Kevin Scanlon

Wilde has been in Rome on and off since October shooting The Third Person with writer-director Paul Haggis, making only his third directorial feature since winning the Best Picture Oscar for 2004’s Crash. Haggis and Wilde go way back, to 2007’s extremely short-lived NBC series The Black Donnellys, about Irish brothers fighting for their slice of Hell’s Kitchen. Since then, the two have become close friends: Haggis was among the founders of Artists for Peace and Justice, an organization currently trying to raise relief funds for Haiti, and Wilde now sits alongside him on its board of directors.

The Third Person boasts cast enough to populate a modern-day Love Boat episode: Liam Neeson, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Adrien Brody, Kim Basinger and Casey Affleck. Like Crash, several separate storylines — each involving couples falling in and out of like, love and lust — will collide by the film’s end. In one tale, Neeson plays a novelist having a relationship with his protégé, played, natch, by Wilde — who, at 31 years his junior, is young enough to play Neeson’s daughter.

“This is one of those work experiences where it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it may be the best thing I’ve ever done,” Wilde says. “The script is so heartbreaking and also really sharp and fun — fun for an actor because it’s honest. It’s very rare to find something that’s emotionally effective without being emotionally sentimental, saccharine.”
You mean, like life?

“Exactly. Life is at once heartbreaking and ridiculous and hilarious and mundane. Very few scripts nail what that combination feels like. It feels honest because it’s not overly sentimental or overly clever, but it’s a really good combination.”

Wilde isn't a doctor, but she played one on House M.D. alongside Hugh Laurie.
Paul Drinkwater
Between now and the movie’s release this fall, there are other films to promote — though exactly how many she can’t exactly say. Some are big-budget offerings made by big-name directors, among them Rush, directed by Ron Howard and written by The Queen’s Peter Morgan. It’s the true-life tale about a Formula One driver, with Chris “Thor” Hemsworth in the role of James Hunt and Wilde playing Hunt’s first wife, model Suzy Miller.

There’s also Her, Spike Jonze’s long-awaited return to the world of grown-up moviemaking after his detour into the kids’ section with Where the Wild Things Are. And then there’s Better Living Through Chemistry. And Black Dog, Red Dog. Her Internet Movie Database page is filled with as many promises as sure things.

“It’s hard to know what’s ever actually going to see the light of day,” she says. ­Wilde knows of what she speaks: She’s made plenty of movies, a few of them having been released directly to satellite and DVD. If, say, you’ve heard of Deadfall, in which she and Eric Bana play a thieving brother-and-sister team caught in the middle of a snowbound nowhere with only Kris Kristofferson and Sissy Spacek to keep them company, it’s likely you were strolling through the 100s on DirecTV whilst looking for more familiar-sounding fare.

Wilde (third from right) in the cast of the short-lived series The Donnellys.
Everett Collection
Though she doesn’t say it — because she’s not the kind of woman who would — she has every right to expect this will be the year you learn Olivia Wilde’s name. Look no further than this month, when she’ll appear alongside Steve Carell, Jim Carrey, Steve Buscemi, James Gandolfini and Alan Arkin in The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, about warring magicians on the Vegas strip. One week before its official opening, it kicks off the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas — a position held in recent years by the likes of Knocked Up, Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods and I Love You, Man.