Olivia Williams

The actor: Olivia Williams, a British performer who broke onto the scene with a prominent role in Kevin Costner’s notorious flop The Postman, and subsequently won key supporting parts as the center of the love triangle in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore and as Bruce Willis’ wife in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. Williams has enjoyed a career resurgence of late, appearing as a regular cast member on Joss Whedon’s science-fiction series Dollhouse and in a pivotal role as Carey Mulligan’s concerned teacher in An Education. In Roman Polanski’s new thriller The Ghost Writer, Williams stars as the Cherie Blair-like wife of a disgraced former British prime minister in exile.

The Ghost Writer (2010)—“Ruth Lang”

The A.V. Club: How did this movie come together?

Olivia Williams: I heard about it a long time ago. They had the character I played in place, and I think I was proposed for the Kim Cattrall character at one stage. It was a rather long time. I think Tilda Swinton was attached to the role I played at one stage, so it all flopped around. And then I didn’t hear anything. I’d never met anyone, I never even got to read a script, I don’t think. And then I heard it was all cast up, and I completely gave up hope. Very suddenly, at the end of last year, it came back, with the character I played, Ruth. After all that time had passed, it was almost instantaneous. They wanted me to do it very suddenly, without a meeting. Usually the casting process is lengthy and humiliating, but in this instance, it was just too easy. I was sitting in a rental car on an L.A. street and my cell phone rang, and it was Roman Polanski on the line. I couldn’t really believe my luck. He said, “See you in Berlin.” I sat staring at a palm tree, thinking how surreal that was.

AVC: Did he ask you to audition or just cast you, knowing who you were?

OW: I don’t think he knew who I was before lots of people told him. [Laughs.] Thank God, on the basis of the things people said and what I sent, he was prepared to cast me. I did meet him before we started filming. I dashed to Paris to meet him in January, and we got along very well. There was some concern that I wasn’t the right age for the role. They wanted to make sure that I could fit in with the plot, in terms of being the right age, but once that had been got over, it was a very smooth transition to a job, which I said, is not something that happens very often.

AVC: Polanski has a reputation as a very demanding director. What was your experience with him like?

OW: It’s funny. It’s like anything in life—someone warns you that something’s going to be amazing or difficult or awful, and you say, “I can do that. I can cope with that.” And then when you’re in the middle of it, it may be joyful or tricky, but it’s never difficult in the way you think it’s going to be difficult. [Laughs.] And I thought “I’ve coped with some crazy situations, and I can do this.” But it is so different from the fashionable and accepted way of directing now.

AVC: How so?

OW: The phrase you usually hear after a cut is “That was great. Perhaps we could have another go. Maybe try it this way.” Even that much direction is prefaced with a lot of praise and encouragement. It’s quite like how you deal with toddlers: positive reinforcement, and then a little suggestion that you might want to try something different. Polanski will stop the take and shout, “No, no, no!” [Laughs.] Which is somewhat alarming the first time it happens. But I was lucky, because Ewan [McGregor] had already been shooting with [Polanski] for about a month before I got there. And he did a faultless impersonation of what it was going to be like. So when it happened, it was like, “Oh yeah. That’s what Ewan said was going to happen.” And so it was a little bit less debilitating than it might have been.

AVC: Do you think that directing style could break down somebody weaker?

OW: I enjoyed the experience and I liked working with him, once I realized that it’s not some master plot to break the actor down, in the tradition of crazy acting psychology, which I profoundly disapprove of. He actually said as much to me once. He had his head in his hands, and I said, “Roman, I’ve got to tell you, as an actor, seeing the director with his head in his hands… Look, I really want to do what you want me to do.” And he went away and he came back, having obviously thought about what I said. And he said, “When my head is in my hands, I’m closing my eyes and trying to remember what I saw in my head, before any of the stuff.” And he sort of waved his arms toward all the equipment and the set and everybody on it. “Before all this stuff came along. And I’m trying to recreate what I saw in my head.” So my analysis of the situation was that he wasn’t trying to break us down or get a performance out of us by destroying us. He was absolutely, very simply, trying to recreate this clear picture in his head. And the pictures he creates are absolutely perfect, and they are exactly what he saw in his head. Ewan and I said this to each other after we saw the film. Every time he did a “No, no, no!,” he was right. It was really as if a sculptor was asked to sculpt the embodiment of despair—that was the attitude he would strike. But as with every sort of inspiring teacher you ever had who was strict and scary, when you get it right, the sun comes out, and it’s worth it.

