Olivia Wilde covers the January 2022 issue of Vogue, which surprised me because it seems like this is in service of the next project she’s promoting, her sophomore directorial effort, Don’t Worry Darling, as she appears in several of the photos alongside cinematographer Matthew Libatique – and the film isn’t due out until September. So this is early for sure. At the same time, given what’s happened in her personal life (and we are coming up on the one year anniversary of the public finding out that she and Harry Styles were dating when they were seen together at a wedding), I can imagine there’s more than a little public interest in what she has to say…
Which is not much. The quote making headlines is what she said when asked whether or not she wanted to correct the record on any of the rumours about their relationship:
“It’s obviously really tempting to correct a false narrative,” Wilde says, with rueful composure, when I ask if she’d like to address the furor. “But I think what you realize is that when you’re really happy, it doesn’t matter what strangers think about you. All that matters to you is what’s real, and what you love, and who you love.”
Harry comes up here and there in conversation but, really, there’s no major takeaway or insight and what I actually find the most interesting in this piece has nothing at all to do with Harry but what she says about Booksmart, the risk she took in directing it, and the ensuing payoff.
Olivia says that before she became a director, there were people who kept encouraging her to do it. And they knew what buttons to push:
“When she did finally acknowledge her ambition—she got started with music videos—it was thanks to “a lot of really great mentors daring me to do it.” Then the scrappy Wilde returns as she adds: “And I never turn down a dare.”
There are some people who don’t respond to those kinds of challenges. And others who thrive off them. Olivia, clearly, belongs to the latter group. And in that spirit, with Booksmart, which was her directorial debut, her ambitions just grew.
With Booksmart, you’ll recall, which was a small movie that came out during spring/summer blockbuster season, Olivia pushed for an immediate wide release instead of a limited release to build momentum before going wide. The film ended up underperforming at the box office, a critical success but not a commercial one. But as I wrote at the time, I loved that she took a big swing. And that sometimes showing your work means taking a big swing – because you’re gambling on a thing you really, really believe in. They may have not had the financial results they were hoping for but now, two years later, look what happened. Per Vogue:
“…when Wilde and Katie Silberman, her producing partner, shopped Don’t Worry Darling around to studios, an 18-way bidding war erupted. “Booksmart hit a cultural artery,” Wilde says. “Even the studios were able to look beyond the financial success. There’s so much content now. Hitting a nerve is much harder.”
This is Olivia’s big swing paid off – 18 studios and streamers wanted to secure her next project. And Don’t Worry Darling is now one of the most highly anticipated releases of 2022 with an all-star cast led by Florence Pugh. But it actually wasn’t supposed to be Florence in the lead role initially. Olivia had herself in mind for the character. Then she saw Florence in Midsommar and she knew that the character, “Alice”, could only be Florence. It speaks to what she says elsewhere in the interview about male actors being reluctant to take on supporting roles:
“I cannot tell you how many men read the script and said, ‘Unless it’s a two-hander, unless I’m in as much—or more—of the script than she is, it’s not worth it,” Wilde says. “And it’s not their fault. They’ve been raised with this kind of innate misogyny as a part of their society: ‘If I don’t take up enough space, I won’t seem valuable.’ Actresses—highly trained, highly valuable actresses—have appeared in supporting roles in countless films. We don’t think about it in terms of, ‘My role is not as big as his.’ It’s, ‘Oh, it’s a good role. It’s a role where I have a brain.’”
Man, I wish she could name names. Because I would love to know the actors who read the script and wanted to be the main story instead of wanting to be part of a great story.
Olivia still has a supporting role in her film and she talks about how hard it was to do both, even though she was initially told that it wasn’t all that difficult:
“All the people I asked for advice on how to direct and act in your own movie were men,” she says. “And they all said, ‘Oh, it’s easy, do it!’ And now I realize it’s because they wore comfortable shoes, and their characters are never in corsets.”
I wonder if any of those director-men will read this article and recognise themselves in that comment. She said what she said – and I want to believe it’s deliberate, to lay out the practicalities and logistics that female actor-directors have to contend with that their male counterparts don’t often have to consider. Curious to see if Olivia receives the same level of fawning over Don’t Worry Darling next year that, say, Bradley Cooper got for A Star is Born.
Here are some more photos from her Vogue spread.
And a really funny video: