You've worked on stage, on TV, and in movies. Now you’re shooting a documentary called Half the Sky. How did you become involved?
I love documentaries and have been eager to make my own for many years. I think a documentary is the perfect marriage of film and journalism, and a brilliant way to shed light on the most fascinating and important subjects.
I coproduced a short documentary this year called Sun City Picture House, about the building of a movie theater in a refugee camp in Haiti. I am extraordinarily proud of this film, as it tells the story of the Haiti I try so hard to describe—a place of hope, pain, love, and laughter. I was lucky enough to travel to Kenya with Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times to cohost one part of the PBS documentary series based on Nick’s book, Half the Sky [cowritten by Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn].
“I think a voice is a terrible thing to waste. The larger the audience, the bigger the responsibility.”
– Olivia Wilde
The book had an enormous effect on me, and it was a true honor to participate in the documentary, my section of which focused on financial empowerment of women in Kenya through microfinance. I am completely inspired by my experience there and cannot wait to travel back to Africa.
You also recently stepped behind the camera to direct a short for Glamour magazine. What is the premise of the film, and what was it like to be on the other side? How do you think that experience will inform your work as an actress?
I wrote and directed a short film called Free Hugs, a comedy in the vein of Bridesmaids about a woman hitting "rock bottom" after a heart-crushing breakup. The story focuses on the period of time during which her friends—and, seemingly, the world—stop being tolerant of her wallowing, and she is forced to drag herself back to life, but not before a humiliating discovery.
I loved directing so much that I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes the central focus of my career eventually. The entire process was thrilling. I’ve never felt so happy and inspired and grateful. I loved writing the script so much that I began work on my next project, which will be feature-length.
You sit on the board of the charity Artists for Peace and Justice. What can you tell us about that?
We formed APJ in 2008 to support a local organization in Haiti that has been providing critical services such as medicine, education, water distribution, and more in poverty-struck Port-au-Prince for over twenty years. I traveled to Haiti in 2009, two weeks before the earthquake, to visit our programs, including a primary school I sponsored. I have been back several times since, and am proud of our enormous achievements, including building the only free secondary school for the poorest kids in Haiti.
When did you first decide to use your celebrity as a platform for highlighting social issues?
I think a voice is a terrible thing to waste. The larger the audience, the bigger the responsibility. I take pride in my philanthropic work and believe it is the key to my happiness.
Your new film, In Time, is set in a world where nobody passes the age of twenty-five and people have to buy time to stay alive. You play Justin Timberlake’s mother; what was it like playing that role, and how would you describe the character?
The movie has a fascinating concept, and I was intrigued by the idea of playing a fifty-year-old mother from a ghetto in a dangerous and ruthless dystopian future world. Justin and I are old friends, and it was a really interesting acting challenge for both of us. There are some extraordinary performances in the movie, including that of Cillian Murphy, who really knocks it out of the park.
Tell us one thing about you we wouldn’t expect.
I can’t sing to save my life.
Last, what’s on the top of your holiday wish list this year?
A surf trip with my four best girlfriends.
Anna Carnick is a freelance writer and a senior editor at Assouline Publishing. She has written for several publications, including The New York Times T Magazine (The Moment), Dazed & Confused, Casa Vogue, Coolhunting.com, ArtInfo.com, and Aperture.com.