AVC: So there were times when he was pleased?

OW: Yeah. And when he did give you a “Great, great, great!” you were just like, “Thank you, Lord, for this magical moment.” [Laughs.] Once he explained the head-in-the-hands thing, in fact, it just made me want to create the image in his head more. 

AVC: The film has a very powerful sense of isolation and exile. Was that felt on the set as well?

OW: Not really, no. Ewan, you know, is a very genial and entertaining man, and Pierce [Brosnan] is possibly the nicest man in the world. Actually, it was quite a genial set, but the weather and the colors and the actual surroundings were oppressive. But it was a created atmosphere. What was so striking is that Roman had his crew from The Pianist, and we were shooting in Berlin, so there were German and Polish and French people, and I was just sort of enjoying being in this mix of people, all kind of rubbing along together. That felt good. I felt for Ewan, though. There were vast tracts of time where it was him sitting in the car, with the camera on his hands, or with him looking out a window. That must have been isolating for him, but the scenes I was in were quite sociable and creative. I’m not much of a Method actress, so even though my character was quite dark and bad-tempered, I could only do that if I was seeming quite perky.

AVC: There are some obvious parallels between your character and some real-life figures. You wouldn’t be inclined, say, to study the behavior of wives of duplicitous politicians?

OW: There was very much a sense in my mind that Stephen Frears had covered that ground of impersonating real characters [in The Queen and The Deal]. We took the subject matter and created our own characters. I don’t tend to spend the whole day in the personality of the person I’m playing. But I was very particular about the type of woman Ruth is. She isn’t a British aristocrat, and that was something I discussed with Roman, because occasionally, he would direct me to speak to the servants or to other people as if I was someone who was used to that British way of assuming you’re in charge—a colonial way. But she’s not that. She’s bright, working-class, made via education and ambition. So she’s not at ease. She’s quite awkward and not particularly elegant, and that is what I wanted to achieve, not the assumption that someone like that would be something out of an Oscar Wilde play. She’s tougher and edgier. The point about her is that she’s not the charismatic one. Her husband is charismatic, and because she’s not, she didn’t choose to have the big, center-stage political career. It was my mission, in some ways, to make her abrasive and unattractive.

Dollhouse (2009-2010)—“Adelle DeWitt”

OW: Another abrasive woman.

AVC: There are some similarities between her and Ruth, in that their motives remain unclear throughout, and it would seem to be part of your job to keep the viewers guessing. Does that make sense?

OW: It does now that you say it. It’s possibly my new guise. I haven’t had the honor of doing that before. I’m very grateful for Joss [Whedon] for turning things around, in that respect. I’ve done a lot of corset work in my time. In terms of what you prepare and how you put yourself across, in episodic TV, it’s utterly impossible, because you suddenly find out that what you said last week isn’t true, and in fact you’re double-crossing everyone. You only find that out after the event.

AVC: That must be challenging, to make it seem like your behavior is consistent with something that becomes revealed later down the road.

