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Opinion: Don’t Worry Darling’s Behind-The-Scenes Messiness Is Tainting Its Position As One Of The Fall’s Most Anticipated Releases.

Home » Opinion: Don’t Worry Darling’s Behind-The-Scenes Messiness Is Tainting Its Position As One Of The Fall’s Most Anticipated Releases.

By Gaius Bolling (@g_reelz)

Ever since Don’t Worry Darling was announced as Olivia Wilde’s directorial follow-up to Booksmart, I was all in. Booksmart turned out to be a pleasant surprise and it showed that Wilde had a strong eye behind the camera. It would’ve been easy for her to merely make a clone of Booksmart but for her next effort, the actress-turned-director went for a psychological thriller set in a utopian 1950s backdrop. Not the easiest sell, but Olivia Wilde made sure to back up its intriguing premise with a top-notch cast. Initially, we heard via “The Hollywood Reporter” that Oscar-nominee Florence Pugh and the embattled, but extremely talented, Shia LaBeouf had been cast as Alice and Jack, the married couple that leads the film. The news was met with congratulatory Instagram posts from Olivia Wilde, praising her new cast, and comments from Florence Pugh gushing about working with Olivia Wilde. Everything seemed in place for Don’t Worry Darling to run smoothly, but issues began to creep in. A reported scheduling conflict, later explained to be a firing by Olivia Wilde, became the first of the problems that would overshadow Don’t Worry Darling and that has only escalated since the first issues came to light in 2020. One of the most anticipated releases of the fall will now potentially be tainted by behind-the-scenes drama and it would appear that the blame for this begins at the top.

A proper timeline of events has to begin in September 2020. Florence Pugh and Shia LaBeouf were announced as the leads in April of that year, but by September 11th it was announced that mega-music star Harry Styles would be taking over for LaBeouf. At the time, Deadline reported that LaBeouf had scheduling conflicts and had to drop out. This was then followed by some of his personal problems taking center stage in the media. He was accused of assault and sued by his former girlfriend FKA Twigs, born Tahliah Debrett. LaBeouf, by his own admission, has had a rough go of it and, while he denied some of her claims, he admitted that some had truth to them; he he soon began to seek help.

By December 2020, “PEOPLE” came in hot with confirmation that Shia LaBeouf didn’t leave Don’t Worry Darling over scheduling conflicts, but he was actually fired by Olivia Wilde. “Variety” also included news about his firing when they ran an article about the actor’s career in the wake of the lawsuit filed against him by FKA Twigs. In regards to Don’t Worry Darling, “Variety” reported that LaBeouf “exhibited poor behavior and his style clashed with the cast and crew, including Wilde, who ultimately fired him.”

In the midst of all of this, romance appeared to be brewing between director Olivia Wilde and her new male lead, Harry Styles. In early 2021, the pair was spotted holding hands and then they even attended a wedding together. The amount of time they had been “friendly’ at that point was reported to be a few weeks and the outing to the wedding came weeks after Wilde had split from her longtime partner, actor Jason Sudekis. Romance on set happens all of the time. That being said, their budding romance eventually began to overshadow most of what Don’t Worry Darling might have to offer, but more on that later.

In February of 2021, Olivia Wilde seemingly comments on firing Shia LaBeouf without really mentioning the actor by name. During a chat with “Variety“, which you will soon realize seems to be her favorite outlet in which to vent, the actress said, “The no asshole policy, it puts everybody on the same level. I also noticed as an actress for years how the hierarchy of the set separated the actors from the crew in this very strange way that serves no one. I think actors would actually like to know more about, ‘What’s happening there when you’re pulling my focus? What is that lens change?’ But the idea of, don’t bother the actors and keep them separate and don’t look at them. I think that makes everyone quite anxious.” Everyone saw the “no asshole policy” as a direct dig to Shia LaBeouf and many took it as confirmation that he was an issue on set. In a lot of ways, Olivia Wilde was looked at as a boss for doing what was ultimately right for her film. Every director should exercise that right, but she gained even more adoration for it as a female director working on her second film.

Also in February of 2021, Don’t Worry Darling wrapped filming with another Instagram post praising Harry Styles and Florence Pugh for their hard work. Everything felt like a positive experience. Wilde had completed her second film, one that overcame losing its initial male lead. Everyone was all smiles, but that was probably one of the last times the production wouldn’t be involved in some kind of drama or controversy.

