Olivia Thirlby is not, in fact, a pothead, no matter how many times she gets cast as one. “I don’t know what it is about me that makes people go, ‘Pothead!’ But I guess there’s something believable about it,” says the 21-year-old, who is best known as Ellen Page’s best friend in Juno. Since that movie, Thirlby has somehow found herself attached to two stoner comedies: The Wackness (which opens July 3), about hip-hop, young love, psychotherapy, and dope dealing in Manhattan during the summer of ’94, and Pineapple Express from Team Judd Apatow. (You’ll only get to see her in one. But more on that below.) She was also asked to read the script for a not- going-anywhere-soon project called Freedom High, about pot-smoking twins.
Why might people think she has an affinity for weed? Well, for starters, the five-foot-four Thirlby claims to have the appetite of a 420-pound trucker set loose in KFC after a medical-marijuana binge: “Eating is, like, my favorite thing to do! Anything breaded and made with chicken—uhhh, Milanese!—and I’m done for.” True to form, when we meet for breakfast at her West Village neighborhood hangout, Café Cluny, Thirlby polishes off an entire plate of food before I see a menu (she apologizes; she just couldn’t wait). “My omelette was bitchin’, ” she declares, then nods approvingly as I eat my potatoes.
Thirlby, whose style icon is Wackness co-star Mary-Kate Olsen, also looks as if she might dress while high—but in a good way. Her shoes: moccasins. Her nails: French’s-mustard yellow. Her pants: high-waisted “sultan” sweats (“They manage to combine my two favorite prints, leopard and paisley, in one. And they’re blue!”). Best of all is her top: her dad’s classic Keith Haring “dancing TV” T-shirt, complete with a hole in each armpit, “so I’m never in doubt where I stand, hygiene-wise.” Then she adds, “This T-shirt was born in 1983, three years before I was. You should be interviewing my T-shirt. I bet it’s seen some amazing things.”
The T-shirt might tell of young Olivia growing up an only child on Avenue B, Grandmaster Flash blasting on the street. Her mother was an ad exec, her father an artist and contractor. Marijuana rarely entered the picture. “My school [Friends Seminary] was really, really rigorous academically, and pot would have rendered me incapable of doing homework. I was a good girl!”
Discovering acting changed everything. “It was so weird,” she says. “Only one or two people who graduated from my high school every year didn’t go to college. And there I was. I was the one.” She hopes to enroll sometime soon. But right now, she’s got a hard-knock life to live in the city. “I probably shouldn’t discuss my finances,” she says, “but I’m poor!” On the list of complaints: taxes, agent fees, publicist fees, and “obscene rent” on her West Village apartment, which, frankly, is her own damn fault. “My God, I know!” she says. “It was, like, a horrible decision. I wish I lived in Bushwick and was paying $650 a month for a crappy sublet.”
Her completed movies are lingering in “finance-land or distribution-land or waiting-for-the-right-festival-land,” including Safety Glass with Steve Coogan, and Margaret, the latest, long-delayed Kenneth Lonergan drama. Meanwhile, Jack and Diane, a werewolf-lesbian picture she was to have done with Page, hasn’t been greenlit. “I mean, it’s half-animated and nonlinear and Ellen’s in a very high place right now and there’s just too much focus on her and her career for her to be able to go off and do some super-experimental flick.”
And then there’s the matter of the much-anticipated Pineapple Express. “I don’t know if I’m going to see it,” admits Thirlby. “I got cast as Seth [Rogen]’s girlfriend. And I’d been rehearsing with them for a little while and they called me up and were like, ‘Actually, we’re going to recast your role.’ So I’m minorly, minorly ticked off.”
Which movie will stoners choose? In all likelihood, Pineapple Express. But The Wackness is a little gem of its own—even if Ben Kingsley and Mary-Kate Olsen dry-hump in it. And it’s likely that by the end of this summer, Thirlby, who plays the disaffected popular girl who seduces weed connection Josh Peck, will have been recognized on the street for the third time in her life. The first was when a hostess in a Soho café who’d seen Juno gave her a box of cookies; the second was some lady a minute later who wanted in on the action. Not that Thirlby craves such attention. “It’s hella uncomfortable.” She did enjoy the cookies, though.