie came from a bonfire we had the night before, and once we were shooting the bonfire scene, I thought, “I’m going to get up and go skinny-dipping and see what Jake does.” So when you see me asking him to go skinny-dipping in that scene, I’m asking him for real.

What’s your poison? I’m a whiskey drinker myself.

I love whiskey. I love Scotch. During the summer I’m a gin-and-tonic person.

Yeah, my tastes run kind of seasonal, too.

Totally. I also really like beer. Throughout this process, I learned a lot about the Chicago breweries, which I love, but I do live in New York and love Brooklyn Lager. Since making this movie, my favorite has been a beer called Daisy Cutter from Chicago.

That’s a great name for a beer. Do you remember the last time you got completely wrecked?

I don’t. I was thinking about this the other day, and I thought, “I don’t get really drunk ...” Do adults get, like, really drunk?

It’s a lot more embarrassing when you’re an adult.

It is way more embarrassing. I can’t remember the last time I was really drunk.

I’m so excited for Spike Jonze’s Her. I just saw the trailer, which is amazing.

I just watched the movie. It is amazing. Joaquin [Phoenix] and Spike are two of the most brilliant people working today and two of the nicest guys on the planet, too. I’m so proud of the film. Spike is so creative, and so smart, and so inspiring when he directs. You try everything 15 different ways, and Joaquin is the real deal. He’s so honest in his acting, and you can’t help being pulled in when you’re acting with him to that same level of honesty. It’s similar to the process of making Drinking Buddies. There was no bullshit, which I think is the key to making good movies.