Olivia Wilde on Making Directorial Debut 'Booksmart': "It Takes a Lot of Courage"

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Olivia Wilde

"I just had a dream of making a film like the ones I loved," said the actress-turned-director at the comedy's SXSW premiere.

Olivia Wilde makes her feature directorial debut with Booksmart, an unfiltered coming-of-age comedy that's already garnered rave reviews.

The Annapurna film, which stars Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever as two overachieving high school besties with a newfound need to party, had the audience cheering on Sunday night at its SXSW premiere at Austin's Paramount Theater. Nearly the entire cast — which also includes Noah Galvin, Billie Lourd, Skyler Gisondo, Jessica Williams, Will Forte and Wilde's husband Jason Sudeikis — were on hand for the late-night event, and Feldstein, for her part, shouted out Wilde for being "the most brilliant, loving, nurturing, cool-ass leader."

Wilde admitted onstage after the screening that she has wanted to direct for a while. "But it takes a lot of courage to do it," she said, noting that she spent a lot of time learning that craft. Wilde cut her teeth on music videos and shorts, an entry point she recommends to other aspiring filmmakers: "I had to spend a lot of time paying attention and observing. It's a good way to get your feet wet."

It was announced a little over a year ago that Wilde would make her feature helming debut with Booksmart, with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay on board as producers. "I just had a dream of making a film like the ones I loved and still love. In my teenage years, it was the generational anthems that kept me going," she said, rattling off a list of '80s classics such as Breakfast Club, Dazed and Confused and Fast Times at Ridgemont High. "I thought, 'We need one of those for this generation. I want to help with that conversation.'"

Wilde said the film's quick pace was inspired by movies like The Big Lebowski that felt like odysseys. Though Wilde said she had a three-hour cut of the film that she loved, she ultimately wanted it to move fast and go through as many different environments as possible, just as the Coen brothers' 1998 comedy did. "It's so exciting to see so many different levels of performances from broad to subtle, so many different amazing textures," Wilde said. "And I thought we could do that with a generational epic about young people."

Wilde credits "genius" casting director Allison Jones with assembling the ideal ensemble. "She has discovered generations of brilliant talent from Freaks and Greeks to Superbad to The Office and now to Booksmart. It was incredible to discover so many of these people with her and to get my dream cast. That's a filmmaker's absolutely fantasy. I'm so so lucky because these people here are the future of the entertainment industry and we're so lucky," said Wilde, while joking of the only non-20-something castmembers onstage: "Also, Jason and Will, they are the future."