OW: Exactly, and I sort of sensed that. How can I play that if I don’t know where the plotline is going? I guess maybe I was hired because of my dinner scene in The Sixth Sense, which has been scrutinized a thousand times as to whether you know Bruce Willis is dead, or whether I’m talking to myself. I think that maybe if that could be my forte, to do a scene and be able to say it could be read this way or that way. The thing with Adelle is that I was aware that at any point, anything I said had to be able to be read as either an amazing goodie or the most evil of baddie baddies. That’s the fun. To me, that’s the challenge of acting. We had an ancient Prussian acting coach at my drama school who said the worst offense you could commit was to let your subtext show. He would say, [Prussian accent.] “Your subtext is showing.” That is the point of acting, is to be saying one thing and not be allowed by society or your predicament to show what you’re really feeling. In a way, I think that’s why the therapy generation has killed scriptwriting, because all you ever get is people going, “Hi, I’m feeling really angry right now.” And if you say that, you’ve got nothing left to act. [Laughs.] The excruciating moments of drama are when people are allowed to show or say what they feel.

AVC: Were you a fan of Joss Whedon before signing on for Dollhouse?

OW: My only knowledge of him was that he was a big name that flashed up at the end of Buffy, which was on before something else I wanted to watch on the telly. But I don’t want that to be the reductive reason I didn’t know Joss Whedon. We spoke together on the phone, and it was one of the most entertaining half-hours of my life, after which he offered me the job and I accepted. He’s an incredibly bright, interesting man. He writes beautiful drama. His sensitivity and his sense of drama and scenes are pretty exceptional. There’s no one else writing like him, really, in sci-fi and TV. That’s not to say there are no astonishing writers on TV, but there’s no one writing like him out there. I was nervous about coming to America and playing an English person who speaks very English when all the writers are American, because it’s a very particular thing to imitate, and if it’s badly imitated, it sounds painfully contorted and silly. And he writes very well for English people. It was Joss Whedon who persuaded me.

AVC: Dollhouse had a rough beginning with Fox and the Friday-night time slot. What was the atmosphere like before the show found its footing, at least creatively?

OW: I was utterly bewildered, having never done TV before. [Laughs.] I had been on a few movies that had been shut down halfway through, but living like that is no way to live. Showing up on set and having no idea if someone’s going to come and unplug the electricity on your show at any point. Some extraordinary things came out of Fox treating Joss like that. It made him very creative in some instances, and killed a lot of great work in others. As far as the mechanics of viewing figures go, we were betrayed. It was a shame. Left to his own devices, I really think it would have been an extraordinary thing, but there are no regrets. I had a great time. I worked with some very, very fine actors and played some scenes I never would have played. I loved it.

AVC: What did you make of the Joss Whedon cult?

OW: I was bewildered. These people are devoted, but they are, on the whole, incredibly bright people. Their analyses were very profound and correct, and they could spot the places where they felt he had been persuaded to go against his instincts. They could smell them from a mile off. I tried not to get too addicted to reading the Whedonesque website, because it could become obsessive. They were a charming and loyal bunch of people to whom I’m eternally grateful. 

AVC: Do you think you’ll work in TV again?

OW: If the role is right and it’s another situation of having a benevolent genius at the head of it, someone who likes actors, and will protect the actors from the ravages of reality-TV drama. It’s a brutal world, and you need to have a strong creative team who can stand up to the network. But yes, I would, under the right circumstances.

The Postman (1997)—“Abby”

OW: That was a bizarre and unlikely event, which has misled a generation of drama students from my old drama school that dreams really do come true. I was an unemployed actor. I had been an actor for about eight years, and had worked in theater, and done a tiny bit of TV, and somehow an audition video of mine ended up on Kevin Costner’s television screen, and he rang me up and invited me to fly first-class to Hollywood and be in his movie.

AVC: No real audition required?

OW: Well, the tape was a video audition tape. The truth of the story, of which I’m not entirely proud, was that I was pretty much at the end of my tether with acting and auditioning and the humiliation of the process. I’m ashamed to say when Kevin rang me and said he liked my audition tape and asked if I would do another one in London under the same circumstances—in a room, with no one else to act with—I just said, “No.” [Laughs.] “I won’t put myself on tape,” I said. “I’ve already done that, and I can’t really see the point of doing it again, unless the parameters have improved or changed in some way.” And he was a bit surprised and extremely charming and said, “Well if you won’t go on tape, you’ll just have to come here, won’t you?” So he flew me out about 24 hours later, and I worked the scenes with him in his office for about an hour or so. Then they called in the big boys from Warner Bros. and the other producers, Steve Tisch and Jim Wilson. And we did the scene for them, and by the end of the afternoon, it was in the bag. It was a very surreal few days.

