ON THE ISSUES
Olivia Wilde: Why I’m Backing Hillary Clinton for President
The actress discusses her most emotional role to date, how Hillary Clinton can stand up for girls and women, the backlash against her infamous breastfeeding photo, and Tron 3.
It’s not even 1 p.m. on a Saturday, but Olivia Wilde is already exhausted.
The actress and new mom (to 1-year-old Otis, her first son with husband Jason Sudeikis) is on New York press duty for her latest film, Meadowland, a haunting portrait of parental grief which premiered Friday at the Tribeca Film Festival. Starting tomorrow, she has another Tribeca film to promote, a short documentary she co-executive produced about the team that collects bodies in Ebola-plagued countries, Body Team 12. Then there’s her eco-friendly clothing line, Conscious Commerce, which unveiled a capsule collection for mainstream retailer H&M just days ago. And did we mention she has a 1-year-old baby?
Understandably, the first words out of her mouth upon sitting down at the Smyth Hotel are “I’m tired.”
Wilde’s motherhood and showbiz juggling act culminated in a now-infamous photo of an immaculately primped Wilde breastfeeding baby Otis during a Glamour magazine cover shoot last September. Predictably, the photo was labeled obscene by critics who’ve forgotten what breasts are for and criticized in a Los Angeles Times op-ed for making “motherhood look effortless and easy.”
“I was shocked,” Wilde says of her reaction to the backlash. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute. People have a problem with breastfeeding?’ It’s so surprising to me.” As for making “having it all” look “effortless and easy,” Wilde points out that she is an actress, and actresses’ jobs sometimes entail posing for glossy, rehearsed photo shoots. Her baby happened to be with her on the day of the shoot; he got hungry, she fed him. Ta-da. She says the outcry over her exposed breast is not unlike when supermodel Gisele Bundchen released her own “having it all” glamour shot, which launched a thousand think pieces. “That is her life,” Wilde says. “Anyone who would choose to criticize that moment doesn’t understand that that’s her job. I thought it was wonderful.”
Parenting bleeds over into other parts of Wilde’s working life as well. In Meadowland, cinematographer Reed Morano’s directorial debut, Wilde and Luke Wilson play a New York working-class couple mourning their only son, who vanished during a roadside pit stop over a year ago. While Wilson’s character, Phil, a cop, forces himself to face the practical (and often horrific) realities of having a missing child—like staring down photos of dead young boys in case his son is among them—Wilde’s character, schoolteacher Sarah, stays firmly in denial. “My son is alive,” she repeats throughout the film, refusing to aid police who think he may have been killed. She floats through life in a numb haze, recklessly crashing into the lives of strangers. She avoids her own reality by distracting herself with theirs.
It’s Wilde’s heaviest, most emotional role to date and the beginning of what she calls a “ride or die” partnership with Morano, who will serve as D.P. on Wilde’s next big project, Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese’s HBO series about the seedy music industry of 1970s New York. Without Morano by her side, Wilde says, the weight of the role might have been too much. But with a fellow mother behind the lens (one who cast her own son in the role of Wilde and Wilson’s missing boy, to boot), Wilde was not alone. “I had a partner,” she says.
Wilde talked to The Daily Beast about making Meadowland, the backlash against breastfeeding, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign (Wilde campaigned for Obama in 2008), and the latest news about Tron 3, Disney’s epic tech fantasy sequel coming to theaters in 2017.
So I know you’re a staunch Democrat—what were you feeling last Sunday when Hillary officially announced her campaign?
You know, I’m excited. I’m excited for the political discussions—I mean, they should never end, but people only really pay attention when it’s a presidential election. Obviously, local elections are where you can make the most difference, but it’s great when everyone starts talking about what they believe in. It makes me so excited for the movement that is a part of that and young people participating and volunteering and canvassing—this is the stuff that I really get excited about. I think Hillary is a really exciting candidate for so many reasons but she has a lot to prove to a lot of people. And I think she’s up for that.
So I’m excited to hear what she has to say. I think she learned a lot from the last election, I think she’s done a tremendous amount of work since then. The fact that she feels the plight of women and girls as the most important issue of the 21st century is a huge reason why I’m supporting her. I’m in no way suggesting that my opinion matters more than anyone else’s, of course, but the only thing that bothers me is apathy. People that sit out of the process and complain about it, or pretend that politics isn’t a part of their everyday lives. That politics isn’t their “thing.” I’m like, “Really? Well then, all of your rights aren’t your ‘thing.’”
