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Interview: Olivia Wilde on 'The Lazarus Effect' and being called 'The Logic Police'

The actress talks about sticking by the rules, even in a horror film, and doing shots while 8 1/2 months pregnant.

Olivia Wilde has played computer programs (“Tron: Legacy”) and an alien (in a movie for which this would be a spoiler), but in real life she’s unusually personable, talkative and friendly. She gets to play both sides of the fence in “The Lazarus Effect,” a low-budget horror in which she’s a brilliant scientist experimenting with a serum that can bring the dead back to life — one that winds up being used on her when she’s accidentally killed, with horrific consequences.

You’ve said you’re very analytical when it comes to scripts. How did that apply to this project?

Even for a movie like this, I tend to get really analytical with the material. My nickname on a few films has been “The Logic Police.” Even with this film, where logic seemingly should not count, I still held everyone to the rules we established. That’s how I view films. When I watch something I will buy anything. Any kind of story you want to me I’m happy to watch — as long as it’s consistent with the rules you lay out.

A lot of horror films about scientists tend to be anti-science, but this walks a fine line of being respectful of scientists and wary of some of the deeply flawed and all-too-human actions some characters take.

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We didn’t want it to seem horribly irresponsible of them. It clearly comes from a passionate place. If you think about how much has been developed in 50 years, it’s insane. Triple by-pass surgeries happen on a daily basis today; we’re used to hearing about people surviving. If you went back and told your great-grandparents that they’d think you were insane. The idea of a Lazarus serum is not completely off-base. We imagined it would be used to keep someone alive or bring them back to life as they flatline during a surgery, let’s say — that you just need them to stay alive so you can finish the procedure. That’s how we made sense to it. That probably is in the works, because there are things that have been developed to keep a heart pumping during surgery. There’s all sorts of technology to keep our bodies moving when they’re being taken apart. Having that logical basis to start from was important to me.

Does that come from playing a doctor on “House” for five years?

Yeah. I really love learning about medical technology, and I have such an enormous respect for doctors. They’re superheroes. I wanted to make sure we didn’t portray them as horribly irresponsible. I wanted to show they were coming from a good place and that it went horribly wrong. Science is not the enemy. It’s human beings who mess up. It’s hubris, as always, that leads us to disaster.

A project like this probably leads to some freaky research.

Oh my god, YouTube is always a place where I wind up in deep, deep holes at four in the morning. You can find anything there. I watched a lot of surgeries, I read a lot about the concept of bringing someone back to life versus keeping people alive, about extending life. I read a few dozen cases of people who flatlined during surgery and came back, and what they claimed to have experienced.

This is a horror film that’s not stocked with typically horror film actors. You have Mark Duplass, who does indies, Donald Glover, who’s synonymous with comedy, and yourself.

People mostly enjoy watching actors who are not known for horror because maybe they relate to them in a way that puts them in the scary situation the characters are in. It adds to the unpredictability of what horror can do. It’s about misdirection.

How much has becoming a mother changed your acting?

You can’t tell when you watch the movie, but there were three shoots we did where I am 8 ½ months pregnant. I didn’t expect to be working at that stage of pregnancy. But in fact, it was kind of awesome, because my emotions were so close to the surface. I felt capable of anything, any human emotion, from misery to rage to extreme happiness. It’s an amazing thing that happens with pregnancy and with motherhood. Since having my son I feel I’m a better actress. But yeah, I was doing some shots with this huge belly. You’ll notice me sometimes saying my lines over my shoulder in a weird way. [Laughs] That would be why.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
 
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