Many know her from having seen her with Hugh Laurie in the character of Remy ‘Thirteen’ Hadley from the TV series ‘House’. And others learned that she had divorced Jason Sudeikis from the images of the moment he publicly asked her for a divorce, handing her the official envelope in a packed room at Cinemacon in Las Vegas.
But it is precisely in that same room where he presented the first images as director of the new film production ‘Don’t Worry Darling’, with the expected expectations to see singer Harry Styles perform (where she also started another style of romance, in reality).
Having had success as an actress with the TV series ‘House’, how did you decide to go from the other side of the camera to directing films?
I wanted to be a film director because of the hope that one day I would be able to shoot a suspenseful style of cinema, with beautiful images and the best level of fun, because of the great challenge of trying to achieve it. But above all things, I wanted to have fun and have fun in the process. Directing movies became a passion and one of my biggest challenges, as if it were my third child. And I feel grateful to be able to do it because I know it’s a privilege. I don’t take it as something easy at all. And I feel that with a production like ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ I made a dream come true, in all aspects.
And how did you decide to show the first images of ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ to the most important movie theater owners, at Cinemacon?
I had to thank him in some way, for not giving up after the pandemic restrictions, for not abandoning the movie people, the actors and all the amazing artists who also work very hard with the dream of one day showing their works in a movie theater. It was truly an honor to be able to be with those who fought so hard to keep cinema alive.
For a film director, are there big differences between shooting for the giant screen in a real movie theater compared to a streaming platform?
All of us directors shoot movies imagining that people will see our art among family and friends, like a big family dinner instead of a happy meal that someone can take home, to watch alone, in front of a television. It has a different taste. That’s why I wanted to thank the movie theater owners for keeping all our dreams alive.
And how do you live the experience of seeing movies in the cinema again, after the pandemic?
It is really exciting to be able to celebrate the future of cinema, talking about what it also demands to bring the best of our industry, to cinema, accepting risks. And I’m here today because the folks at Warner Studios and Newline Cinema were crazy enough to take a chance on me, greenlighting my new movie, ‘Don’t Worry Darling.’
But having Warner Bros behind you, didn’t they pressure you to release on HBO Max, before the theaters, like they did with Wonder Woman?
From the moment I suggested my idea to Warner and Newline, they made it very, very clear that this film was going to be released specifically in a movie theater or at a festival like the one in Venice. It was created especially to live the experience of seeing it in a cinema, with cinematography, sound design and all the details that are required, in a format that we appreciate so much.
With a glamorous world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ is presented as a romantic thriller, behind the story of an ideal couple played by Harry Styles and Florence Pugh, in an ‘experimental’ community from the ’50s that hides a secret project sinister enough to turn the dreamed-of place into a nightmare.
How do you imagine an ideal lifestyle as the story of ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ suggests?
I imagine a life where I could have everything we ever dreamed of. Not only the material of a beautiful house or the best car but also the perfect climate or true love and the perfect partner, real friendships that can be trusted with a purpose that makes sense, to later pose the big question: What is would I need to leave such a perfect lifestyle? What would you be willing to sacrifice to do the right thing? Would you dare to dismantle the system that was designed to serve you? That is the world I imagined. And the idea is that there are no worries. That’s where the title ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ comes from.
And what style of cinema inspires you as a film director?
The cinema that inspires me are movies like Inception, The Matrix or The Truman Show. And ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ is really my love letter to the cinema style that always pushed the limits of our imagination. It is something very ambitious but I think we achieved something quite special.
Did you notice the big difference of arriving with experience having directed cinema, before, the independent production of ‘Booksmart’?
Well, it’s the second time I’ve directed movies and I know very well that I was lucky to be able to do a second round aiming much higher still, because Don’t Worry Darling is the product of many other brilliant people who I also think did the best work of their careers.
Is it true that your mother also worked behind the scenes?
Yes, she was one of the producers of ’60 Minutes’.
Did she want you to follow in her footsteps?
– And… my parents come from the world of journalism. And I grew up in Washington, but they also knew what I wanted to do when I moved to Hollywood. Actually, my first job was in a casting office even before I decided to study acting at university.
Yes, I was an assistant, helping in the selection of actors for casting tests. And she was the worst assistant. It was a miracle if you asked for a coffee and he brought it to you as you requested. If something went well for me, it was just by mistake (laughs). I can’t believe how I didn’t poison someone by making them the wrong lunch. It was a real disaster. That was not my thing.
And in your role as a film director, do you take advantage of that knowledge when choosing your actors today?
Many of the actors I work with today I had already met when I was an assistant and they went through some of the auditions. And the truth is, I always judge them by how good they were to me when I brought them the worst coffee.
How difficult was it this time to cast a cast of actors like Chris Pine, Florence Pugh or even singer Harry Styles?
– From the beginning we knew that this film was based on the character who stars Florence Pugh, the kind of heroine that we do not usually see often. And we needed someone who was bright, funny and tough, warm and brave, without too much sexiness. And Florence is the rare kind of star that has each of those qualities. You have to see her acting to realize that at least I really feel that she is a complete and total movie star. She is amazing. And Chris Pine also I think she got one of the best performances out of her.
And Harry Styles?
Harry is truly a revelation. Florence’s performance is brought to life by being surrounded by such a brilliant performance as Harry Styles who is an actor just starting out, not taking into account his other career (as a singer).
In fact, Shia LaBeouf had originally been hired, in April 2020, until he was replaced by Harry Styles, six months later (There are those who claim that Olivia Wilde fired LaBeouf after some arguments with other members of the team, although Shia insists that he was the one who had resigned earlier). The effects of the pandemic even took their toll, when a member of the film crew fell ill with COVID and the protagonists had to lock themselves in quarantine, while filming was suspended for two weeks, in November 2020. Dakota Johnson had also been part of the main cast, but due to conflicts with the filming of ‘The Lost Daughter’ (directed by another actress like Maggie Gyllenhaal) she had to resign and was replaced by KiKi Layne. And similar to the suspense that infected the entire shoot, Olivia Wilde even thought of being the main character, until she decided to exchange roles with Florence Pugh, so that the center of the story would be based on a much younger couple. But from the beginning, she never had any doubts that this time, she was going to work as an actress, as well as being the director of ‘Don’t Worry Darling’.
When you directed ‘Booksmart’ you didn’t appear on screen, but this time you did…
I acted in the movie because it was also the only one we could afford on our budget (laughs). By the time it was time to cast with me, I got a really nice discount on the contract and I’m still furious with my rep for not putting up a fight at least a little bit. Seriously speaking, it was very exciting to act among such an extraordinary cast of actors.
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Is it true that the Warner studios also helped you get a film crew at the best Oscar level?
The film crew is just as wonderful for being Oscar favorites, for very good reason. They are the ones who also filmed and favorite movies of the last 20 years. Like Matthew Libateque in cinematography, he drew his incredible wisdom from the experience of having previously worked in the cinema of ‘Star is Born’ and ‘Black Swan’. And in the costume design we were able to count on Arianne Phillips who added the artistic tone to each of the characters, with the same brilliant work that she had previously had in ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’. Getting a film crew like this, it was like being told at Warner Studios, “Don’t worry darling”, Don’t Worry Darling.