Even before the talent file in on Monday afternoon for the Don’t Worry Darling press conference at Venice Film Festival, the name placards on the dais tell a story.
Although the filmmaker and top-billed star are typically seated next to each other at such events, the placards for the director, Olivia Wilde, and her leading man, Harry Styles, are spaced far apart, with their costars Chris Pine and Gemma Chan between them, so photographs of the rumoured couple will be harder to snap. And there is no placard at all for the film’s star, Florence Pugh, whose no-show at the session further deepens rumours of a rift between her and Wilde.
The premise of Don’t Worry Darling is juicy enough on its own: Pugh plays a housewife with a picture-perfect 1950s marriage who suspects that the carefully manicured world around her is a sinister illusion. But the movie’s behind-the-scenes drama has been even juicier, and after weeks of headlines and speculation, Monday’s news conference proves to be a hotter ticket than many of Venice’s major premieres.
Florence Pugh and Olivia Wilde reportedly began feuding because of Wilde’s on-set affair with Harry Styles — Pugh ‘wasn’t a fan of her director disappearing so often with her leading man’ between camera setups
A recap of the drama so far:
Fans initially figured something was amiss when Pugh, who is normally eager to promote her projects on social media, appeared to be giving Don’t Worry Darling the cold shoulder. Indeed, Pugh has done notably little promotional work for the film, whether on social media or in traditional outlets, and the usual onslaught of press junkets and interviews required for a movie and star of this scale appears to have been waived.
[ Harry Styles spotted out and about in Dublin ahead of sold-out gig ]
Pugh’s representatives maintain that she has been too busy filming her new role in Dune: Part Two to commit to obligations, including the Venice news conference, but the Dune star Timothée Chalamet was able to clear several days to promote his romantic drama Bones and All in Venice. And one would presume that as Warner Bros is distributing both Don’t Worry Darling and the Dune sequel, an accommodating schedule could have been carved out for Pugh the moment she signed on for the latter film, especially as it features a sprawling ensemble cast.
Puck’s Matthew Belloni recently reported that Pugh and Wilde began feuding because of the on-set affair between Wilde and Styles, writing that Pugh “wasn’t a fan of her director disappearing so often with her leading man” between camera setups. Indeed, Wilde’s personal life has received outsized scrutiny during this promotional tour, not simply because she is dating a pop star but because her ex-fiancé, the Ted Lasso star Jason Sudeikis, had her served with custody papers while she was onstage promoting Don’t Worry Darling at CinemaCon in April.
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It’s worth noting, too, that a significant number of Styles’ fans resent the presence of Wilde in his life and continually whip up social-media trending topics about her in a bid to damage her second film as director. No matter that, if Don’t Worry Darling tanks, it would presumably wound their pop idol’s nascent film career: the flames of passion, once fanned, blow indiscriminately in every direction.
Because of all these behind-the-scenes narratives, many expect fireworks at the Venice media session. But having sat through quite a few of these, I know that the festival press corps is tame and give in to blandishments; in the early going, after Wilde, Styles and the rest take their seats, most of the questions are simply about how Styles manages to juggle his music and movie careers.
“Personally, I find them to be opposite in a lot of ways,” Styles says. “What I like about acting is the feeling that I have no idea what I’m doing.”
But, around the halfway mark, a journalist finally breaks through the glaze and asks Wilde the big question: would she like to clear the air about her rumoured falling-out with Pugh?
“Florence is a force,” Wilde replies evenly, noting that Pugh will at least walk the red carpet at the film’s Venice premiere. “We are so grateful that she is able to make it tonight despite being in production on Dune. I know as a director how disruptive it is to lose an actor even for a day.”
Wilde continues to wax rhapsodic about her leading lady – “I can’t say enough how honoured I am to have her as our lead,” she says – and then pivots: “As for all the endless tabloid gossip and noise out there, the internet feeds itself. I don’t feel the need to contribute. I think it’s sufficiently well nourished.”
At that, some friendly journalists break into mild applause, but the Hollywood Reporter’s Alex Ritman rises with a follow-up: “I would like to ask about the noise you just mentioned.”
“The question has been answered,” replies the moderator, Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan.
Ritman protests that he has a separate question about Shia LaBeouf, who was initially cast as the male lead in Don’t Worry Darling and left the film under disputed, clearly contentious circumstances. In a recent Variety cover story, Wilde claimed she had fired LaBeouf because the actor, who has been accused of abuse by his ex-girlfriend FKA twigs, “was not conducive to the ethos that I demand in my productions”.
LaBeouf replied with a statement declaring he had not been fired but instead quit the film of his own volition, supplying Variety with text messages from Wilde and a video she sent LaBeouf asking him to consider staying on Don’t Worry Darling. In the video, Wilde says LaBeouf’s departure could be a “wake-up call for Miss Flo”. Minutes after it leaked online, Wilde’s diminutive nickname for Pugh became a Twitter trending topic.
Still, the moderator of the Venice news conference refuses to allow the line of questioning. “I think this question has been answered,” D’Agnolo Vallan says firmly as the other actors on the dais stare neutrally into space. Two more questions are taken from other journalists, and then the session wraps.
“It felt ridiculous,” Ritman tells me later, after his question to Wilde was denied. “She hadn’t already answered the question, and it seemed like it had already been carefully arranged with the moderator beforehand.”
But in Venice, as in Hollywood, careful choreography is par for the course. Five minutes after Wilde is asked why Pugh has missed the news conference, her star is photographed sauntering down a deck in Venice, dressed to the nines in purple Valentino. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times