Olivia Wilde: Starring in ‘Sh*tty Movies’ Taught Me How to Direct ‘Don’t Worry Darling’

"I did those to learn all the cautionary tales that would help me define myself as a director: how I will never speak to a crew, how I will never speak to actors, how I will never schedule a movie."
Olivia Wilde
Olivia Wilde
Getty Images for Baby2Baby

Olivia Wilde’s 20 years in Hollywood have taught her what not to do.

The director behind “Booksmart” and the upcoming psychological thriller “Don’t Worry Darling” revealed to Maggie Gyllenhaal for Interview magazine (in a Q&A seemingly conducted prior to recent scandals dogging the film) that less-than-ideal past acting roles informed her directing style today.

“It helps me navigate any feelings about movies that I don’t think are great when I look back on them, and it helps me understand them within the context of my proxy film school experience,” Wilde told “The Lost Daughter” helmer Gyllenhaal. “I’ve made like 5,000 times more shitty movies than you have.”

Wilde continued, “I’ve been in some really bad ones, and now I think, ‘I did those to learn all the cautionary tales that would help me define myself as a director: how I will never speak to a crew, how I will never speak to actors, how I will never schedule a movie.’ All of that comes from those bad experiences.”

Wilde made her big screen debut with “The Girl Next Door” in 2004, going on to star in hit series “The O.C.” as well as films like “Year One,” “Tron: Legacy,” “The Next Three Days,” and “The Change-Up.” Her role opposite actor-director Mark Duplass in 2015 thriller “The Lazarus Effect” had a lasting effect on her journey to becoming a director.

“I remember making this tiny horror movie with Mark Duplass many years ago, and he was so understanding of this really terrible schedule that we had,” Wilde shared. “The movie was very challenging for all these seemingly avoidable reasons, so I’d go back to the trailer and want to talk mad shit. And Mark said, ‘Until you direct a movie, you really can’t understand how difficult it is. Go direct, go produce, and then you’ll understand,’ and he was right.”

Wilde’s standout films include “Drinking Buddies,” “Her,” “BoJack Horseman,” and the upcoming Damian Chazelle feature “Babylon.” She also stars “out of necessity” in “Don’t Worry Darling” in the supporting role she originally had in mind for lead Florence Pugh.

“We basically ran out of money and I needed someone who would take a really low salary, but I wanted it to be someone who understood the role,” Wilde said of casting herself. “It got to the point where it was down to the wire and our casting director was like, ‘Olivia, why don’t you just do it?’  The funny thing is, when I asked director friends how that experience would be, I just happened to ask a bunch of dudes, and they all said, ‘Oh, it’s so great.'”

Among those “dudes” who encouraged Wilde to take the role was Bradley Cooper, whom she called a “great supporter” of directing and starring in the same feature, much like he did for Oscar-winning “A Star Is Born.”

“He said, ‘It’s going to be really wonderful to be able to direct from within the scenes.’ But what I realized once I started was that all of these men had done this in comfortable shoes, and I swear part of it is that I was in a fucking bustier and heels and a wig,” Wilde quipped. “They were coming at me doing these necessary but frustrating touch-ups at every second, and I was like, ‘I need to be at the monitor, I need to be in charge.’ I found that to be really hard.”

The cast for the film, which originally starred Shia LaBeouf before he exited the project and was replaced by Harry Styles, also determined the atmosphere on set.

“I love the fact that, depending on who you cast, it’s a completely different movie. It’s like, I know what the movie is, but until the actors start acting, I don’t really know what it is because their part in it is going to completely shift the energy, and the chemistry between them will change everything,” Wilde said.

Wilde’s push for the “sexy, sexy, sexy” vibe of a Slim Aaron-inspired 1950s Palm Springs aesthetic cemented “Don’t Worry Darling” as one of the steamiest movies of the year.

“I wanted it to be a hot movie that’s a good time and that if later it leads to some conversations, that’s great,” Wilde said. “As a female director, it was quite funny for me to be the one saying, ‘I need more bikinis, more tans. I want everybody sexy, sexy, sexy.'”

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