AVC: What do you remember about being involved in a production of this magnitude?

OW: As I flew out to do the job, I thought, “I’m so out of my depth, but the only thing I can do is do what I’m told without arguing,” which was a very rare thing for me to do. [Laughs.] I knew what I was doing onstage, but a movie was another matter. My very first friend was my stand-in, who’s a very dear friend to this day, and she kind of saved my ass. She told me where to stand and where the camera was and where to look. I thought, “If I don’t enjoy this, then there’s absolutely no point in being an actor.” I flew in helicopters. I rode horses. I love horses. I saw a stampede of these beautiful horses that were going to be the horses for the movie, and this crowd of fine-looking cowboys that were on the movie, and they were giving me riding lessons and stunt lessons. And it was one big adventure playground, and I loved it. We had a private helicopter to fly us to a snowy peak in Jackson Hole. So we went for the weekend to Jackson Hole and did these shots of us walking through snow. As I was getting into the helicopter, a slightly nervous actor said to me, “Whatever you do, don’t say to the helicopter pilot, ‘Show me what this baby can do.’” So I of course, got into it and said, “Show me what this baby can do.” And we just had this insane helicopter ride. It’s the sort of thing you only get to do on movie sets. I’m so lucky to have done it and have that chance.

AVC: Were you learning a lot about film acting as you went?

OW: I had the best teacher in the business. Kevin Costner was my teacher. I was acting opposite him and he was directing me. The way he directed me, for which I am eternally grateful, is he would watch the scene back on the monitor, which is sort of considered unfashionable—you’re not meant to watch yourself. But he was like, “Come around. Watch this. See there, you’re doing a great reaction, but you’re doing it out of frame.” That was exactly what I needed. I learned how to act on film from him on that movie.

AVC: Did you ever get a sense of the movie’s impending doom?

OW: Are you referring to the fact that it was the second-worst movie of 1997 after Flubber? [Laughs.] I felt very sad for Kevin. I felt very sad for all the incredible friends and artists and creative people who put so much work into it. For me, selfishly, it didn’t kill my career. It meant I didn’t shoot straight and painfully into the limelight, but Rushmore came out of it. No one would have known where I was to cast me in Rushmore had I not been in The Postman. Because they shared a producer. Nor would I have been in The Sixth Sense. Nor would I be speaking to you now if Kevin hadn’t cast me in The Postman.

Rushmore (1998)—“Rosemary Cross”

AVC: Wes Anderson was still somewhat of an unknown filmmaker then. What was it like working with him?

OW: I was still in my “do what you’re told” phase, which I’m still pretty well in. It’s served me pretty well. As an actor, you’re just taking temperature. I am anyway, all the time, and responding appropriately. Have you seen Bill Murray’s subsequent film, Lost In Translation? That was what it was like. I was again cast very last-minute and met Wes, this quite physically and socially awkward man who didn’t really talk to me much, a precocious and intelligent young boy. And Bill Murray. And we were sort of left in this bizarre hotel together and taken to strange locations around Houston. That was quite an isolating experience. Again, a lot of fun, but I didn’t really know what was going on. [Laughs.] Bill was incredibly charming and funny and nice, but we were all in a strange vacuum. 

AVC: Rushmore had a major impact on audiences. Did you feel like you were in something special?

