Olivia Wilde Isn’t Interested in “Just Being the Face for a Company”

We got coffee with the actress in Brooklyn to talk politics and beauty.

By: Katie Becker
Photography: Jake Rosenberg

When I meet Olivia Wilde in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, I find her in a big bay window seat at one of her favorite local spots, the sunlit Maison May café. She orders a latte, we spill out the contents of her bag to talk about her favorite things— including the beauty essentials from natural skin-care brand True Botanicals, for which she is chief brand activist—and we immediately get deep into politics. If I walked away from my conversation with her thinking one thing, it was this: Even in a world getting exponentially more informed every day, Wilde makes smart, involved, and well-read look cooler than ever.

And it’s in her blood. Wilde’s mother, Leslie Cockburn, is running for Congress in Virginia (and aren’t we all particularly pumped about women running for office in Virginia these days?), and Wilde talked excitedly about the inspiration she derives. No wonder, then, her unusual title with True Botanicals.

 

Clockwise from bottom: Cuyana x La Ligne bag; True Botanicals Renew Pure Radiance Oil; True Botanicals Everyday Sheer Coverage SPF 20; The Complete Rolling Stone Interview by Susan Sontag; Ray Ban sunglasses; True Botanicals Renew Nutrient Mist; button for her mother, Leslie Cockburn’s, campaign; Ursa Major Essential Face Wipe.
 

“I’m not interested in just being the face for the company,” says Wilde, who was the spokesmodel for Revlon from 2011 to 2016. “Chief brand activist is more of a proactive role, it’s about helping other people find it, and to stand up for the values that the whole company was based on. Whether that’s writing op-eds, doing a TED talk, just talking to every woman I meet about alternatives, it’s sort of all-inclusive.”

That’s not to say she doesn’t find other benefits to being involved in with a holistic beauty brand.

“Aromatherapy is the real deal, especially on kids,” says the mother of two, who, don’t forget, is also an actress (stage and film), producer, director, and activist. “I use it a lot. Hillary from True Botanicals gave me some specifically for kids, like moodiness and headaches, and it’s great because you don’t want to keep loading them up with other things. Especially when they discover sugar, it’s just like up, down, up, down. I’ll just like, rub it on them and yell, ‘Breathe!’ and I’m just like, smearing it on their temples. It’s powerful stuff. So I think that’s a big component of why I love these products and what people react to.”

Below, find out more about Wilde’s latest activism in both politics and beauty.

 

It must feel really cool to have your mom running for office in such an important region right now. Tell me what that’s like for you:

“My mom has been an investigative journalist for 35 years, and she has covered wars across the Middle East, she covered Iran Contra, she’s worked in Southeast Asia. Actually, I can’t think of one spot on the globe she hasn’t worked extensively. My entire childhood, both of my parents were working in different war zones and different places of interest around the globe, but my mom’s focus was always fiercely devoted to speaking truth to power and uncovering corruption. She’s really relentless in her pursuit of the truth and justice. And these are things that make an obviously fantastic journalist. But [also] in a representative. But her being my mother, I was concerned about what the life of a politician would be like. What it means to run for office. Specifically in a state now that is currently red. How that would be for a democrat and a woman at this stage in our country.”

Because of concerns of scrutiny in a spotlight?

“What’s incredible is to see your parent taking on at a different stage of their life, a different chapter, at 65. It makes me so much more excited about life. We have this perception that our 30s is sort of the meat of life, 30s, 40s, and 50s, and then we sort of slow down. There’s a great Nora Ephron quote, she said something about ‘Don’t forget, you can always change your mind. I’ve had three husbands and four careers. You can continue to evolve.’ And what I witnessed in my mother. I would say now, as a candidate, she’s happier than I’ve ever seen her, and she seems most at home. It’s not for the faint of heart, I do really think you have to feel called to politics. Her district is bigger than the state of New Jersey, and it has a lot of different types of communities—she’s traversing the state of Virginia.”

 

Can we apply that idea of change to your partnership with [all-natural skin-care brand] True Botanicals?