In April 2022, Olivia Wilde is center stage at CinemaCon to present Don’t Worry Darling to the press and exhibitors. It was also the moment that anyone would be seeing the film’s first trailer. It was a big moment for the director, but it was hijacked when Wilde was given an envelope marked “Personal and Confidential” by a woman who was in attendance. Wilde at the time said the envelope looked “very mysterious” and she said she was “going to open it now because it feels like a script.” Well, folks, this was no script. After reading the contents, Wildie simply said, “Okay, got it. Thank You,” before carrying on with her presentation. We would later learn that Wilde deserved some props for keeping her composure on stage in front of all of those people because the envelope contained legal papers served by her ex, Jason Sudeikis, regarding custody of their two children. Almost immediately in the press, Jason Sudeikis was called out for his tacky timing in which to serve Wilde with those papers. It was clearly her big moment and it felt very vile and personal to have it done there. Sudeikis would eventually say he had no idea she would be served there and that he wouldn’t purposefully destroy her big moment presenting her movie. He also had SOME supporters who suggested Wilde was likely served there because the actress may have been on the move so much, almost avoiding the papers, that it had to be done there. The exact details and the why still remain a bone of contention.

In August, Florence Pugh enters the chat and expresses her displeasure that Don’t Worry Darling is being reduced to its sex scenes between herself and Harry Styles when the film is being discussed in the media. After the film’s first two trailers dropped, social media began buzzing about two moments in which it appears that Harry Styles’ Jack performs oral sex on Pugh’s Alice. Since Harry Styles is such a huge global star, the press has made it a point to asked Pugh and Styles about the sex scenes, but during an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Pugh hit back against that being the focus. Pugh said:

“When it’s reduced to your sex scenes, or to watch the most famous man in the world go down on someone, it’s not why we do it. It’s not why I’m in this industry. Obviously, the nature of hiring the most famous pop star in the world, you’re going to have conversations like that. That’s just not what I’m going to be discussing because [this movie is] bigger and better than that. And the people who made it are bigger and better than that.”

Pugh received some support on her refusal to discuss the scenes while others seemed to suggest it was merely the nature of the beast of having a co-star of Styles’ stature; she should just deal with it. It was soon revealed that Pugh’s press availability would be limited. Interesting move as more drama was just over the horizon.

August was to be a big month for Don’t Worry Darling as it geared up for a gradual marketing campaign. With the film opening on September 23rd, the time was ripe to build interest. The film was buzzy enough and was tagged as having a lot of potential for awards attention. But then Olivia Wilde heads to “Variety” again for a cover story and she covers A LOT of topics. With her film on the way, she appears to be in a loving relationship and seems to be living her best life. One of the things that Wilde does yet again is praise Florence Pugh, but this time it seems to be in response to rumors that had recently began to pop up. Some rumors suggested that Pugh took issues with Wilde’s relationship with Styles because it may have begun while she was still with Sudeikis. This rumor hasn’t had much validity behind it, but it has been out there enough to suggest that the relationship between the director and her leading lady could be strained. Pugh didn’t share or react to Wilde’s most recent Instagram posts about the film, including a tribute to the actress back in July, so that made many think that there may be issues between the two of them. In the “Variety” piece Wilde said, “I had been blown the f*** away by her. I loved the film, but I loved her. I was just like,  ‘Well, she’s extraordinary. She’s clearly the most exciting young actress working today.” Wilde didn’t respond to the feud rumors directly, but she did say that “tabloid media is a tool to pit women against one another and to shame them.”

After this, Wilde addressed the rumors that Harry Styles was paid three times more than Pugh, a rumor that has actually been widely reported. Wilde called it “clickbait” and went on to say, “There has been a lot out there that I largely don’t pay attention to. But the absurdity of invented clickbait and subsequent reaction regarding a nonexistent pay disparity between our lead and supporting actors really upset me.” While Wilde does call it absurd, it should be noted that she directly doesn’t say it’s not true. Not to say she should comment directly on the pay of her actors and actresses, but I think that narrative was put out there for its potential to be true. Pugh might be a bigger movie star, but Harry Styles is a bigger star is the wider sense of the word.

Then we come back around to Shia LaBeouf and this is when the drama behind Don’t Worry Darling begins to go off the rails. In the same “Variety” piece, Wilde spoke about her decision to fire the actor from the project, her first time speaking publicly about the matter. Keep in mind that the initial confirmations came from sources on set; Wilde had never spoken about why she fired him…until now. Wilde said, “I say this as someone who is such an admirer of his work. His process was not conducive to the ethos that I demand in my productions. He has a process that, in some ways, seems to require a combative energy, and I don’t personally believe that is conducive to the best performances.” Seems like a fair assessment given what was going on with him at the time. Wilde even spoke about her job as a director is to keep her cast and crew safe by saying, “I believe that creating a safe, trusting environment is the best way to get people to do their best work. Ultimately, my responsibility is to the production and to the cast to protect them. That was my job.” The director even went on to speak about LaBeuf’s personal issues by saying, “A lot came to light after this happened that really troubled me, in terms of his behavior. I find myself just really wishing him health and evolution because I believe in restorative justice.” Wilde then added, “But for our film, what we really needed was an energy that was incredibly supportive. Particularly with a movie like this, I knew that I was going to be asking Florence to be in very vulnerable situations, and my priority was making her feel safe and making her feel supported.”

