Baselworld 2019: Olivia Wilde Talks Directorial Debut 'Booksmart' and Bulgari
"When you get to an age when you feel like you really know yourself, you feel mentally in sync or like you’re humming at a really great frequency, and that’s what I’ve been experiencing," said the actress and director of her new film.
“Have you seen that Serpenti watch from the ‘50s? It may be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” says Olivia Wilde about a vintage Bulgari "secret watch," one example of the iconic collection named for its snake-like styling, located in a nearby vitrine. Crafted of diamonds and coils of 18-karat yellow gold that wrap around the wrist, this particular Serpenti dates to 1955 and reveals the time only by opening the snake’s diamond-lined mouth. Adds Wilde, “You look at it and imagine Elizabeth Taylor in Rome, checking the time in the snake on her wrist.”
Just 10 days after the buzzy SXSW premiere of her first directorial effort, Booksmart, Wilde arrived in Basel, Switzerland, for the 2019 edition of Baselworld, the annual watch and jewelry fair where Bulgari and other pricey brands debut their latest designs. The vitrines at the stand’s entrance highlight an array of vintage Serpentis, including one similar to the style Taylor indeed wore in 1963’s Cleopatra. Taylor’s love of the jeweler, coupled with an impressive collection, caused then-husband Richard Burton to famously quip, “The only word Elizabeth knows in Italian is 'Bulgari.'”
Serpenti’s latest design is the Seduttori, a bracelet watch with a case shaped like the collection’s snake head on a new link bracelet crafted to resemble the scales of an exotic skin, here rendered in 18-karat white, yellow or rose gold and sometimes sparingly or lushly adorned with diamonds (one version is fully embellished with diamonds and sapphires).
Wilde appreciates the La Dolce Vita vibe such pieces exude, noting it’s easy to envision “the chic Italian woman whose style is kind of effortless, wearing her stilettos while walking on cobblestones,” but she’s also mindful that both balance and the wearer are paramount. “These pieces aren’t so precious that they smother the individuality of the woman,” she says.
While Wilde is a longtime “friend of the house,” as the parlance goes for stars and their partnerships with luxe labels, this is more than a high-wattage appearance in the Bulgari stand. She seems equal parts thrilled, confident and comfortable talking up the SXSW success of Booksmart, which debuted at the Texas festival on her 35th birthday as a deft, well-paced comedy that’s collecting rave reviews containing all the right adjectives, including "smart," "progressive," "inclusive" and, of course, "funny."
“It’s an incredible moment to feel that I’m able to work as hard as I want to work in the way I’ve always wanted to work,” Wilde says of Booksmart’s success. “And turning 35, I just feel like I’ve locked into gear, so to speak. When you get to an age when you feel like you really know yourself, you feel mentally in sync or like you’re humming at a really great frequency, and that’s what I’ve been experiencing. But the reaction, particularly [at SXSW] has been kind of overwhelming. I’ve had several moments when I thought I might be dreaming, because it was all so surreal.”
Booksmart is the story of two high-school best friends — played by Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever — who experience an epiphany the night before their graduation: Would the lives of these two high-achieving girls be any different if they had studied less and partied with the cool kids more? Their journey to answer that question results in a coming-of-age tale that’s no accident as Wilde’s debut directorial outing. “I really wanted to acknowledge that my love for films started with The Breakfast Club and the whole John Hughes canon, as well as Clueless, Dazed and Confused — basically all the films that contextualized my adolescence,” she says.
Perhaps the biggest then-and-now difference? With Wilde in the director’s chair, the Booksmart crew leaned decidedly in favor of women, including screenwriter Katie Silberman, working with Wilde from an earlier script by Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins, as well as production designer Katie Byron, editor Jamie Gross and art director Erika Toth. “Katie Byron is a great example of someone who had less credits than a lot of the men with fancy credits who were meeting me for the job, but I wanted to give this brilliant woman a chance, and she was tremendous,” Wilde says. “There were so many different positions that I as an actress was more familiar seeing as men on a set, from the sound department to the art department through postproduction, including the editor and sound mixer. But I thought, 'What if we could add more women?' We also had brilliant men who were great allies, but it was important to me to show this young cast that a crew could include men who are comfortable taking orders from a woman. I curated the environment I always wanted to see on a set.”
Wilde looks to her mother, the journalist Leslie Cockburn, a candidate for Congress in Virginia during the 2018 midterms (she lost the GOP-favored district to Republican Denver Riggleman), as a constant source of inspiration in all matters professional and personal. “She’s my superhero, an incredibly elegant and chic, powerful woman in every way,” Wilde says, adding that it was a watch her mother wore that spawned her own love of timepieces. “She has the most delicate wrists, and I have many early memories of her wearing a watch that’s a family heirloom. So I think I connect the ideas of heirlooms and families and history with my mother’s nature.”
Ultimately, with a lauded first film to promote (Booksmart is set to open in theaters May 24) and a schedule that leaps from Texas to Switzerland and points beyond, Wilde is determined to enjoy this success, even as the inevitable “What’s next?” question looms. In the middle of the Bulgari stand, and not unlike her Booksmart characters, Wilde experienced her own epiphany, she says: “Since I’ve been here I’ve been thinking about the connection between time and luxury, and that as you get older and things get crazier, you realize there’s nothing more valuable, and luxurious, than time. So what matters right now is to be in the moment, be present and enjoy this time. As for what comes next, I’ll figure that out.”