Olivia Wilde will make her directorial debut next year with the release of "Booksmart," starring Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever. The film is one based around a story of female friendship between two young women and draws from the kinds of coming-of-age films that Wilde credits for molding who she is today.
The actress, who had directed music videos and shorts in the past, made sure that the crew for her first feature film directing experience was diverse as possible. Why not use her own opportunity to give women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community a chance to alongside her?
AOL recently caught up with Olivia Wilde at the launch event for her Dunkin Donuts partnership, where we talked about directing "Booksmart," how she approached hiring her crew and how she went about creating an empowering environment on her first major set as a director.
Check out our conversation below:
You've been acting for over a decade now, and you've directed a few shorter projects in the past. What about "Booksmart" felt like the right project for you to take the leap into directing a feature film?
This is a story about female friendship, and I’m very interested in stories about women supporting one another -- different types of women. It’s not just about one singular, strong woman breaking barriers -- those stories are valuable, too -- but I think it's also important to bring in the idea of collaboration and support among women to the forefront. The intensity of friendship at a young age can really shape you, and high school movies are a part of the reason I make movies. I was formed by a combination of John Hughes, Cameron Crowe and Amy Heckerling. These are movies that shaped me. All of these films had a lot to do with the way that I formed my personality, so I wanted to be part of that for the future. I wanted to help tell a story that would encourage people to value friendship and also be less judgmental, so there’s a through-line in the film about not assuming you understand people who are different from you.
This movie has a female-heavy cast, which is important, of course, but there's also a much larger conversation happening in Hollywood about who's behind the scenes: How did you go about hiring your crew and making sure that it was diverse on all fronts?
A really important thing that’s going to have to happen across our industry in terms of leveling the playing field is being willing to hire people who have less on their resumé but are just as capable. Because of the way the system has been created, there are a lot of women and people of color who won’t have resumés as packed as white men but that’s because of the structure working against them for so long. So, part of when I tried to do was just meet everyone and decide who was best for every job -- not based on their experience, but based on their capability right now and their personality and passion. Just by focusing on who would be best for the job, I was able to hire this incredibly diverse, female-heavy crew. Our producers are female, our editor is female and our writer is female. It’s amazing to look around the room and realize there are a lot of women breaking through boundaries just by participating in this. Also, there are a lot of incredible men working in conjunction with us. The collaboration has been amazing.
%shareLinks-quote="The fact is that there’s no reason not to hire just as many women and people as color as men. " type="quote" author="Olivia Wilde" authordesc=""%
When you approach hiring like that, is there any pushback from anyone? Or it it kind of like: I want to do it this way, so I'm going to do it this way?
There’s no pushback. A lot of directors are scared not to hire the person that has done it the most, and instead you have to reach beyond that and think about the person who hasn’t done as much, but really has something to prove. It’s someone who has a new skill that hasn’t been seen yet. I felt comfortable running a set because I had spent half my life on set. I know that environment so well that I didn’t feel afraid of hiring newer people. It ended up having this incredible energy.
It's really crazy that more people aren't doing in this way...
The fact is that there’s no reason not to hire just as many women and people as color as men. There’s no excuse, and yet it’s still not happening enough. Studios are now hiring more female directors, but it’s still too few.
How did your years of acting experience inform how you approached directing? Surely you picked up tips from projects along the way.
I worked for so many great directors -- and I’ll continue to do so, because I’ll still act, but in a weird way I’ll probably be better at it because I won’t be doing it out of necessity. I’ll be doing it just for the love of it. But I have worked with so many great directors who showed me what kind of set that I wanted to run. You think about people like Martin Scorsese or Ron Howard or Jon Favreau -- all former actors-turned-directors who used that empathy and experience to create a healthier set. I just realized at a certain point that I hadn’t worked with enough women, and I wanted to be part of the movement to create more female directors. I’m also now producing a lot of women-first features.
It's pretty amazing that over a decade into your career, you're on this whole new path with so much to mine. There's so much that you can do after this that you haven't done yet.
There’s so much to mine, and I’m using that experience to inform decisions that I’m making now that I’m in a position of power. The great thing about the entertainment industry as a whole is that it is conducive to switching roles. You are allowed to be an actor and a writer and a producer. I want to take advantage of that flexibility. It’s crazy, because I was 34 years old directing my first feature, and my mom, after 35 years as a journalist, decided to run for congress, so we were going through these parallel pivots. I would call her from set and be like, “How are you doing?” And she’d be like, “I’m exhausted, and I’m happier than ever. You?” And I’d be like, “Same.” And then we’d just go back to work, and it was just this beautiful thing.
This is the second of two parts of our interview with Olivia Wilde. Read part one here.