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SXSW Interview: Olivia Wilde Finds Her Inner Slapstick Comedian in 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone'

Photo of John Anderson By John Anderson | Thompson on Hollywood March 6, 2013 at 12:46PM

SXSW opener “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” -- which even Steve Carrell admits “won’t be changing any lives” -- did give Olivia Wilde a chance to get in touch with her “inner Lucy.” What? She pulls a football out from under Jim Carrey? No, she has to act awkward and ungainly and do “my tiny homage to Lucille Ball, who I grew up watching obsessively.”
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Olivia Wilde in 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone'
Olivia Wilde in 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone'

SXSW opener “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” -- which even Steve Carrell admits “won’t be changing any lives” --  did give Olivia Wilde a chance to get in touch with her “inner Lucy.” What? She pulls a football out from under Jim Carrey? No, she has to act awkward and ungainly and do “my tiny homage to Lucille Ball, who I grew up watching obsessively.”

“I’ve never really done physical comedy,” the actress said, “and here I was in a movie surrounded by all these physical comedians” – meaning Carrey, Carell and, to a certain extent, Steve Buscemi, who plays the Roy to Carell’s Siegfried. “It made me swing a little bigger and I’m happy I did. I actually didn’t know if that would make it into the movie.”

Wilde’s character – Jane, whom Burt insists is named Nicole – is a member of the backstage Vegas crew when she’s drafted, last minute, as Burt and Anton’s besequined assistant. She turns out to be a gifted magician herself.  “It was originally written that’s she really grateful to be an assistant, but I didn’t think that made sense,” Wilde said. “If she was so good and wanted to be a magician she would have BEEN a magician. So we decided she suffered from stage fright, which is what makes her so awkward.”

One wondered if Wilde had ever seen “Make Believe,” the terrific J. Clay Tweel doc of a few years back, about young magicians vying for the Teen World Championship of magic in Las Vegas. Funny we should ask:

“Yes! That was a huge source inspiration to me,” Wilde said. “I love that film and that girl [Krystyn Lambert] was responsible for my entire backstory. That’s how I came up with the idea of Jane having stage fright. When I watched that, I suddenly understood Jane--what kind of person she was--and I understood why Burt and Jane fall in love. They’re magic nerds. And when they come together they have a common belief in something magical.”

 Wilde, who was pretty damned funny as a stripper/hooker in the recent “Butter” (we don’t care what anyone says) has also been producing, but not just to fatten her resume. “Sun City Picture House’ and “Baseball in the Time of Cholera,” both set in post-quake Haiti, were made by David Darg and Bryn Mooser to raise awareness – and, just possibly money –to relieve the devastated conditions in a very beleaguered country.

“It’s so exciting to be producing those films,” Wilde said. “And those guys really have made a difference. They are the real deal.”  


This article is related to: Olivia Wilde, Steve Carell, Make Believe, Jim Carrey, SXSW, South By Southwest Film Conference and Festival (SXSW), Interviews


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.