Kevin Scanlon

But the porter has a point. Five minutes spent in her company — in the famous bar atop the Hotel Eden in Rome, where Fellini famously drank martinis and smoked cigars against the wide-screen vista of history — and it’s clear as vodka: She’s as regular-folk as someone can be after spending a decade on prime time and on movie posters­ and on the pages of People. Think Frances ­McDormand, she says, not Angelina Jolie. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Wilde in Tron:Legacy.
Everett Collection
“I don’t know if this happens to you … ” she begins to say.
“It doesn’t,” I tell her. “Whatever you’re going to say, I’m going to immediately say it doesn’t.”
“I think people tend to tell me when they meet me, if they haven’t met me before and if they expected something different, they tend to say, ‘You’re not what I expected,’ ” she says. She is sitting in the hotel bar, gazing out at a view of Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Spanish Steps fading into the cloudy chill of a damp evening.
“Like, sometimes,” she says, “when I go in for meetings on movies … ”
“What do they expect?”
“That’s what I ask,” she says, as perky as that tiny espresso sitting in front of her.
“And what do they say?”
“They don’t really know,” she says, her eyes now hidden behind a squint. “It’s almost like an indefinable thing people get from media. There are so many contradicting descriptions it turns into noise, and then people don’t know what their opinion is. Because they feel like, ‘Well, I don’t think of her as this, because she doesn’t seem to be described as this, and I don’t think of her as that, so I just don’t think of her as anything.’ And when they meet me, it’s nothing like what they had read anyway.”

Being that she’s about to star in one of every 12 movies opening in 2013, give or take, maybe all this is about to change — the regularness of Olivia Wilde, the scheduled 45-minute interview that runs a few hours over because she’ll talk about anything, including all those casual references to the private life most actors keep locked in their publicist’s office. But at the moment, it sure doesn’t seem like it.

We begin to run through that laundry list of bio highlights: the offspring of journalists, ex-wife of royalty, activist, actor, blah blah blah.

“I can always tell what publications people read by what their impression of me is,” she says, laughing. “If someone says, ‘Oh, hey, I hear you’re really into activism,’ then I kind of know what they’re into now, because I know what they’re looking at. Or if they’re like, ‘Hey, I know you’re engaged to Jason Sudeikis,’ then I kind of know what they’re into. There are so many angles from which to approach someone.”

“So what happens if they know all of them?” I ask. “That makes ’em a stalker?”
“That’d be a whole other level of problems. No, I’ve never had that. I think I’m still not known enough. It’s a luxury, still being able to define myself. I don’t envy those whose personalities are defined before anyone has a chance to meet them. It’s ingrained, beyond the point of definition. They’re constantly fighting it. I don’t have that. With me, it’s still like, ‘Wait, who? Oh, that girl. OK, whatever.’ Then they get to meet me.”