What would you want to see Hillary accomplish?
Wow, I mean, there’s so much work to be done in so many sectors of our society, but I think it’s really important to protect our new health care law and I think Hillary would be focused on that. I think the equal rights of women in this country is something that’s still not a law and she would absolutely be focused on that. Our justice system is a mess and she’s aware of that. I think where she’ll face difficulty is with Wall Street. They’re afraid of the rhetoric she’ll use in her campaign and I think she’ll face a lot of pressure from her campaign to tone that down because of the donations they’ll receive from different banks. So it’s her responsibility to understand her base and that many of her supporters are further left-leaning than she is. We expect Wall Street reform and I think it’s really positive that people like Elizabeth Warren are voicing the concerns of people demanding Wall Street reform. You know, I think it’d be great if Elizabeth Warren ran too and then everybody had to have these really difficult discussions about that. My dream is that Warren would be [Hillary’s] V.P. but that’s not happening in a million years. (Laughs.) My ideal society!
Have you ever pictured yourself running for office of some kind?
No, I’m not organized enough. I like sleep too much. I’m just excited by the process. I think it’s fun and it’s changing with technology every day. I mean, the immediacy of it. The fact that she announced her candidacy through social media, like, that’s cool! And it means that people can educate themselves really easily about issues they care about and become part of lots of online communities that are sharing information so it’s easier than ever to be informed, to be active and to demand answers to your questions—that’s gonna be a big part of this campaign. They’re gonna be looking at Twitter to see what people care about. A lot of people understand this, but I think to young people the message is, “Speak up. They’re listening.”
On to Meadowland: Reed Morano both directed and served as director of photography, which is rare—that’s she’s young and a woman makes her even rarer in that position. Do you think we’ll ever be at a place in moviemaking where women directors are getting financed and making half the movies out there?
Yeah, absolutely. Because of the films that are making money these days [like] Fifty Shades of Grey, films over the years that have been winning Academy Awards by Kathryn Bigelow, there are so many examples. All these incredible women who have been making really successful films. This business is based on numbers and the numbers show that it’s worth investing in female-driven and female-directed films. I mean obviously, female leads don’t have a negative effect on the gross of a film: Twilight, Hunger Games. So the fact that the stigma still exists is strange. The short answer is, I am optimistic that we’ll get to that point. There are so many young women in film school right now and it’s just about foreign sales companies, domestic sales companies agreeing to finance films directed by and starring women.
The tide is turning, slowly but surely.
Absolutely, and something I respect so much about Reed is she never wanted to be considered a great female filmmaker; she just wants to be a great filmmaker. And coming up in the cinematography world, that’s the ultimate boys’ club. I think just 3 percent of their union is women. I believe she’s also the youngest. I think that because she came up through that world, she has no expectations for being given any special treatment, but she’s totally unafraid. And she just really enjoys surpassing all expectations.
I was at the premiere of the movie yesterday and stuck around for the Q&A section—where the first question someone asked was, “Is there an alternate ending?”
I know, I love it. Reed was just like, “Nope.” It’s a valid question though because, in life, when tragedy strikes I feel like that’s the feeling we all have. “Is this reversible? Can you change it?”
This is a really heavy role—are you someone who can shake that off as soon as the camera stops rolling or does it stay with you for a while?
I think it was important to snap out of it once the cameras stopped. I think it would have been a lot more painful without Reed going through it with me. It felt like she was playing Sarah with me. It was an interesting feeling that I’ve never had before, where we were so in sync that right after—you know she was also operating the camera of course, so she was whispering to me from behind the lens which was this really intimate, unusual experience. I just never felt like I was going to the dark places alone. And that’s why it wasn’t as hard to shake it off, because I had a partner. But we would leave work and get home and decompress and text each other saying, “Are you okay? I’m okay.” And I think we felt so proud of every day of shooting that the overwhelming feeling at the end of the day wasn’t depression, it was gratification.
And both you and Reed are mothers, which must have helped.
