Olivia Wilde’s highly anticipated “Don’t Worry Darling” — her second movie as a director, following 2019’s “Booksmart” — stars Oscar nominee Florence Pugh and singer Harry Styles in his first leading film role. The period drama and sci-fi thriller made its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 5 before a theatrical release on Sept. 23, as the fall awards season ramps up.
But what’s happening behind the scenes has generated an outsize amount of media attention and internet speculation, with fans and social media observers leaving no stone unturned and mulling over every nugget of information. Among the areas of intrigue: While neither has commented on it publicly, Wilde and Styles reportedly began dating sometime in late 2020, during production on the film.
Much of the drama surrounding the movie came to a head due to a Variety profile of Wilde published on Aug. 24, in which she spoke out about some of the major headlines for the first time. The drama rapidly escalated at the film’s Venice Film Festival premiere, where all eyes were on the cast’s every move, from Styles’ word salad answers to reporters’ questions, to the alleged spit seen ’round the world. Early reviews have ranged from mixed to bad, leading many people on social media to conclude the drama surrounding the movie may be more interesting than the movie itself.
If you’ve struggled to piece together the various threads and keep up with the sheer amount of details and players — with some tangential to the film itself — here’s what has transpired so far.
Shia LaBeouf was originally cast in the movie in early 2020. But Styles replaced him by that fall, shortly before the film began production.
In December 2020, LaBeouf’s former partner FKA Twigs sued him for assault and sexual battery, accusing him of physical, mental and emotional abuse. The case is currently pending. LaBeouf — who has a long and public history of physical and verbal altercations, with a judge once ordering him to attend anger management — parted ways with his agency and began an inpatient rehab program.
Warner Bros., which is distributing “Don’t Worry Darling,” initially said LaBeouf couldn’t do the film due to a scheduling conflict. However, in the Variety profile, Wilde said that she fired the actor, describing how his “combative energy” didn’t work for the film.
“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,” Wilde told Variety.
“A lot came to light ... that really troubled me, in terms of his behavior,” the director continued. “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.”
LaBeouf disputes the nature of his exit from the film. In an email to HuffPost, sent on Aug. 25 in response to Wilde’s Variety interview, LaBeouf wrote: “I was never fired from ‘Don’t Worry Darling.’ I quit the film due to lack of rehearsal time.”
LaBeouf also enclosed a forwarded email that he said he sent to Wilde this week, imploring her to “correct the narrative as best you can,” and attached text messages that appear to be from August 2020, in which the two discussed him exiting the film.
“What inspired this email today is your latest Variety story. I am greatly honored by your words on my work; thank you, that felt good to read. I am a little confused about the narrative that I was fired, however. You and I both know the reasons for my exit. I quit your film because your actors & I couldn’t find time to rehearse,” said LaBeouf’s email to Wilde.
“I know that you are beginning your press run for DWD [“Don’t Worry Darling”] 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,” the forwarded email said.
“My failings with Twigs are fundamental and real, but they are not the narrative that has been presented. There is a time and a place to deal with such things, and I am trying to navigate a nuanced situation with respect for her and the truth, hence my silence. But this situation with your film and my ‘firing’ will never have a court date with which to deal with the facts. If lies are repeated enough in the public they become truth. And so, it makes it that much harder for me to crawl out of the hole I have dug with my behaviors, to be able to provide for my family,” it continued.
“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 negativly effects you, and that your film is succesful [sic] in all the ways you want it to be.”
In response to a HuffPost inquiry, a representative for Wilde declined to comment on LaBeouf’s remarks.
On Monday, during an awkward press conference at the Venice Film Festival (more on that below), festival officials blocked The Hollywood Reporter’s Alex Ritman from asking Wilde a question about LaBeouf.
Social media speculation has swirled around a purported feud between Pugh and Wilde, based on the impression that Pugh has barely promoted the movie on social media — with some observers zeroing in on how she didn’t hit “like” on Wilde’s Instagram post about a trailer for the movie or a subsequent one praising Pugh’s work. A Page Six story about Pugh taking issue with Wilde and Styles’ on-set relationship also generated intrigue.
