With "Meadowland," Olivia Wilde pulls double duty as both lead actress — playing opposite Luke Wilson as parents facing the fallout of unimaginable loss after their young son goes missing — and producer. Wilde worked closely with cinematographer-turned-director Reed Moreno on bringing the indie drama into existence.
How do you psyche yourself up for taking on a role that's so raw and unpleasant?
I had quite a long time to prepare because there was a long, challenging process of putting this film together that allowed me to work on the character of Sarah for more than a year. That was a gift, in a way, because by the time we got to set I was prepared to dive right into the depths of her experience. I was just warmed up, which is something that you don't usually have the chance to do as an actor. Casting can happen quite quickly, productions move very fast and we don't always have a lot of time to prepare. But in this one I was warmed up and ready.
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Have you ever had that much time to prep for a role?
No, never. I think the role of producer on this film also allowed my performance to reach another level because I felt a responsibility to this character and to this production that just brought me to my A game. I think that it's a really valuable thing as an actor to be responsible for the film. It's a lot of pressure but also it's a kind of shove into your greatest work because you know that you're lucky to have a day of production. After you produce something you understand how difficult it is to put something together. It's a miracle that any movie gets made.
This has a very intimate shooting style. What's that like as an actress?
What was amazing was that Reed not only directed the film but operated the camera, and she's one of the greatest operators I've ever worked with — which is doubly impressive considering her slight stature and the hefty weight of a camera. It's 90 pounds on her tiny shoulders. And she was able to become a part of the scene so much that she was improvising with me while I was acting. There wasn't really a clear action and cut. We would start the scene before the officially start in the script and sort of ease our way into it and then let it breathe after the official cutting point so that we can discover things that you would never write. And that takes an operator who can make that call and is very, very agile and observant.
Both of these characters — a cop and a teacher — have jobs where you're always expected to have your s— together.
Sarah is a terrible teacher. That's a choice we made, that Sarah would not be a great teacher because she's not able to connect. She's not able to give anything of herself. She's hollow. The one student she does connect with, it's because he is just as abnormal as she is. She recognizes in him this separateness and this isolation that she understands.
Do you think before this tragedy, she was good at her job?
I don't think she was ever a great teacher. I don't think she ever wanted to be a teacher. I think it was a job that became available to her because of her education, but she's not going to last long in that job. I don't think she goes back to that job after the film ends.
You've now got some very direct experience in making indie film. What does it take now to actually get something made?
I think what needs to happen is more independent financing companies need to be started by people who are really excited to champion new filmmakers and who enjoy facilitating those projects without necessarily wanting them to fit any sort of template that they've seen before that has been successful. I think the most interesting work is made by people who aren't trying to copy anything that's been made before. We need more financiers that are interested in that, in supporting filmmakers in whatever they want to do. It's a risky investment, but it's incredibly important to society, I would argue. So that's what needs to happen for independent film. It's all about financiers taking risks and allowing filmmakers to have the power.
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter:@nedrick