Movie Spotlight

Olivia Thirlby: Life After 'Juno'

An attention-grabbing role in ''The Wackness'' could turn this hip New Yorker into a full-fledged indie-film star

OLIVIA THIRLBY ''It's easy to forget that acting is a fairly stupid profession. It's basically glorified make-believe''
Image credit: PHOTOGRAPH BY GUY AROCH
OLIVIA THIRLBY ''It's easy to forget that acting is a fairly stupid profession. It's basically glorified make-believe''

One of Hollywood's rising young actresses is out for a stroll in Central Park, and no one seems to notice. Even though Olivia Thirlby costarred in Juno, not a single passerby begs for an autograph, yells out one of her catchphrases from the film (''honest to blog!''), or shows a flicker of recognition. This is not entirely surprising. After all, the 21-year-old looks like a typical downtown New York girl, clad in Ray-Bans, a white vintage onesie, and a long brown cardigan. And despite Juno's massive success, Thirlby isn't nearly as famous as her good friend and costar, Ellen Page.

At least not yet. Thirlby has no fewer than five buzzed-about movies in the works, including Sundance hit The Wackness, which opens July 3, and 2009's Safety Glass, starring Hilary Duff and Steve Coogan. ''She's got the beauty of Julia Roberts, but she's also got irreverence and edge,'' says Brett Ratner, who directed a segment featuring Thirlby for an upcoming collection of short films called New York, I Love You. ''She's going to be a major force.''

In other words, today could be the last time the actress is able to wander through the park unnoticed. This makes Thirlby a little nervous, especially after she watched Page cope with her recent acclaim. ''I'm so happy I didn't play Juno,'' says the actress, who originally auditioned for the title role before being cast as Juno's best friend, Leah. ''I couldn't handle [the attention]. I would crumble under that.'' Such lack of ego is part of what makes her so appealing. ''What I admire about Olivia is that she's totally in it for the right reasons,'' says Page. ''She absolutely loves to act. And as an actor, she's just incredibly honest, completely in the moment, and just so natural.''

Thirlby loves to roam lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, and she's seen the way the paparazzi stalk her movie-star neighbors in the West Village. ''It's so crazy,'' she says. ''Thank God no one knows who the f--- I am.''

Born and raised in New York's East Village, Thirlby is naturally, effortlessly hip. Her mother, an ad exec, and father, a contractor, lived with their only daughter in a renovated tenement building that they bought (and shared) with friends. It was the late '80s, and the area was far grittier than the Starbucks-clogged downtown of today. ''When I was a kid, my friends' parents didn't want to bring them over for playdates because they thought they were going to get mugged,'' she says. ''Which they probably were. But I was oblivious to the dangers. The neighborhood has always been a huge part of who I am.'' As was the urge to perform, even as a toddler. ''All I wanted to do was play dress-up,'' she says. ''My parents would be like, 'Is there something you want for your birthday?' and I was like, 'Dress-up clothes!' Not even real clothes. Tutus!''

NEXT PAGE: ''The interviewer was like, 'So is that going to be your new thing: taking people's virginity?' At the time I was, like, totally offended. And then I realized, Oh my God. That's kind of it exactly.''

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