The two women have also expressed divergent views on the film’s sex scenes. Wilde has described the movie as breaking new ground for centering female pleasure and, throughout promoting the movie, has discussed her philosophy on portraying sex on screen. On the other hand, in a Harper’s Bazaar profile published earlier this month, Pugh suggested the movie’s marketing has placed too much of an emphasis on sex.
“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,” Pugh told Harper’s Bazaar. “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.”
Neither Pugh nor Wilde has publicly commented on the speculated feud. In her interview with Variety, Wilde praised Pugh’s performance. She also denied claims of a pay gap between Pugh and Styles. Meanwhile, Pugh’s publicist has said the “Little Women” and “Midsommar” star has been busy filming “Dune: Part Two” in Hungary.
Rumors of the feud continued to escalate at the Venice Film Festival, when Pugh arrived late (with Aperol spritz in hand) and did not attend the press conference, just the film’s red carpet premiere. Representatives for the festival attributed it to Pugh not being able to find an earlier flight from the “Dune” set in Budapest.
Internet sleuths also zeroed in on how Pugh appeared to be avoiding eye contact with Wilde during a standing ovation for the film.
At the festival press conference, Wilde declined to address the rumors.
“As for all the endless tabloid gossip and all the noise out there ― I mean, the internet feeds itself. I don’t feel the need to contribute,” the director told reporters. “I think it’s sufficiently well nourished.”
She also continued to praise Pugh’s performance, which has received generally high marks within the tepid reviews for the movie itself.
The promotion for “Don’t Worry Darling” has also become entangled in Wilde’s custody battle with Jason Sudeikis, her former partner, over their two children. When Wilde was giving a presentation on the movie at CinemaCon in April, a representative for Sudeikis served her custody papers on stage.
At the time, a representative for Sudeikis told HuffPost that the “Ted Lasso” star “had no prior knowledge of the time or place that the envelope would have been delivered as this would solely be up to the process service company involved and he would never condone her being served in such an inappropriate manner.”
According to a court filing obtained by the Daily Mail earlier this month, Wilde later said Sudeikis’ actions “were clearly intended to threaten me and catch me off guard.”
“He could have served me discreetly, but instead he chose to serve me in the most aggressive manner possible,” she reportedly said in the court filing. “The fact that Jason would embarrass me professionally and put our personal conflict on public display in this manner is extremely contrary to our children’s best interests.”
Sudeikis said the whole situation was due to a series of mishaps, according to the Daily Mail. “I deeply regret what happened,” he said in the documents.
In the interview with Variety, Wilde similarly described the incident as “an attack” and “really upsetting,” adding that she “hated that this nastiness distracted from” the movie.
“To try to sabotage that was really vicious. But I had a job to do; I’m not easily distracted,” she told Variety. “But, you know, sadly, it was not something that was entirely surprising to me. I mean, there’s a reason I left that relationship.”
Chris Pine, ‘Astral Projecting’ And ‘Spitgate’
The newest character in this saga, Chris Pine, who co-stars in the movie, became a meme on Monday, when he appeared bored and listless at the press conference.
Many joked that Pine may have been “astral projecting” himself from all of the drama.
During the movie’s red carpet premiere, social media observers noted he looked like “a human shield” between Wilde, Styles and Pugh.
When the stars were taking their seats for the movie’s premiere screening, certain angles of footage made it look like Styles may have spit on Pine’s lap.
By Tuesday afternoon, representatives for Styles and Pine each pushed back. A source close to Styles told The Guardian: “This is not true.” A representative for Pine told People magazine that it was “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,” Pine’s representative continued. “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.”
The denials did little to quell “Spitgate,” which had sent the internet into a frenzy, with social media sleuths analyzing the footage from multiple angles and spitballing possible theories. Was it actually spit? Was it an inside joke between the two actors? Was it Pine simply noticing he had placed his sunglasses in his lap? What is anything anymore?
This article has been updated to include more of the drama following the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 5.