Olivia Wilde interview: Tron: Legacy, fighting in costume, Joan of Arc and more

In the run-up to the release of Tron: Legacy, we caught up with co-star Olivia Wilde to talk about her role in the film...

As part of our visit to Digital Domain earlier this year, we met up with some of the cast and production team behind the forthcoming Tron: Legacy. One of the highlights of the day was a round-table interview with Olivia Wilde, who talked about preparing for her role as Quorra, attempting to fight in costume, and her thoughts on the original Tron

How old were you when you saw the original Tron for the first time?

I saw it in its entirety shortly before I met Joe [Kosinski] and Sean Bailey. And I thought I’d seen it before that because of how it had woven in to the cultural fabric. I’d seen so many references to it, but I think that happens with iconic films. Given that Tron wasn’t a huge box office success when it came out, it really stayed in the public’s consciousness because there wasn’t anything like it – and still isn’t anything like it.

So even if it was in Family Guy or in The Simpsons or something like that, that was the first place I’d probably seen it. I’d heard of Tron in much the same way that people haven’t seen Star Wars, but think they have because it has worked its way into the daily dialogue of society.

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What part of the original film most impressed you?

It was interesting, because it was a lot funnier than I thought it would be. And pretty impressive in that it was very cutting edge for its time – remember, this was 1982, and having actors say things like ‘program’ and ‘bit’ was probably gobbledegook to them.

I thought it was pretty interesting that they could ask the question, what if the personal computer, which is becoming part of our lives, could talk to us? And what if we lost control? It’s an interesting question that’s come up in other films over the years, such as The Terminator.

It’s the age-old question of humanity and its values. I like to call it monkey versus robot [Laughs]. I think the great thing about Tron: Legacy is that it revisits the question, but coming from a different place. The original film asked, what if we lost control, but Tron: Legacy says, we have lost control, and we acknowledge that we are dependent on technology, so what now?

How can we redeem ourselves? How do we get out of this? How can we harness technology and retain our sense of humanity, and use it for good? I think the end of the film will leave people wanting to value what makes us human, and to encourage them to pull themselves away from technology for a moment, to put down their game and appreciate something as simple as the sun.

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My character in the film, Quorra, is completely fascinated by the User world, the human world, and she’s been Kevin Flynn’s student and protector for hundreds of years in the Tron world – 20 years in the User world – and he’s taught her everything about the User world, because she’s desperate to learn it all.

[Flynn’s] given her limitless access to human literature and history, and she’s fascinated by it. She believes in it in the way a human might believe in a world of gods. And just like we don’t necessarily believe in the Tron universe, the Grid universe doesn’t necessarily believe in the Users. Who’s to say which reality is real? It brings up that age-old philosophical question, too – why is this real? Why is this not a dream? Why is this the ultimate reality?

Quorra, living inside this world as a program, has dreamt of the User world, so when Sam Flynn arrives, it’s as though she’s seeing a god, who she’s been waiting for for hundreds of years. She wants to suck him dry of  all the information that she can.

My favourite moment in the movie is where she’s showing Sam a library of all the books she’s read, and she tells him her favourite is Jules Verne. She asks Sam, “Do you know Jules Verne?” and Sam says, “Yeah,” so Quorra asks, “So what’s he like?” [Laughs] Because she doesn’t really have a concept of time and how everything works.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that I like the way the film revisits the question of technology, but evolved it in a way that technology has evolved. And I do think you couldn’t have made a sequel to Tron any earlier than we are now. You had to wait until technology had evolved to a point where it was advanced enough to make a film as revolutionary as the first one was.

We’re using four pieces of technology in this film that have never been used before simultaneously. And the first film, of course, was the first to use CG. So I think if you did this sequel any earlier, it wouldn’t be as groundbreaking, so I’m really glad they waited.

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And I’m glad they waited for someone like Joe Kosinski, who is a real visionary, and has been able to recreate the Tron universe in a really new, stunning way.

I heard that wearing high heels made some of your scenes quite difficult…

Yes. We trained in mixed martial arts for many months, and we did all sorts of training – kapoeira, Ju-Jitsu, cross training and all these types of fighting, and this was before the suits would look like in the end. I just wanted to be as strong as possible, and do as many of the fighting stunts as I could myself.

