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On Labor Day, the internet sleuths were working overtime.
Fresh footage from the Venice Film Festival premiere of “Don’t Worry Darling” on Monday captured what looked to some like international pop star Harry Styles spitting on co-star Chris Pine while taking a seat beside him. The video includes a visual of Pine gazing down at his right thigh, potentially to inspect a loogie that landed upon it, before stretching his face into an uncomfortable smile. Did he really spot spit? Did he receive a funny text? Or did he just happen to look down, as humans are prone to do? (In a statement shared with The Washington Post on Tuesday, a representative for Pine denied he was spit on. “Just to be clear,” the rep reiterated, “Harry Styles did NOT spit on Chris Pine.”)
Mere seconds long, the clip earned tongue-in-cheek comparisons to the Zapruder film; folks on Twitter slowed it down and narrowed in on Styles’s mouth, on Pine’s line of sight, on the facial expressions of director Olivia Wilde, seated to Pine’s other side. Were it related to any other film, the footage probably wouldn’t have attracted this much attention. But with “Don’t Worry Darling,” Wilde’s sophomore effort, every public shenanigan contributes to what has become a rather catastrophic press tour.
The question is: catastrophic for whom? “Don’t Worry Darling,” which hits theaters this month, is a psychological thriller about a 1950s housewife who discovers her idyllic life in a manufactured company town is far from perfect. Though the combined star power of Styles and the film’s lead, Florence Pugh, would have landed some butts in seats regardless, the morbid curiosity drummed up by a train-wreck press tour could help boost ticket sales for Warner Bros., the distributor.
The losers, it would seem, are the stars caught up in all the mess.
Wilde’s image has arguably taken the biggest hit, much of the scorn toward her stemming from the public-yet-not-officially-confirmed relationship she and Styles struck up during production. The film, shot in the first year of the pandemic, was plagued by coronavirus-related delays. In the midst of it all, the director and actor were spotted holding hands at the January 2021 wedding of his manager.
The next month – and suspiciously close to Valentine’s Day – Wilde posted an on-set photo of Styles to Instagram with a lengthy caption about how he had humbly accepted a supporting role in the film because he understood “why it might be worth it to allow for a woman to hold the spotlight.”
Was Styles, who had barely acted before “Don’t Worry Darling,” even in a position to “allow” Pugh, an Oscar-nominated actress, to lead the film she was hired to lead? Did Wilde write the caption with romantic feelings for Styles in mind? Was it sexist to suggest the latter, when the same might not be said of a male director? (As the presumed partner of someone with a massive, fervent following, Wilde has been an undeserving target at times.) Social media subsequently turned into an intro-level course on feminist theory, complete with debates over whether it was fair to pit Pugh and Wilde against each other.
Rumors of Pugh being upset with Wilde for paying Styles more attention during filming continued to spread, with Puck News reporting last month that Pugh had a “tense conversation” with Wilde about her alleged habit of disappearing from set with Styles. The women have also seemed at odds with each other regarding widespread focus on the film’s sex scenes; Pugh told Harper’s Bazaar those conversations were “not why I’m in this industry,” while Wilde has expounded upon the feminism of the scenes in multiple interviews, including Vogue and Variety.
Variety even opened last month’s cover story with such a comment: “Men don’t [reach climax] in this film,” Wilde reportedly told the writer over cucumber sandwiches and scones. “Only women here!”
Pugh declined to be interviewed for that piece, citing a commitment to filming “Dune: Part Two,” but still wound up involved in the controversy the story stirred. Variety reported that, in the early stages of production, Wilde fired Shia LaBeouf from the role later filled by Styles because LaBeouf’s process “seems to require a combative energy” and “was not conducive to the ethos that I demand in my productions.” Wilde said she wanted to prioritize Pugh’s comfort and sense of safety, so LaBeouf had to go.
This would have been the summer of 2020, months before the singer FKA Twigs sued LaBeouf over allegations of “relentless abuse” throughout their nearly year-long relationship. Two years later, after the Variety story published, LaBeouf rejected the narrative that he was fired from “Don’t Worry Darling.” He told the magazine that he actually quit the project in August 2020, providing text messages he exchanged with Wilde and a video of her saying she was “not ready to give up on this yet.”
In the video allegedly sent to LaBeouf, which eventually leaked, Wilde asks whether LaBeouf believes he and Pugh can find common ground and says the conflict between them “might be a bit of a wake-up call for Miss Flo.” As the clip circulated, “Miss Flo” became a trending topic on Twitter.
On Monday, stylist Rebecca Corbin-Murray, who dresses Pugh, used “Miss Flo” as an Instagram caption for photos of the actress walking the red carpet in Venice, where she declined to participate in the “Don’t Worry Darling” news conference. (According to multiple news outlets, Wilde stayed mum about the rumored conflicts with Pugh aside from saying that the “internet feeds itself” and “I don’t feel the need to contribute; I think it’s sufficiently well-nourished.”) Wilde’s stylist, Karla Welch, posted her own Instagram story stating, “There’s always more to the story …”
And you know what? She was right! There is, in fact, more to this story.
This part has less to do with the inner workings of “Don’t Worry Darling” and more to do with the overlapping timelines of its press tour and the aftermath of Wilde’s difficult split from comedian Jason Sudeikis, with whom she has two children. While onstage in April at CinemaCon, an industry event Wilde attended to present a trailer for her film, she was interrupted by someone placing a mysterious envelope in front of her. She picked it up, took a look at the papers inside and returned to her presentation.
Deadline reported that Wilde had very publicly been served custody papers. At the time, Sudeikis said he had “no prior knowledge” of the plan and “would never condone her being served in such an inappropriate manner.” Months later, Wilde told Variety during her cover story interview that the entire incident was “really upsetting” and “shouldn’t have been able to happen.”
“I had a job to do; I’m not easily distracted,” she said, adding: “But, you know, sadly, it was not something that was entirely surprising to me. I mean, there’s a reason I left that relationship.”
A burn scalding enough to elicit its own spit take. And that’s the drama, darlings.
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