Following a flurry of headlines over the past week, the hottest ticket at this year’s Venice Film Festival is now almost certainly set to be the press conference for Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling. Assuming Wilde shows up alongside her lead Florence Pugh and co-star Harry Styles (who is, perhaps surprisingly, only a minor player in this story), it’s likely to be more intensely scrutinized than anything else happening on the Lido.
Going over what will undoubtedly become an impressive “controversies” section in the psychological thriller’s Wikipedia entry, in mid-August tabloid rumors emerged that Pugh — who plays a 1950s suburban housewife in an idyllic cult-like community called Victory — had fallen out with Wilde after the director started a relationship with Styles during the shoot. These rumors expanded just a couple of days later to suggest that she had been paid less than a third of what her male co-star made ($700,000 to Styles’ $2.5 million, reportedly). Was this why Pugh hadn’t been promoting the film on social media?
In an extensive interview the following week, Wilde appeared to put all that to bed, saying there was absolutely “no validity” to the claims of the pay gap.
However, within 48 hours, another element of the interview blew up, and quite spectacularly. This time it was over Wilde saying that she had fired Shia LaBeouf (whose role went to Styles), asserting that she did so over his “combative energy” and to keep Pugh “safe.”
The news apparently didn’t sit too well with LaBeouf, who in an email that included several SMS messages he’d received from Wilde as evidence, declared that, actually, he had “quit” the movie, accusing her of pushing the “clickbait” story of him being fired “because of the current social landscape” and the “social currency it brings.” The same day, a leaked 2020 video message appeared to confirm LaBeouf’s protests, showing Wilde in her car pleading with him to change his mind while also seemingly blaming Pugh — or “Miss Flo” as she referred to her — for being concerned about working with the actor.
The internet erupted and, suddenly, the much-hyped and deeply stylish sophomore film from a fast-rising director starring one of the buzziest actresses on the planet and arguably the biggest name in pop music was amassing attention for all the wrong reasons.
Which leads us to Venice, where Don’t Worry Darling is having its world premiere and, according to further reports, will be the only spot where
Pugh — currently shooting Dune 2 in Budapest — will be meeting the press. Will she address the issues? Will Wilde backtrack on her statements about LaBeouf or double down? Is this the first time the two have spoken to each other about the claims? The questions will almost certainly be asked.
But with the festival merely a launchpad for the film, the bigger question — at least for Warner Bros. Discovery, which was no doubt looking to Don’t Worry Darling to be a rare trouble-free ride amid a turbulent few months — is how much damage the headlines have done. While the estimated $20 million budget isn’t in superhero range, there were probably hopes that the caliber of the talent — and Styles’ drawing power — would lead to a healthy return at the box office, particularly given Warner Bros. Discovery’s current post-merger challenges and its limited slate for the remainder of 2022 (recent postponements mean that Don’t Worry Darling, Black Adam and House Party are all that’s left).
“I can imagine a lot of hard-working people trying to crisis-manage this PR stink they now have and save the quarter,” notes one producer. But maybe the “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” adage may help out, with the headlines surely boosting awareness of the film way beyond what may have been expected.
“It has generated a lot of media attention and with that, a lot of curiosity and intrigue,” says a PR exec. “And Harry Styles fans will see the film regardless of the publicity.”
But star-packed and studio-backed films don’t simply come to Venice for the teams to enjoy a few Aperol spritzes in the sunshine. Given the fest’s impressive credentials for platforming future Oscar winners, there’s little doubt that Warner. Bros Discovery was hoping to use the event to kick off a major campaign going into awards season. Pugh had already been an early suggestion for a best actress nomination, her first in a skyrocketing career.
This is where the current situation could throw a large metaphorical wrench in the machinery.
“The awards circuit is long and grueling, and you need a united team who can talk to the craft and filmmaking,” notes one awards publicist. “It will be difficult to convince voters for this film if the key cast and director are not able or willing to completely support it.”
If Pugh — who has remained silent so far — is only doing press in Venice ahead of Don’t Worry Darling’s release, it doesn’t bode well for her willingness to embark on a full-fledged campaign. (It should also be noted that Wilde pulled out of an interview with THR ahead of the Venice premiere.)
But another awards vet says that “there’s controversy and lethal controversy when it comes to awards prospects,” suggesting that the speculations is unlikely to deter viewers. “And if they like what they see, the film should emerge unscathed from such spats.”
A lot may rest on Monday’s press conference. Depending on what’s said, it could help clear things up and shift the focus to the film rather than activities behind the camera. Or it may not.
But while reporters prepare to scramble for one of the limited seats, there’s another press conference happening a few days earlier that they might want to pay some attention to. This one’s for Abel Ferrara’s Padre Pia, starring Shia LaBeouf.