But when we arrived on set and realised we had to fight in these suits, it was quite a challenge. Running in heels isn’t easy, kicking in heels isn’t easy, but it made it all more bad-ass in the end.

On the outside, [Quorra] is this sexy creature, but I didn’t want to make her, internally, very sexy and vixen-like. That was supported by our creative team. It would have been easy to just make her this temptress. She’s quite childlike and naive and quirky, and because the suit itself is so sexy, you know with the heels and the rubber – though we took the shapes down a little bit from what they initially were – I didn’t feel the need to make her overtly sexy.

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She has these heels, but she fights like a warrior. The suit is like armour for her. One of the most influential characters in history, who I used as research for Quorra, was Joan of Arc, who of course fought in white chainmail from head to toe.

So at one point I wanted the suit to be all white to reference Joan of Arc, but it really does look better in black [Laughs].

How important was the costume as a means of getting into character?

This was such an incredible process, this wardrobe. We had at least 11 fittings, and at each one, a little bit more would be built. And we got a better idea of what this character would be made of and how they’d be able to move. We worked together as a creative team to work out which piece felt wrong and which piece really helped inform who the character was.

For instance, I was really big on Joan of Arc, and I felt it should be like armour. There was a question of, is it a part of their skin, or is it something she puts on to protect herself? What powers does it have? You start to think about what she’s capable of, and what kind of person she is.

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I remember the first time I put on the completed suit, it was after many months of work. And they suddenly put the lights on, and I looked in the mirror, and I first saw Quorra’s power. I thought, “This is a lot cooler than I thought it would be.”

And throughout the movie, you’d be tired after fifteen hours’ shooting or something, and you’d be in the middle of these incredible sets, like the safe-house you saw, the big white room. And we had battery packs on our backs so they could turn us on by remote control.

We’d be sitting there, slumped and tired, and they’d turn on the suits, which would go, “Bing!” and you’d look around and go, “Wow!”

It also changes the way you walk. It certainly changes the way you fight. The suit absolutely informed who Quorra was.

Is Quorra particularly like you?

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Quorra’s the biggest departure from myself that I’ve played in a long time. Since then I’ve done a few roles that are real transformations. She’s not like me in that she has this completely pure, beginner’s mind. She is able to appreciate everything around her with real optimism. Which isn’t to say I’m particularly cynical, but, I think we’ve all become jaded and take certain things for granted – technology included.

And she has a fascination for all things. She’s also completely selfless and compassionate, which I’d never claim to be – I think it’s something that exists as an ideal. I’d like to be more like her, I guess. She’s a compassionate warrior, and that’s where the Joan of Arc research came in handy. A fighter for good, and that’s something I’d like.

In the original Tron, women didn’t seem to play as significant a role as they appear to in Tron: Legacy.

Well, Yuri was pretty badass…

She was, but wasn’t in the film all that much. I get the impression that you have a more significant role to play. Is that something you feel has evolved, along with technology?

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That’s interesting – I hadn’t thought of it as a reflection of how women have evolved in the world of technology. I’m not sure.

What’s interesting about Quorra is that she’s not there just to serve as a device of seduction, or as a love interest – she’s existing as a real member of a family unit, because the ending of this film should be about the reunification of a family. I’m Kevin Flynn’s adopted daughter.

So when Sam Flynn arrives, she has a responsibility to help him on his mission. I mention this only because I think it would have been easy to make her  a love interest in the film who doesn’t really serve the purpose of the characters. But instead, she’s quite important as they go on their mission, and becomes a guide and a member of their family. A really important key to their mission, but the mystery of the film itself. A key to our big secret.

I agree that she’s probably a tougher character. I mean, I loved the dynamic between the characters in the first film, but this is very different. What I hope is that women will be drawn to the film – not only because they appreciate the same things that men do, which is cool effects, cool cars, cool 3D and everything else, but the fact that Quorra is a female character they can relate to, that isn’t just a vixen. That is someone who is strong, wise, interesting and funny.

I hope young women can look up to her, as we used to look up to Wonder Woman. There hasn’t been a strong female character for girls to look up to for a while, that isn’t just there to be a sexy girl in a suit.

Olivia Wilde, thank you very much.

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