Burbank, we have a problem.
Following the drama-plagued launch of Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling at the Venice Film Festival, Warner Bros. is scrambling to avoid any additional seeming collisions between director Wilde and her star, Florence Pugh. There are still 16 days to go before the film’s opening on Sept. 23, a lifetime for a campaign that has sparked a media feeding frenzy with everything from Harry Styles’ (alleged) spittle to Pugh’s eye contact, or lack thereof, being dissected.
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But the studio won’t have to endure another tense and heavily scrutinized press event in the coming weeks. That’s because there’s only one on the calendar — the film’s New York red carpet premiere on Sept. 19 — and Pugh will not attend, according to two insiders.
(After this story’s publication, Warner Bros. confirmed in a press release that neither Pugh nor co-star Chris Pine would participate in the New York Event — an IMAX Live screening and Q&A that will stream to more than 100 IMAX theaters — with the film’s cast.)
The official reason cited for Pugh’s absence is that the actress is busy filming Dune: Part Two in Budapest and director Denis Villeneuve cannot cut her loose for a press event for another film. (She already left the Dune set once to attend Don’t Worry Darling’s world premiere in Venice, but skipped the press conference.)
“From what I understand, there is friction, but I don’t know why,” one source who was on the Don’t Worry Darling set tells Rolling Stone, speaking about Wilde and Pugh. “It’s pretty clear she’s choosing not to be a part of the PR,” the source said of Pugh. “It’s clearly not beneficial to Olivia to not have her be a part of the PR. It has to be a Florence decision.”
Two additional sources involved with the film say the tension between Wilde and Pugh began during production in 2020, around the time that Wilde and Styles, the film’s male lead, became a couple and the relationship didn’t sit well with Pugh. Wilde, who split with partner Jason Sudeikis around the same time, has been going strong with Styles ever since. Though Wilde is far from the first director to date her lead — Steven Spielberg began dating future wife Kate Capshaw during filming on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, to cite one example among many — the practice has become more frowned upon in recent years given the leader-subordinate dynamic and the potential for favoritism on set. “If she cheated on her [partner] with Harry Styles, and Florence knew about it, I could see that being a thing,” the first on-set source said.
But another set source disputed that notion. “Do I think her and Flo hate each other? Absolutely not. Was it fun and enjoyable on set? Absolutely. Were [Wilde and Styles overtly] romantic, or did she favor him? Nope. She was very professional,” the source told Rolling Stone. That source as well as others blamed sexism for the intense scrutiny Wilde is facing. “No one would be talking about this if this was a male director,” said another.
At the Venice premiere, Wilde and Pugh sat at opposite ends of a row, with Pine sitting between Styles and Wilde. The couple was seated strategically apart, given that their relationship has threatened to overshadow the film itself. A representative for Wilde didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story. Pugh’s rep declined to comment.
Although the psychological thriller had been poised for an awards season campaign, Don’t Worry Darling won’t have a press junket before its opening and has just a few engagements planned, none that involve Wilde and Pugh in the same place at the same time. Based on the reviews — the film has a 41 percent rating on RottenTomatoes — Pugh appears to be best poised to find awards-season traction.
Not all of the headaches surrounding Don’t Worry Darling involve Wilde and Pugh. In April, Warner Bros. was promoting the film at CinemaCon in Las Vegas when Wilde was served custody papers from Sudeikis on stage, an unprecedented moment at the annual showcase for upcoming studio films.
That was just a taste of what was to come. In a Variety interview, Wilde implied that she had fired original male lead Shia LaBeouf and replaced him with Styles because LaBeouf’s “process was not conducive to the ethos that I demand in my productions.” LaBeouf then shot back that he quit the film due to lack of rehearsal time. (He also shared a video in which Wilde appeared to take sides with LaBeouf amid his discord with Pugh when she said, “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.”)
By the time of the Venice premiere, reporters at the festival were micro-analyzing body language and cast interplay. Variety reported that Pugh and Wilde avoided making eye contact during the four-minute ovation. (One insider scoffed at that characterization, noting that it is difficult to make eye contact when standing in a row rather than face to face. Videos posted on social media showed that the pair did, indeed, make eye contact.) Then a video clip of Styles appearing, possibly, to spit on Pine as the pop singer took his seat at the premiere went viral.
Pine’s representative shot down the notion of Styles spitting in a statement provided to Rolling Stone. “This is a ridiculous story…a complete fabrication and the result of an odd online illusion that is clearly deceiving and allows for foolish speculation. Just to be clear, Harry Styles did NOT spit on Chris Pine……there is nothing but respect between these two men and any suggestion otherwise is a blatant attempt to create drama that simply does not exist.”
It’s even possible that all the talk of drama has had the effect of producing real tension. One of the sources who worked on the film told Rolling Stone that any Wilde-Pugh friction “just didn’t exist on set. It was really pleasant. It’s shocking to me that all this is going on… I never noticed one second of tension on that set. Not one second.”
Yet that same source understands the tabloid-style frenzy surrounding the film. “I think the Shia LaBeouf thing is one thing. I think [Wilde] and Flo is another thing. And I think her and Harry is a thing. And I think her and [Sudeikis] is a thing, the way he served his lawyer papers. It’s just like a salad of good gossip,” the source said.
Despite all of the controversy swirling around Don’t Worry Darling, the studio doesn’t expect it to negatively affect its box office performance or the reception it will receive from Styles’ legion of fans.
UPDATE 12:31 PM: This story has been updated with confirmation by Warner Bros. that Pugh would not participate in a New York-based publicity event for the film.
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