Four weeks after giving birth to her first child with fiancé Jason Sudeikis in late-April 2014, Olivia Wilde was back to work, filming the pilot for what would become the HBO period drama, Vinyl, her first major TV series since becoming a star for playing Dr. Remy “Thirteen” Hadley on FOX’s House. The decision to join Vinyl was made after a careful determination she wouldn’t be undervalued or trapped on the show.
While that short of a turnaround time might make other new moms hesitate, it was exactly what the actress needed to embody Devon Finestra, a former actress from Andy Warhol’s Factory scene who was now a mother and wife to a drug-addled record executive played by Bobby Cannavale.
“Emotionally I think you’re quite raw after you’ve giving birth,” Wilde tells ET about this “enormous amount of energy” she needed to expend. “Actually, the creative outlet is a kind of a wonderful way to express it and I felt lucky because I wondered about so many women who give birth and then are tensed up in their houses, breastfeeding, feeling like cattle. They have no outlet for all this incredible inspiration that comes out of the experience of giving birth.”
“I was like, ‘Wow, I get to pour this into something.’ So, I actually felt really available,” Wilde continues, explaining that she’s thankful it wasn’t some horrible B-movie, which may have in turn been a miserable experience unlike the one she enjoyed on the set of Vinyl, working alongside Cannavale and being directed by Martin Scorsese, who helmed the two-hour premiere. “It was like, ‘OK, this is a safe place I can use all this creative energy that I feel.’”
Though, she’s quick to admit there were physical challenges that come with being a mother of a newborn that she had to work through. “Aside from the physical discomfort of having to go pump every 40 minutes” — [Laughs] — “ it was somehow kind of useful,” Wilde says.
What ended up onscreen was a deeply emotional woman, exhausted with trying to keep her husband, Richie, sober and rear two children alone in the suburbs. After Richie falls off the wagon, Devon takes refuge in the city, renewing her confidence and creative energy. From the onset of the series, it was easy to view Devon as another Betty Draper-type tied down to a despondent husband, but Wilde says she never thought of her character as just “the wife.” “[Creator] Terence Winter never expected me to fall into that role and I think he knew that from the beginning, because it just wouldn’t have been something they would have cast me for,” Wilde says. “She wasn’t designed to be that and I built her to be someone who had a marriage as a part of her life.”
Helping push Wilde’s potential was Scorsese, who taught her to be bold and to be unafraid. “There’s no choice that you make that he doesn’t notice. He was really encouraging us to build people who are real and to really be thoughtful of where they’ve been and where they’re going,” she says, pointing to one particular scene in the pilot, where Devon finds Richie drunk and, initially as written, wasn’t completely coming together onscreen. Encouraged to play with it, Wilde transformed the scene into a larger moment for Devon, where she spits whiskey into Richie’s face. “I could have been really terrible, but Marty created this very safe environment to try things like that.”
The safety of the world Scorsese created transcended throughout the season, leading up to Wilde’s nude scene in episode six. A moment that might feel gratuitous on a show like HBO’s Game of Thrones, which has seen its female stars call for an equal amount of full-frontal nudity from their male counterparts, Wilde says was all about vulnerability as Devon launches herself into a world of artists she’s been so thirsty for since getting married. “I hadn’t necessarily seen it coming for her,” Wilde admits, but credits the writers for pushing interesting ideas. “Of course, this was season one and there was no shortage of new ideas, but I was thrilled by it.”
The scene itself was shot by Reed Morano, whom Wilde says did “a really beautiful job,” while the rest of the episode’s creative team was supported by a female director, a female assistant director, a female writer and female producer. “I was in a coven of smart women,” she says.
The only real discomfort may have been the merkin, a pubic-hair wig which Wilde wore during the scene. “Typically you’re given as much control as you possibly can [in that situation, but ] I certainly wanted to be historically accurate,” Wilde says of the very-present bush that was seen onscreen. “It was definitely cracking me up to no end. I mean, I just had never worn one before and I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever seen.”
In February, just two months before Wilde announced she was pregnant with her second child, HBO renewed Vinyl for a second season. While under contract with the series, the actress says her commitment to the show never deterred her from expanding her family. “If I’ve learned anything in this business is that you never know when you’re going to start shooting anything and you can’t put your life on hold,” she says, adding that since her character was not written to serve a male fantasy that “it would be fine no matter when we decided to shoot because Devon isn’t defined by her body.”
“Unlike actors, actresses have to consider that balance,” Wilde says of the conversation that’s come up more and more as female stars are not letting their show dictate those decisions. “I feel that what I’ve learned from much wiser people who have gone before me is to just not let the business stop you from living your life.”