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Inside the world of process serving: Explaining what happened to Olivia Wilde

Director and actress Olivia Wilde holds an envelope reading "Personal and Confidential" as she speaks onstage this week.
Valerie Macon
AFP via Getty Images
Director and actress Olivia Wilde holds an envelope reading "Personal and Confidential" as she speaks onstage this week.

The internet is replete with opinions on what happened in the latest celebrity drama starring director and actress Olivia Wilde and former Saturday Night Live alum Jason Sudeikis, and yet many questions remain.

Did Sudeikis really ask for Wilde, the mother of his children, to be served custody papers while she was onstage at the CinemaCon convention?

Do we believe the Ted Lasso star, who is beloved for his nice-guy character, when his representatives say he thinks the whole incident was "inappropriate"?

In an effort to answer these questions, NPR spoke with Bill Falkner, owner of Clark County Process Service, based in Las Vegas, where Wilde was served. (His firm did not serve Wilde.)

Falkner admits that processors can go to great, and sometimes strange, lengths to deliver legal documents on behalf of their clients.

"I've seen some odd things," Falkner, who has been in the business since 2015, told NPR over the phone.

But, he concedes, this incident was more public than anything he has ever seen. (More than 4,000 industry people were reportedly in the audience, watching as it all went down.)

The manner in which the Wilde-Sudeikis case was handled makes Falkner "curious about what other methods and what other attempts had been made" to serve Wilde prior to the onstage drama.

"I have never come across a client or been involved in a serve where this would be the first thing we do," he explained.

Usually, a process server will try to serve a person at that individual's home or place of work.

"This is like a last-ditch effort," he said about the unusual way Wilde was served.

What happened at CinemaCon, exactly?

On Tuesday night, while Wilde was onstage at CinemaCon in Las Vegas to introduce her newest film, Don't Worry Darling, a woman got up from the audience, walked to the lip of the stage and slid a manila envelope toward her.

As she bent down to grab it, she said something along the lines of, "What's this, a script?"

It certainly wasn't.

Turns out the envelope contained legal documents "drawn up to establish jurisdiction relating to the children of Ms. Wilde and Mr. Sudeikis," Sudeikis' representatives told the Los Angeles Times.

Wilde appeared unfazed by the mystery envelope's contents. While it could have been a mortifying moment in Wilde's life, she simply carried on talking about her film.

Since the very public interruption, Sudeikis' representatives have said he "had no prior knowledge of the time or place that the envelope would have been delivered as this would solely be up to the process service company involved and he would never condone her being served in such an inappropriate manner."

The rules of process serving

In Falkner's business, how someone is served papers is up to him, Falkner said.

He said he prefers consulting with clients and their lawyers on the manner of delivery, "because if we don't make clients happy, they don't come back."

Rules on when and where a person can be served vary from state to state. Falkner said while some states forbid service on Sunday and others limit the hours during which someone can be served, that's not the case in Nevada.

Jason Sudeikis poses in the press room during the Primetime Emmy Awards in September 2021.
Rich Fury / Getty Images
Getty Images
Jason Sudeikis poses in the press room during the Primetime Emmy Awards in September 2021.

According to Falkner, who said he has served his share of famous entertainers, a loose code of ethics is in place that says a processor should use good judgment and not "do things that are inappropriate or cause undue attention or anything like that." But there are no real ramifications for violating that.

Tracking someone down

When he finds himself in hard-to-serve situations and can't get close enough to an individual to deliver documents, Falkner said he finds it useful to loop in the client as well as their attorney to discuss new strategies.

"It gives me a certain amount of coverage" and ensures that at the end of the day he still gets paid, Falkner said.

Like the man who served Wilde on Tuesday, Falkner said he has been part of a plan to track someone down at a Las Vegas casino.

It usually goes like this: "They say, this person is going to be at this venue at this time, and then we do research and find out how much tickets cost and things like that." Next, he bills the client, or the client offers to pay for an entry ticket in advance.

"And then you just have to try and get as close to somebody as you can to serve them."

In other words, when it seems impossible, get creative.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: April 30, 2022 at 12:00 AM EDT
The story initially misidentified the person who handed Wilde the envelope. It was a woman, not a man.
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
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