For some actors, shooting on location in a different city means holing up in a hotel, subsisting on room service and relying on black cars to get from place to place. But not Olivia Wilde. While in town last summer to film the newly-released movie “Drinking Buddies,” Wilde became a bona fide Chicago resident. “I lived in a house in Wicker Park, I had a little veggie garden and I rode my bike around everywhere,” she says. “And I loved learning about the craft beer community.”
Developing a passion for Chicago’s craft beer scene is rare for a visitor to a city bursting with award-winning architecture, a burgeoning arts scene and world-famous restaurants. But knowing the difference between local breweries Half Acre Beer Company and Revolution Brewing was an essential part of Wilde’s role in “Drinking Buddies,” an indie drama-comedy about two friends who work in a Chicago craft brewery. In the movie, which was shot inside Revolution’s facility on Kedzie, Wilde plays carefree, tough-as-nails Kate, the brewery’s event planner and only female employee, who engages in a will-they-or-won’t-they flirtation with co-worker Luke, played by “New Girl” star (and Evanston native) Jake Johnson. Though both characters are in relationships (with Ron Livingston and Anna Kendrick, respectively), their mutual attraction is exacerbated by the duo’s near-constant consumption of beer.
Wilde says she was drawn to the movie — which has received positive reviews — because of director Joe Swanberg, a Chicago resident. “I liked how he liked to tell stories about complex women,” says Wilde, 29. “I wanted to work with this cast, and I wanted the opportunity to experiment with his process.”
Swanberg’s approach is improv-based, resulting in dialogue-driven scenes that focus on authentic, realistic characters and conversation. In fact, the cast was never formally given a script, just a story outline. “Joe told us over the phone and I scrawled it down on a napkin, which I promptly lost,” laughs Wilde. “But we had the major plot points. So every day we would discover the scenes together. For instance, in the first scene in the film, all Joe said was, ‘Go sell beer to this couple. They’re getting married.’ ”
In fact, one of Wilde and Johnson’s most memorable scenes — a drunken beach bonfire — was drawn from a real-life cast experience. “The crew, we all had a bonfire on the beach on Lake Michigan, and we thought it would be a good scene in the movie,” says Wilde. “So the next night we did the bonfire scene and I thought, ‘I should probably go skinny dipping.’ And I ran into the water, and I didn’t know what Jake was going to do! If he follows me into the water, we’ll shoot something in the water. Or he doesn’t. But I’m just as present in the scene as the audience is, which was really fun. And Chicago is home to some of the world’s greatest improvisers, so it felt appropriate that we were making the film there.”
Though the long work days offered little time for sightseeing, Wilde and the rest of the cast were regularly spotted at restaurants and bars around town, including Girl & the Goat and Gibson’s.
“I was getting to know Chicago. Jake’s from there, Joe is from there, and they taught me a lot about the city,” says Wilde. “Jason, my fiance, lived there for a long time, so he came to visit, and we hung out and did a Second City improv set together.”
“Jason” is Jason Sudeikis, the former “Saturday Night Live” star to whom Wilde has been engaged since January and who also appears in “Drinking Buddies” — though by chance. “He came to visit me on set and I said, ‘We don’t have anyone to play my boss, can you just come in and improvise with me for an hour?’ ” says Wilde. “So he made up the character and we played around and it was a blast. We were lucky to have him.”
According to Wilde, being an actress is all she’s ever wanted. “Well, there was a brief flirtation with wanting to be Albert Einstein, and then a rapper,” she laughs. “But then I came back to acting.” Born Olivia Jane Cockburn, and raised in Washington D.C. (She adopted her stage name after one of her favorite writers, Oscar Wilde), she attended Gaiety School of Acting in Dublin, Ireland, before landing her big Hollywood break playing a bisexual bartender on “The O.C.” That led to a role on “House M.D.” and from there, Wilde shot up the acting ranks: In the last five years, she’s starred in a slew of big-screen films, ranging from romantic comedies such as “The Change-Up” to big blockbusters such as “Tron: Legacy” and “Cowboys & Aliens.” And her career is only amping up: She has eight movies in various stages of production, including “Rush,” a Ron Howard movie, also starring Chris Hemsworth, about the life of Australian race car driver Niki Lauda due out Sept. 27; and “Third Person,” a love story co-starring Mila Kunis and James Franco. She’s also become a style icon, appearing on the covers of such fashion magazines as Glamour and Marie Claire.
Between filming, press junkets, fashion shoots and fielding new offers, Wilde hardly has time to sit still, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. “We’ve had a chance to have some vacation time and some down time, but Jason and I are both very busy,” she says. “As an actor, you wait your whole life to be busy. I feel very, very lucky.”
Wilde is grateful to be at a point in her career where she can be selective with her roles, and she points to “Drinking Buddies” as a new source of inspiration. “I love that this movie is about the drama that’s happening every single day,” she says. “We live in New York and I ride the subway every day and I see every single person as a fascinating character. Joe Swanberg made me want to make films about the simple dramas of life.”
In Hollywood, having a successful career often goes hand in hand with tabloid exposure, something Wilde doubts she’ll ever get used to. “When people look pissed off in paparazzi pictures, they’re not feeling glum that day. They’re being stalked!” she says. “It’s like, if you were in your friend’s backyard at a barbecue and there was a lens peeking through the fence, you’d look pissed off too.”
And while she’s eagerly awaiting the time when celebrity obsession dies down, she’s willing to put up with it. “I really am grateful that I get to do this for a living, and that’s what gets me through the fact that I’m followed every day by really creepy dudes with big lenses.”
A Revolutionary tale
Local craft beers, including Half Acre Beer Company and Three Floyds Brewing, get screen time in “Drinking Buddies.” But top billing goes to Revolution — its brewing facility (3340 N. Kedzie) doubles as the “Drinking Buddies” set, and the characters are fictional employees at the brewery. (Revolution also has a brewpub/restaurant at 2323 N. Milwaukee.)
“I get a lot of requests, but when brewpub regular and Revolution fan Joe Swanberg requested he shoot a movie on location, we were happy to work with him,” says Revolution’s marketing manager, Aimee Quinkert.
Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Jake Johnson, Ron Livingston and the rest of the cast and crew took over the space for a few weeks, and the Revolution team not only shared beers with the group, but also offered the actors insight into the culture of craft brewers.“We helped them learn the ins and outs of brewery life,” says Quinkert.
As for the “Drinking Buddies” beer of choice? “The guys were drinking the Anti-Hero IPA, while Olivia preferred the darker beers like the Eugene porter.”
Four things you might not know:
• Wilde’s father, Andrew Cockburn, was born in England but raised in Ireland, and Wilde spent childhood summers there. She has dual U.S. and Irish citizenship.
• She hails from a family of journalists: Her father has written for magazines such as Vanity Fair and Harper’s, while her mother, Leslie, was a “60 Minutes” producer. “I love that world. It’s a thankless job and one of the most important parts of our society.”
• She met Sudeikis backstage at “Saturday Night Live” in 2011. She split from first husband Tao Ruspoli earlier that year.
• Wilde says she has noticed distinct reaction to her “Drinking Buddies” character. “Men who are married or in a serious relationship think that she’s disastrous and hectic. They don’t lust after her. Single men are the opposite. I think it’s a funny psychological thing.”