'Ocean's 8' Writer on the Challenge of Gender-Bending a Classic Franchise

"Audiences are going to be hesitant," concedes co-writer Olivia ?Milch, who's proud that the film highlights fun, strong female roles amid Hollywood's "reckoning with a lot of what is painful and difficult about being a woman."

"Heist movies don’t have a gender,” says Ocean’s 8 scripter Olivia Milch, 29, who was was tapped by director Gary Ross to co-write Warner Bros.’ female Ocean’s spinoff. "We met through our love of 19th century American history, as all writing partners do," jokes Milch of her friendship with the Hunger Games director.

Ocean's 8 follows a scheme to steal a Cartier necklace from the Met Gala. “The sheer impossibility of scheduling was insane,” Milch says of the cast, a murderers’ row of talent: four Oscar winners, an Emmy winner, a YouTube phenom and a Rihanna.

“One of the things we’re proudest of is that they are each distinct characters,” Milch explains, “because we gave the audience time to get to know each of them.” (Still, the film came in at just 110 minutes.)

Milch — the daughter of NYPD Blue and Deadwood creator David — made her Hollywood debut on the 2013 iternation of the Black List with a female-fronted Superbad-style high school comedy, Dude. Milch also made her feature directorial debut with the movie, which was later picked up by Netflix. While Ocean's is the first major studio project for Milch, she has already lined up another splashy project, tackling a rewrite on Sony's Barbie movie. 

Ocean's 8 is the latest femme-take on a studio title. Paul Feig's female Ghostbusters and a role-swapped Overboard movie have already hit theaters, with a gender-bent Dirty Rotten Scoundrels movie, starring Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson, and a remake of popular Nancy Meyers movie What Women Want, led by Taraji P. Henson, both due out in 2019.

As for the challenges of gender-bending a high-profile franchise, “Audiences are going to be hesitant,” Milch concedes. “You want to make something its own and to be true to the new characters you are creating.”

The scripter was on the Ocean's set for the majority of filming, including two weeks of night shoots at NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where filmmakers threw their own Met Gala.

“You showed up for work to a massive party, and holding would be in the Egyptian wing. It was like Night at the Museum but in real life,” she says. “You can’t have the Met Gala without the Met — or without Anna Wintour.” 

Filmmakers worked closely with Vogue staffers to make sure they got “fashion’s biggest night” right, and Wintour makes a cameo. “I got to sit at her desk while they were setting up a shot,” recalls a reverent Milch of filming in the magazine's Conde Nast offices. “I was freaking out.” 

When Ocean’s 8 bows June 8, she hopes it affirms the fun of being female, a perspective that’s been somewhat overshadowed. “[We’ve been] reckoning with a lot of what is painful and difficult about being a woman,” she says. “It’s a joy to see eight women onscreen who are excellent at their jobs, even though their job just happens to be being criminals.”

A version of this story first appeared in the May 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.