Yeah, we would go home and smother our babies. That made a huge difference too, that I knew all the pain I was experiencing in terms of imagining the worst-case scenario for my own child, she was doing as well. So I think it would have been a different experience if I had been directed by someone who was not a mother. I wonder if I would have felt a little more isolated. Maybe that would have been harder. It would have made me feel a certain resentment: “You’re making me go here and you don’t know how hard it is.” But with Reed, she has two sons. And they’re older than mine, so she had been a mother longer and was teaching me so much about that experience that I never felt any resentment. It felt like, “Wow, we’re doing this together, so we’ll be okay.”
I know you’ve already been asked about this, but I think it’s worth addressing again because it’s insane that people still find the sight of a mother breastfeeding obscene. I mean, it makes sense because we’re in a society that polices women’s bodies all the time—but what do you think is behind that, and how can we change it?
I think people are changing it by not hiding themselves and by normalizing it in everyday life. I think that’s why a sit-in changes the world, that’s why it is important to—I’m sorry, I’m stating the obvious so many times over—to kind of use all that negative energy as fuel and understand, ’cause I personally didn’t understand that it was still an issue until I became a mother. I was shocked, I thought, “Wait a minute. People have a problem with breastfeeding?” It’s so surprising to me. So I think of normalizing it in everyday life and people are doing that. And I think social media is a really interesting way to share those experiences and inspire other mothers to do the same. There’s so much pride in it, which is great, you know people taking pictures of themselves breastfeeding and sending it out into the world.
You know, I saw a photo of a model pumping—Doutzen Kroes, I think her name is. She took a picture of herself pumping and I thought, “That’s another important thing because pumping is a reality for a working mother and it is in no way glamorous. In many ways, it’s less beautiful than showing yourself nursing your child, which is this glorious image to me. But pumping is something that every woman who’s done it is just horrified by. I remember the first time I put on my breast pump, my best friend was sitting with me and we just laughed and laughed because she was like, “I’ve never seen anything more unattractive.” She took a picture and sometimes we look at it and crack up. So I think that’s kind of the next step: people documenting the realities of motherhood and sharing it, because you are helping someone out there realize that they’re not alone. And, ugh, every part of motherhood can benefit from the community and information.
You also have a documentary short premiering at the festival, Body Team 12—what brought you to the story of the team that collects bodies of people who’ve died in the Ebola outbreak?
So I’ve produced the documentaries of David Darg before, when he’s directed with Bryn Mooser. I’ve known them since we met in Haiti in 2009. I’m a big fan of theirs as journalists and also as directors. David is an incredible human being, but also an incredible filmmaker because he travels to places as an aid worker and tells the stories of the people he meets there. And not only is he technically really, really proficient—this film is so beautifully shot, if you can believe that about a film about probably the most gruesome thing you can imagine—but he also manages to find humanity in every situation, whether it’s cholera or poverty in Haiti or Ebola. We also made a film about Hurricane Sandy in New York and they found a beautiful story within that. So I was proud to help facilitate this film and help bring it out into the world with Paul Allen, my co-executive producer.
It is so important to continue talking about Ebola, not only because of the lessons we should have learned from it—invest in community health workers worldwide—but also because there are many, many Ebola orphans now and it’s important to invest in education programs and health care programs for those kids. The film is offering an opportunity for people to do that, to support the woman who is the focus of the film, as she takes care of these Ebola orphans. Our goal at the [Tribeca Film] Festival is to raise about $60,000, which I’m confident we can do because the story is so good. So you know, I really respect that David has chosen to make a film about something people are no longer comfortable talking about. They feel it happened and now we should move on. I feel that often those are the most important stories to tell.
And now I have to ask you about Tron 3.
Have you heard any rumblings about whether Daft Punk will be scoring the film again?
You know, Daft Punk was such a huge part of the last film and I’m such a huge fan of theirs. I think we’d be tremendously lucky to get them. That could be a deal that’s happening so far above my pay grade that I don’t realize it, but I would be thrilled. I think the thing about Tron is that it’s so embedded in our culture as an exciting concept and now again, more than ever, speaking of technology, the idea of technology taking over our lives and being lost within the computer program—it’s so relevant! I love all discussions of A.I. and I think Tron is a really interesting way to talk about that. Daft Punk as a band has been experimenting with computer-generated—I mean, there’s no more perfect band. But! Anyone who signs on will sign on for the right reasons and I’d be thrilled.