OW: I am the worst judge of how a movie is going to do. I always have great and ambitious hopes, but none of them see the light of day. I loved Rushmore. I loved the script. I mean, that is what drew me to it, just the actual piece of literature the script is. But I never thought in a million years that anyone would see it or respond to it. It was an absolute joy that it was so loved and continues to be. The same with The Sixth Sense. I thought, “No one’s going to watch this. Bruce Willis hasn’t got a gun. There’s no shagging. Lovely story, sweet and profound about loss and death, but no one’s going to watch this.” [Laughs.] And I’m on record as having said “I’ve done this amazing movie that no one is going to see.” And then it stayed in the top 10 American films for about six months. So don’t ask me. I’m the most disastrous PR and marketing predictor. 

AVC: There’s a great scene in Rushmore when you confront Max on what following through with his schoolboy crush would mean. Could you talk about how you played that scene?

OW: It was quite physically tough on Jason [Schwartzman, who played Max]. There’s a point when he falls back through chairs and a pile of boxes. It’s funny, when people want things to be very truthful and you’re dealing with an inexperienced actor. I’m of the school that believes things like that have to be very carefully choreographed. You need people there to say, “It’s going to happen like this.” And I remember feeling, “This isn’t the answer you want, but it’s the truth.” It was important that the scene remained disciplined and didn’t get out of control. But the other thing, which is the joy of my job, which keeps me sane, is when you get to be angry, you can be much angrier than you’re ever allowed to be in your own life. She’s a bitch in that scene, and I think I quite wanted to be a bitch that day, and I could, and people would say “Cut,” and that I did very well.

AVC: That scene in particular is reminiscent of Dollhouse, where your character also plays it pretty close to the vest, with moments of passionate emotional release. Have you noticed that kind of pattern with the characters you play?

OW: It’s the payoff, you know? It’s why you mustn’t show your subtext at any other time. It’s the fun bit. It’s the fun and games. The thing I get most angry about is when you audition for roles and they give you that scene. And you want to say, “No. This scene only works and can only be done if you have served your time holding your cards close to your chest. If you want me to cry and spray the room with snot and get angry, you’re just going to think that’s an ugly mess.” It’s only effective if you have hidden your subtext up until that point. That’s my philosophy on the matter.

AVC: You seem to be frustrated with the audition process.

OW: The trouble is, when you’re an unemployed actor, it’s the only time you get to act, and it can be quite fun. If you feel in control of the material and you feel that the people are pleased to see you and are excited by you auditioning for them, it can be a really rewarding process. But it can also be a very humiliating process. I hope I never get in the situation where I refuse to audition, because I think people have a right to see you interpreting the character, and if you don’t do it the way they want you to, they have a right to say, “No.” The humiliating point is when they make you do it again. And again. And then again. And then they have you do it a little bit this way and to this person and then for this executive, and they can’t come on that day, so you have to do it this day. There’s a moment where the balance on a seesaw goes over. They’re just seeing how long they can make the monkey dance. And that is when I lose my patience and I say, “I’m not doing it anymore. If you want me, you’ve got the material. Now make up your mind.”


Friends
(1998)—“Felicity”

OW: Again, surreal. There are movies where I’ve walked onto the set and felt, “This is home,” and I’m confident in myself and my work, but that was my first experience of live TV. At that stage, Friends was at its unassailable height of popularity and brilliance. I spent three nights on set. For some reason, we started at 5 or 6 in the afternoon and would do it until midnight or 2 in the morning, all in front of a trapped, live audience. It was shot in London, and we were in a really hideous studio in a place called Walkford, which is not a place you want to spend a lot of time. There they were, these sort of gods of comedy, the cast of Friends, in Walkford. [Laughs.] And because I was playing a bridesmaid, I had to wear the same dress as Courteney Cox, who looked very tall and almost fabulously Amazonian onscreen, but she’s tiny and very slim in person. And I’m 5’9” and have the body of an English person that doesn’t know how to diet. And I was like, “This is some sort of evil plot to put me in a bright red dress, the same bright red dress as Courteney Cox.” But it was great fun. I mean, talk about a learning experience. Those guys know their shit when it comes to comedy and how to do it, and it was amazing, but terrifying.