As it turns out, Shia LaBeouf reads “Variety” and has flat-out denied claims that he was fired from the movie. Why didn’t he mention this earlier when reports came out back in 2020 that he was fired? Simple, in my opinion, as he was dealing with a lawsuit and other personal issues. On top of that, Wilde didn’t double down on the notion that he was fired in a big splashy cover story for “Variety” to promote the film at the time. All of it came from various sources that were breaking the story. Having Wilde front and center saying this is what happened is a much different story.

LaBeouf actually emailed “Variety” to respond to Wilde’s comments, supporting his claims with receipts. In the email, LaBeouf said he actually “quit the film due to lack of rehearsal time.” The actor also sent “Variety” text messages and a video that Wilde allegedly sent him two days after he quit the film in August 2020 that doesn’t appear to show a filmmaker who just fired their film’s star. Instead, it looks like she’s begging him to stay on. In the video, Wilde says:

“I feel like I’m not ready to give up on this yet, and I too am heartbroken and I want to figure this out. You know, I think this might be a bit of a wake-up call for Miss Flo, and I want to know if you’re open to giving this a shot with me, with us. If she really commits, if she really puts her mind and heart into it at this point, and if you guys can make peace — and I respect your point of view, I respect hers — but if you guys can do it, what do you think? Is there hope? Will you let me know?”

This sounds like LaBeouf had already made the decision to leave and Wilde was doing what she could to get him to stay, including putting some of the blame on the actress (Pugh) she has claimed to be protecting. This sounds more like a difference of styles rather than a man who has been combative on set, leading to a firing. It’s the exact opposite of the narrative she has allowed to be out there for months. The “Variety” cover story, for one of entertainment’s biggest publications, has only made things worse as she has pushed her narrative even further. If this is all true, it makes Olivia Wilde look VERY bad.

In his email, LaBeuf also took the time to put Wilde on the spot in a pretty classy but direct way by saying this:

“I know that you are beginning your press run for DWD and that the news of my firing is attractive clickbait, as I am still persona-non-grata and may remain as such for the rest of my life. But, speaking of my daughter, I often think about the news articles she will read when she is literate. And though I owe, and will owe for the rest of my life, I only owe for my actions. Firing me never took place, Olivia. And while I fully understand the attractiveness of pushing that story because of the current social landscape, the social currency that brings. It is not the truth. So I am humbly asking, as a person with an eye toward making things right, that you correct the narrative as best you can. I hope none of this negatively effects [sic] you, and that your film is successful in all the ways you want it to be.”

So this is where we’re at. The film is under three weeks from being released and the messiness of the behind-the-scenes drama has taken center stage. So far, Wilde hasn’t addressed LaBeouf’s response to her “Variety” story, but something very telling did happen in the wake of it: it was announced that Florence Pugh would only be promoting the film at the Venice Film Festival with minimal press elsewhere. This seems to indicate that SOME of this drama is taking a toll. Some have mentioned that Pugh is also shooting Dune: Part II and that’s why her press time is limited, but the Dune sequel and Don’t Worry Darling are both Warner Bros. films; it’s reasonable to believe that the studio would work with Pugh to do all the press necessary to promote their buzzy psychological thriller. She’s one of the best young actresses working in the business; you want her to promote your film. The fact that she is, for now, seemingly sitting out most of it all speaks volumes to me.

Promoting Don’t Worry Darling is now going to get tricky. As press, if we’re lucky to land interviews for the project, I’m sure we’ll be limited as to what we can ask the cast about the project. It would also make sense for Harry Styles and Florence Pugh to promote together, but if she sits out he’s either on his own or with Olivia Wilde. That might also prove to be problematic because I’m sure all of the questions would be about their real-life relationship. I also feel bad for some of the other cast who aren’t involved in any of the outside drama. People like Chris Pine, Gemma Chan, and Nick Kroll don’t even feel like they are in the movie because none of the focus has been on them. It has all been pettiness that has spun out of control due to false narratives and a desire to promote a film at all costs. They say there is no such thing as bad publicity and that could be true as I’m sure some of this mess has put eyes on the film that weren’t originally on it. But for me, whatever drama the film could generate is now playing second fiddle to the real-life drama playing out behind-the-scenes.

What Do You Think?

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