Olivia Wilde shuts down Don’t Worry Darling rumours amid controversy

The director dodged awkward questions over Florence Pugh and Shia LaBeouf ahead of the film’s Venice premiere

From its starry cast to its seemingly volcanic behind-the-scenes drama, Olivia Wilde’s new film Don’t Worry Darling has become the talk of the town in Venice. All eyes were on the director as she faced the world’s press ahead of the film’s premiere – and after days of controversy involving Shia LaBeouf’s withdrawal from the project and Florence Pugh’s reluctance to take part in any press tours.

But the rumour mill was swiftly stifled after Wilde repeated the party line that everything was totally fine, and the festival’s press conference moderator shut down any further awkward questions. “Florence is a force; we are so grateful she is able to make it tonight [to the premiere] despite being in production,” Wilde said in response to a question about Pugh’s absence. “As for the endless tabloid gossip and noise out there, the internet feeds itself. I don’t feel I need to contribute to it.”

“Can I ask a question about Shia LaBeouf?” a second journalist asked. No, said moderator Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan, that topic had already been addressed.

Anticipation for the press conference had reached fever pitch earlier on Monday, with the festival on Sunday alerting badge holders about a “rush line” for last-minute available seats. Reports indicated that Pugh wasn’t in attendance because her flight from the Budapest set of Dune 2 didn’t land until later in the afternoon. Though the actor was expected to walk the red carpet, do the photocall and watch the film.

Meanwhile, dozens of fans had camped out in front of the Palazzo del Cinema from the early hours of the morning to catch a glimpse of Styles – whose star power made the fanfare of Timothée Chalamet’s appearance last week seem somewhat quaint.

Harry Styles on a boat
Harry Styles was greeted by fans as he arrives for a photo call in Venice. Photograph: Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP

For his part, the musician, who takes on his first leading role in the film, acknowledged the dark side of social media. “There’s a lot of negative sides. They’re pretty obvious for anyone to see. But it’s always important to remember there are positive things happening in the world because of it as well,” he told the press.

Styles also praised his fans for providing him with a “place to be myself”. Of his career shift, he said: “Music and acting are the opposite in a lot of ways. Making music is a really personal thing and there are aspects of acting where you’re drawing from experience, but for the most part you’re pretending to play someone else. That’s what I find the most fun about it. What I like about acting is I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.”

The mid-century-styled psychological thriller follows the story of Alice (Pugh) and Jack (Styles) who live in the idealised community of Victory, an experimental company town housing the men who work for a top secret project and their families.

The 1950s societal optimism espoused by their CEO, Frank (Chris Pine) – equal parts corporate visionary and motivational life coach— and his wife, Shelley (Gemma Chan), anchors every aspect of daily life in the tight-knit desert utopia. But when cracks in her idyllic life begin to appear, Alice can’t help questioning their entire existence.

Over the past few weeks, the question of exactly what happened on set has become a source of global intrigue. Rumours about everything from LaBeouf’s departure from the film early on, to Pugh’s perceived lack of public support for the project on her social media accounts have been simmering on TikTok and Twitter for some time.

Wilde herself also became a tabloid fixture due to her off-screen relationship with Styles – shortly after she was served custody papers by her ex, Jason Sudeikis, during a presentation about her movie on stage in front of thousands of industry professionals.

Then in the past few weeks, all the little threads seemed to catch fire at once. Much of that was stoked by LaBeouf, who came out of the woodwork to contest a two-year-old narrative that he’d been fired from the project. Ultimately, his role went to Styles.

Wilde, in a Variety cover story, is not directly quoted as saying she fired him. But she said: “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.”

In response, LaBeouf sent private emails, texts and video messages to Variety to prove his case that he actually quit due to lack of rehearsal time. The video also showed Wilde calling Pugh “Miss Flo”, which some perceived as confirmation that the two did not get along. In public, Wilde has always been effusive about her lead actor.


Nadia Khomami Arts and culture correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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