AVC: How was it working in front of the trapped audience?

OW: Well, they were happy to be trapped in there. They were screaming with joy and excitement. It was as big as a Beatles concert, I guess. Friends was unbelievably popular in Britain, and it was incredibly exciting. It was the episode where they revealed that Monica was shagging the Matthew Perry character, and when his head appeared from under the bedcloth, everyone backstage was timing how long the audience would scream for. It went into the minutes. I had never experienced anything quite like that before in my life. I was honored to be a part of that.


Jason And The Argonauts
(2000)—“Hera”

AVC: You also had some pretty well-known co-stars in Jason And The Argonauts.

OW: We were mostly isolated on the green screen, again in not a very salubrious part of London. There was not a sumptuous cast party where I got to schmooze with Derek Jacobi and Adrian Lester. I was alone on a cardboard box covered with a green carpet. It was directed by a man who’s become an extremely dear friend, called Nick Willing, who’s very gifted. He did the modernized Alice that was on over Christmas, and he’s a very good friend. His wife is a very gifted producer called Michele Camarda, who produced Born Romantic, in which I snogged Craig Ferguson, the now-famous presenter. Nick is a very clever man.

AVC: So most of the filming for Argonauts was against a green screen?

OW: Yes, like I said, a cardboard box covered with a blanket. That was my cloud that I sat on. I was the goddess Hera. When I’m sitting on my cloud in the beautiful blue sky over Greece, in fact I was on a green-screen stage in Ealing. I didn’t get to go to Greece for that.


The Sixth Sense
(1999)—“Anna Crowe”

AVC: You were cast in The Sixth Sense with relatively little notice. 

OW: My parents are both lawyers, and my father always said his best cases have been returns, cases that come into his office from another lawyer. So he said, “Never be ashamed to take a return.” All my best roles have happened because someone else dropped out at the last minute, and God bless those actresses for their queeny fits, their sprained ankles, their better job turning up, because that’s how I’ve got my best work. I’m not sure if that was the case with The Sixth Sense, but [producer] Barry Mendel was my hero on that. Barry produced Rushmore and we got along very well, and he was the producer of The Sixth Sense. He naughtily sidestepped my agent and rang me at home. I was staying in L.A. and he said, “Get your ass to this address in the next half hour, because we’re meeting people to play Bruce Willis’ wife, and I think you should meet [M.] Night [Shyamalan]. So I slapped on some lipstick, got in the car, and went to meet him.

AVC: What was that meeting like?

OW: It was great. I just thought, again, “All I can do is chat and be myself.” I hadn’t read the script, and I went in and said “Hello,” and we got along very well. He wanted someone who was unselfconscious and normal-person. Bruce was the most recognizable face in the country at that point, and [Night] just wanted someone to play his wife, someone who he believably would have loved. That’s what I went for. I did have a bit of a period in my life where I was playing off very experienced, very high-profile men. I racked up Kevin and Bruce and Bill Murray and amazingly, James Coburn, and Andy Garcia. That became the speciali della casa, to be able to do what needs to be done to play opposite these big hitters. It was a very interesting part of my career. I would be walking on set and facing these kind of big hitters and carving out a performance of reaction, essentially, reacting to the big performance that was there.

AVC: The film has one of the most famous twists of all time. How was the secrecy enforced? Was it one of those things where you’re only given so many pages of script at a time? 

OW: I think it began that crazy thing. I think it was one of the first times that people began to realize that they had to not release scripts. I had my first computer on that movie. It wasn’t a time when the dissemination of twists was so easily done. I can’t remember there being any secrecy. Also, nobody really took much notice of the movie until it came out. So there wasn’t a big hush-hush about it. But now, with the Internet, when there is a big twist, you have to hide these things. It was hilarious when we did Dollhouse and the revelation that Alan Tudyk’s character was Alpha, they put it on the call sheet. You know, Alan, his name, and then Alpha-slash-whatever the other character he was playing was called. If the production office can’t keep the secret, then what hope is there? It was on the Internet in five minutes. But it was before those days. It was in the innocent old days. I’m showing my age now.


