"Sit here," Olivia Wilde says, patting the seat next to her. We're at a hip café she's chosen near her Venice, California, home and she's already claimed her favorite table. She's wearing tight jeans, a disconcertingly sheer white top, and a hat. Not just any hat—an ugly, straw, Kid Rock-looking fedora. It's a classic fashion power play , the kind of thing beautiful women do because they can.
Wilde, 26, who plays the terminally ill Dr. Remy "Thirteen" Hadley on House, is having a breakout year on the big screen, with roles in the Paul Haggis-directed crime thriller The Next Three Days and the hotly anticipated CGI spectacle Tron: Legacy. In the 1982 original, Jeff Bridges gets sucked inside a computer and engages in a cheesy, futuristic Ultimate Frisbee-meets-Rollerball battle. In this December's reboot, Bridges returns (sporting a Dude-like beard), only this time there are way cooler special effects, a killer Daft Punk soundtrack, and a secret weapon: Wilde as the cybervixen guide Quorra.
The role required that she squeeze into a skintight rubber suit woven out of neoprene and something called electroluminescent lamps. "It was so beautiful that I didn't need to play the character sexy," she says. The first time she laid eyes on the get-up, however, she freaked: "I saw the boobs on the suit and I said, 'Oh, hell no. I'm doing kicks and backflips in this thing?' " She describes Quorra as a kind of warrior ninja: "We modeled the character on Joan of Arc but with the hair of Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But still a total badass."
Wilde, who was born in New York City and raised in Washington, D.C., has never been precious about her profession. "I loved the Police Academy movies and Saturday Night Live," she says. "I was totally into slapstick humor." When she was 10, her parents took her to a taping of SNL. "I went to the after-party and met Chris Farley," she recalls. "All the cast members were drinking and celebrating, and Chris came up and challenged me to a brownie-eating contest." (He won. Wasn't close.) Her first big breaks were both, strangely, porn-themed—Jerry Bruckheimer's short-lived 2003 TV series Skin and the 2004 Elisha Cuthbert comedy The Girl Next Door. And then there was a stint on The O.C., playing a bisexual teen who famously kissed Mischa Barton's character.
None of which is to suggest that Wilde isn't serious-minded. She works with the ACLU and the nonprofit Artists for Peace and Justice, and, along with fellow actress Maria Bello, she's producing a documentary about the construction of a movie theater in a refugee camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. It was her work as a board member for the ACLU that inspired artist Shepard Fairey, the man behind the iconic Obama "Hope" poster, to create an image of Wilde draped in an American flag, striking a Lady Liberty pose. "I was honored to do it," she says, downplaying her initiation into an elite fraternity that includes the president and André the Giant."It's unbelievable," she concedes, "the amount of power people in Hollywood have. I feel like I'm in a really good place."