“As a woman, as I’ve grown older, I recognize my own evolution. In terms of my perception of beauty and self-care, it’s been really simplified, to the point where I anticipate and do things for myself that just make me feel better. It’s much more self-generated, from within, as opposed to when you’re in your twenties and you’re really concerned about how you’re being perceived, what you’re supposed to be doing, what someone else is doing.

“And I’m also more concerned now with what is being sold to us that is so not in our best interests. I’m not at all preachy about this stuff because it’s been a real process of education for me, learning about beauty and toxins in beauty products, but when I heard the specifics—how in the EU, they’ve banned over 1,300 ingredients, and in the US, we’ve banned under 20—I just don’t understand how we can allow that to be true. We used to have to sacrifice quality in order to live in a safer or environmentally sound way, and now you don’t.”

When did you start getting into natural beauty products?

“I had already been pretty careful about food. But in terms of skin care, I knew nothing until I was pregnant with my first kid at 30 and started thinking about it. Then I started thinking about products in general, production life cycles, the business structures, and what consumers are aware of. It led me to start a company with my best friend called Conscious Commerce, which is really a creative company that works with conscious brands, soon to evolve into something much bigger, which is exciting. I started educating myself more on effective alternatives for skin care, makeup, fashion, really everything. True Botanicals was on my radar for a few years, and I really liked it.”

 

Tell me about your skin-care routine:

“Super simple. Every night, I take off makeup with the pre-cleanse oil. Then I use the clear cleanser, then I use the renewal oil. Three or four times a week, I mix the serum with the antioxidant booster. The booster is made from the same chemical that’s in apple peels, which makes sense since it preserves the apple. I like learning about this stuff. Morning is not too different, except I just use cleanser, the oil, and SPF. And the mist! The mist I use throughout the day, traveling, it’s a good thing before makeup, and it also sets makeup really well. Kind of keeps it dewy and fresh.”

I see you’re reading Susan Sontag:

“Susan Sontag has always been [a] fascinating, artistic voice. And that book my fiancé [Jason Sudeikis] gave to me as a gift, and it had been passed on to him by someone he was working with, another actress, who said that it really inspired her in terms of the way actors and artists speak about their art in sort of a larger conversation. I really like male authors too, but recently I read a lot of female authors, and sometimes I’ll go on a binge. Like I just went on a Nora Ephron binge. Or especially when it’s specific to the time of the project that I’m working on. I just did a play, 1984, and for six months I read a lot of Orwell, and then I read a lot about revolutionaries of the time, and I got into a big Pussy Riot kick and read everything Pussy Riot has put out, and [I] love them so much. They’ve actually been a huge inspiration for me throughout that process and beyond. Sometimes it’s totally different, like George Saunders. I have a dream to adapt some of his work one day. But right now, I’m rewriting a screenplay for a movie I’m directing. It’s a comedy. It’s a huge undertaking, it’s massive. But it feels like it’s something I’ve been preparing to do.”

 

You’re very multitalented!

“That’s nice. Haha, I kind of feel like that’s why directing feels right for me because I understand now that what a director’s really doing is several different jobs at once. So you have to have experience in lots of different types of work. It’s helpful to produce things, it’s helpful to have acted, it’s helpful to have a mom, recognizing people’s strengths and failures, and making sure you’re communicating well.”

You do have to have the right spirit to take all of these learnings and take it into a leadership role. Politically or behind the camera:

“Right. I sometimes think about roles that I didn’t get as an actress. I don’t think I’ve ever been devastated about not getting a part, but disappointed. And then thinking now, ‘Oh, it’s because I wouldn’t have been here now,’ like I wouldn’t have started directing music videos, and I wouldn’t have started using my time differently, getting behind the camera. In general, I am an optimistic person, I have some ability to see the silver lining, although I do forget sometimes.”

I mean, it’s been a weird year:

“Oh my god. The extreme heartbreak and disaster of this administration so far has galvanized the revolutionary activist spirit. I hate to think it was necessary to get us here. I kind of don’t want to buy into that. I feel like with Hillary Clinton as president, we would all be just as energized.”

 

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