An Education
(2009)—“Miss Stubbs”

OW: I am a pathetic and gushing Nick Hornby fan, and I wanted to be in High Fidelity, and I wanted to be in About A Boy, and those two directors—one who’s a dear friend, and one who has never cast me in anything, despite my pleading… So there was another Nick Hornby script going around being cast by a friend of mine, and she said, “There’s a very small role in it, but you’d be right for it.” I was like “I don’t care how small, I’m going to be in this Nick Hornby film.” Then I read it and absolutely loved it, and loved the character. It was a sort of love-in. Emma Thompson and Rosamund Pike and Dominic Cooper—everyone was there because they loved it. For me, it was sort of no real acting required, because Miss Stubbs is my inner nerd personified. It was a complete pleasure.

AVC: What was your impression of Carey Mulligan? She wasn’t terribly known or experienced before this movie. 

OW: She’s completely self-possessed. She knows what she’s doing, and again, quite like the big-hitters I was talking about, my job was just to feel and reflect back the amazing performance coming my way. If anything, I was slightly pathetically flying in her tailwind. She’s an extraordinary actress. 

AVC: Your career has crisscrossed from Hollywood to England and back again. What are the practical issues in managing that? Have you missed or turned down opportunities you might not have otherwise?

OW: I was talking to my husband about this the other day. When The Sixth Sense was the No. 1 movie in America, I had a Canadian boyfriend whose only assets at the time were a guitar and a van. I don’t know what I was thinking. My agents were like “Come to L.A., we’ve got meetings for you.” I was like “No, I’m doing this now.” Then my father became very ill back in England, and I didn’t want to be away. I went back to England and did a bunch of crazy indie movies, all of which I loved with a passion, and none of which did any business. In fact, two of them were blamed for killing the British film business. Still, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love the ups and downs and the eccentricities of my career. The worst movies have produced some of the best friendships. As far as managing it, you’ll have to talk to my husband. At the moment, we don’t know where we’re at. We’re living in a beautiful rented house in Santa Monica, and don’t know where we’re going to be for the rest of the year.

AVC: But if someone drops out of a really good role, you’ll be there for that.

OW: We will. We’re ready to go. The bags—they’re not packed, but they’re lying open, ready. That’s how we do it. It ages you, though. I think it’s quite lucky that I lead this lifestyle, and in fact, my career’s only gotten better as I’ve looked older, because it ages you, the uncertainty. It was fine when I was single and childless. Carrying the responsibility of screwing up your kids at the same time is huge. I remember when I got Peter Pan, and I told my mom and dad and my friends I was leaving—again, I was cast way late on—in the next two days to go to Australia for four months, and they all went “Bye! See you in four months!” But no one said “We need you,” and I really knew that it was time to think about someone else for a change. I really needed to have something in my life, because I realized there were other things more important than my career. So I love having my children and my family. But in terms of being able to drop everything and take a role, that is a huge consideration. But the second season of Dollhouse, the turnaround… We were told at the end of May that we were starting shooting on July the 17th…

AVC: Just being told you were going to have a second season must have been a shock.

OW: It was a total shock. We’d settled back in England and given up on the idea of moving to America for a bit, and then within six weeks, the kids taken out of school, we found a house on Craigslist, and moved back to America. So yeah, it’s tough. As I’ve said, it’s lucky I needed to look old on The Ghost Writer, because that was a big turnaround, from America back to London. Then I was shooting in Berlin, commuting to Berlin. Then I went straight into this other film, which probably won’t register over here, called Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, which Andy Serkis has got a BAFTA nomination for. Then straight back here. So it’s mad. A mad year, but wonderful. As I said, I wouldn’t have missed any of the chapters of it, least of all having two children and an amazing husband that makes it possible.