Olivia Wilde on Stepping Behind the Camera With 'Booksmart': "Directing Is a Powerful Discovery"

The actress is taking a backseat from acting as she prepares for the release of her debut directorial feature about two graduating high schoolers, which already scored a 100 percent Rotten Tomatoes score: "It's kind of blowing my mind."

"It's kind of blowing my mind," marvels actress-filmmaker Olivia Wilde, 35, when asked about the 100 percent Rotten Tomatoes score for her feature directorial debut, Booksmart. The raucous teen comedy tells the story of two graduating high schoolers (Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein), who set aside their overachieving ways to embark on a night of partying after learning that their slacker classmates also got into Ivy League schools. Megan Ellison's Annapurna Pictures opens Booksmart on May 24.

Wilde, who will be honored with CinemaCon's breakthrough directing award April 4 at the annual Las Vegas gathering of theater owners, recently spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about whether she'll choose directing over acting, her thoughts about the college admission cheating scandal and working with Ellison.

How did the project come to you?

Through Jessica Elbaum, who runs Gloria Sanchez Productions. She asked me what feature I wanted to direct because I had been making these music videos. She told me to read Booksmart, [a script] which had been around for several years in several different incarnations. I knew that there was a potential to take it to an even broader place, so I pitched it to Annapurna.

What part of directing a feature was the most difficult?

Shooting a film in 26 days is the hardest thing because it meant we shot several pages a day. Luckily, I had a lot of experience in television, where you get used to a massive amount of work in not a lot of time. I did have that kind of beginner's glee, where every part of it just became so exciting because it was a first time for me.

Why did you choose not to star?

I wanted to separate this from my acting career, and I really wanted to be available to the lead actors. But it's not out of the question for the future.

Will acting now take a back seat?

Acting is cathartic, incredibly fun and it only gets better when you don't have to do it out of necessity. But at this point, directing is a powerful discovery for me. So for the foreseeable future, I really just want to direct as many movies as I can.

While there's no cheating in your movie, it deals with the pressure to get into Ivy League schools. What was your reaction to Operation Varsity Blues?

I thought, "Wow, this is really topical for us." And I was shocked. To have such little faith in your children really blows me away. Booksmart hopefully encourages young people to have faith in themselves regardless of whether they are going to an Ivy League school or not. The movie questions the categories we put ourselves in. What is the real value of education? I myself did not go to college. The biggest theme of this movie is the idea of finding worth beyond labels.

What's your relationship like with Megan Ellison?

She has been an incredible supporter of mine. I had a small role in her movie, Her. Early on she said to me, "When you direct, bring it to me." What Annapurna is doing is singular in this business; there's no one else that would've greenlit Booksmart the way I wanted to make it.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the April 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.