All the behind-the-scenes drama of ‘Don’t Worry Darling,’ explained
Sometimes the story of a movie’s making is as compelling as the movie itself. Think of the days of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, “Apocalypse Now,” even the recent “Mad Max: Fury Road,” all of which have inspired countless behind-the-scenes tales.
To that list one might now add “Don’t Worry Darling,” which has sparked wild conversation and much controversy even before its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Monday. For director Olivia Wilde and members of the cast, the upcoming news conference is generating nearly as much anticipation as the screening of the film itself.
The casting of the backstage drama is tantalizing: Wilde, an actress in the midst of refashioning herself as a maker of smart, commercial films; Harry Styles, one of the world’s most beloved pop stars; Jason Sudeikis, embodiment of the new nice-guy-ness through his “Ted Lasso” character; Florence Pugh, a widely respected, Oscar-nominated actress; and Shia LaBeouf, the child star turned bad-boy actor whose personal troubles have repeatedly threatened to upend his career. Put all those personalities in a pot and stir.
In advance of the film’s premiere — and its Sept. 23 theatrical release — here’s what we know about “Don’t Worry Darling” and the saga of its making.
What’s the movie even about?
Before proceeding further, it might be useful to say what is known so far about the film itself. Described as a psychological thriller, the story focuses on a couple (Pugh, Styles) who live in a planned community overseen by the enigmatic Frank (Chris Pine) but find the finely cultivated veneer of their life together cracking apart. The cast also includes Gemma Chan, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll, Kate Berlant and Wilde in a supporting role.
The film is Wilde’s second feature as director, following 2019’s upmarket teen comedy “Booksmart” and a slew of prominent roles in films and TV series such as “The O.C.,” “House,” “Rush” and “Tron: Legacy.” “Don’t Worry Darling” was filmed from a script rewritten by “Booksmart” screenwriter Katie Silberman.
As for its backdrop — sleek, mid-century Palm Springs — Wilde said in a recent interview with The Times that the juxtaposition between the style of that era and the limitations on women’s rights is purposeful: “That tension between knowing something’s wrong but still being very seduced by it is where the movie sits. I want the audience to be tugged back and forth between those emotions.”
Wait, so how is LaBeouf involved?
It was initially announced that LaBeouf would play the male lead, but the role was subsequently recast with Harry Styles, the worldwide pop star who has taken a few film roles, beginning with “Dunkirk.” (In an added twist, both Styles and LaBoeuf are prominent figures on the fall festival circuit: LaBeouf appears in Abel Ferrara’s “Padre Pio,” premiering at Venice, and Styles in “Don’t Worry Darling” and “My Policeman,” which premieres as part of the Toronto International Film Festival.)
Wilde has said of LaBoeuf’s departure from the project, “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. 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.”
Within days of the publication of that interview, LaBeouf released a tranche of communications to Variety and a video Wilde sent to LaBeouf also became public. LaBeouf disputed that he had been fired, saying instead that he had quit.
In the video, Wilde, who is driving a car while talking, 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?”
Who’s “Miss Flo”?
Presumably Pugh — which brings up yet another piece of the puzzle that has become the backstory of “Don’t Worry Darling.” It’s unclear if any tension arose between Wilde and Pugh, either during production or subsequently.
Pugh, nominated for an Oscar for her role in “Little Women,” has been largely silent regarding the film as she has recently been filming the “Dune” sequel in Hungary. Pugh was previously mostly absent from promotion of her film “Midsommar” while she was shooting “Black Widow.”
In an interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Pugh spoke about how allusions to the film’s sex scenes between her and Styles in the trailer and limited early promotional materials have been seized upon by the public: “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.”
Yet Wilde can’t seem to stop herself from talking about the film’s sex scenes, as when she said to Variety, “It’s all about immediacy and extreme passion for one another. … The impractical nature of their sex speaks to their ferocious desire for one another. I think it’s integral to the story itself and how the audience is meant to connect to them. My early conversations with the cast were all about how the audience has to buy into the fantasy.”
There has also been speculation that Styles was paid substantially more than Pugh for working on the film, though in an emailed response as part of her Variety interview, Wilde said “there is absolutely no validity to those claims.”
And Wilde’s now acrimonious split with Jason Sudeikis happened during roughly the same period?
Yes. Sometime in the midst of all this, in 2020, Wilde split with Sudeikis, her partner of nearly 10 years, with whom she has two children. In January 2021, as the film was still in production, Wilde and Styles were pictured holding hands at a wedding, sparking speculation that they had gotten together during shooting. Though the two have never officially confirmed they are a couple, Wilde has been seen at numerous Styles concerts and they have often been photographed together.
While promoting “Don’t Worry Darling” at CinemaCon in April, Wilde was handed a mysterious envelope marked “personal and confidential” while speaking before an audience of thousands. The envelope contained documents relating to the custody dispute between Sudeikis and Wilde over where their children would be living.
In a recent interview with Variety, Wilde described the incident by saying, “In any other workplace, it would be seen as an attack. It was really upsetting.”
She added, “You know, sadly, it was not something that was entirely surprising to me. I mean, there’s a reason I left that relationship.”
Wow. And the movie hasn’t even premiered yet!
Correct. All of this backstory means that the upcoming Venice red carpet premiere and news conference will be fraught with added drama. A troupe of seasoned show business professionals will presumably be doing their best not to let anything show beyond the good-vibes celebration of a more typical festival launch.
Whether all of this controversy and attention ultimately overshadows the movie remains to be seen. Or, as Wilde recently said to the Associated Press, “Every filmmaker longs for people to see their film. That’s all you want is for people to see it. If people are excited about a film, for whatever reason, what you hope is that it gets them in the door.”
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