12:07pm PT by Scott Feinberg
Savannah Film Fest: Olivia Wilde on 'Booksmart,' Directing and Delta's "Vagina" Problem (Video)
"People will tell you, like, 'Directing will break your heart, don't do it,'" said Olivia Wilde, sitting inside the SCAD Savannah Film Festival's Trustees Theater to discuss her directorial debut, Booksmart, a few hours before the fest honored her with its Rising Star Director Award.
'"And," she continued, "I think it has probably broken a lot of hearts. I can see how, if you approach directing in either an overly-defensive manner or with an ideal set of results, that will break your heart. But if you approach it as an experiment, as a question, then it's only going to be endlessly fascinating. I mean, you will have to fight for your ideas, and there are times when you're frustrated because you understand the value of something and it's your job to communicate that value to everyone around you. But it's the best job in the fucking world!"
The 35-year-old, who made her name as an actress on early-2000s TV shows such as The OC and House, first stepped behind the camera — and came to the film fest in Savannah — four years ago as a producer of Meadowland, the first film directed by the female cinematographer Reed Morano. "It was a real honor to produce her directorial debut, and watching her take this on and blast through stereotypes ... was so inspiring," Wilde recalls. "Seeing that happen definitely shoved me through the door. I had wanted to direct for a while."
Though Wilde had directed music videos and a short film, she had been reluctant to venture into features. She remembers, "I thought, 'Who am I to direct a movie? I'm not trained. I haven't studied.' ... Until I realized that my experience as an actress on set [she started at 18] was sort of a de facto film school. I had had the opportunity to shadow so many incredible directors." Then she needed a producer who believed in her (Jessica Elbaum of Gloria Sanchez Productions stepped up) and good material, which came in the form of Booksmart (one of its writers, and also one of its producers, was Set It Up's Katie Silberman). "It was perfect because it's a movie about female friendship," Wilde emphasizes. "It was also something that the actresses felt informed their own experience."
The actresses in question? Co-leads Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein. Dever, whom Wilde calls "a genius who can do anything," had already been cast before Wilde was brought on to direct, "which was one of the reasons I wanted to come on board," she emphasizes. The other leading role had not yet been cast, and Wilde went to bat for Feldstein, who, like Dever, she had long admired from afar. Feldstein's character is the less 'likable' one, but that didn't dissuade her, whereas it would have given pause to others, Wilde asserted: "The issue of likability is, of course, a big deal for women in film and in politics. Specifically in film, there's a sense of, 'Well, I don't know if this female character is likable. Maybe the audience will turn it off because they don't like her.' Whereas a man is able to, like, stab someone in the eye and we're like, 'I don't know, does he have a dog? He seems friendly.'"
Booksmart premiered in March at the SXSW Film Festival and then hit theaters in May — but it's been back in the headlines in recent days. Last month, Wilde discovered, to her horror, that Delta Airlines was showing an edited version of the film and she tweeted about it. "I'm not blaming a single airline because I believe several airlines have to work with this third-party company," Wilde said, commenting a few days before Delta restored the film. "But, like, who are these people in an editing room censoring our movies?"
"When the warning pops up that says, 'This film has been altered and edited to fit your screen,' you assume they mean aspect-ratio," she said, clearly ticked. "What you don't assume is that entire sequences would be lifted because someone has decided they are unacceptable and obscene and shall not be watched by sensitive eyes. [Not just] words, but entire scenes."
Wilde elaborated: "It's 'fuck, fuck, fuck' all day, but they removed the word 'masturbation,' they removed the word 'vagina.' So I'm just curious what a woman is supposed to take from that. That it's an obscenity? That it's inappropriate? You can say, 'Fuck, fuck, fuck,' you can show the character George deep-throating a microphone — I'm not gonna do it, you saw it — but you can't show the Barbie sequence when they take off their Barbie clothes and have Barbie boobs, which, by design, have no genitals, which is the entire fucking point of the scene? And then there is a scene between two women, and we can't possibly show you them and their amorous, totally beautiful love scene that has no nudity, because it might suggest to you that women, I don't know, have bodies or can experience pleasure or deserve it, and so that is taken out." As the Savannah audience erupted in cheers, she closed, "So it's a problem."
Wilde says she is excited to get back to directing — and acting. Her next project is a thriller that will reunite her with Silberman and will allow her to do both simultaneously. "Booksmart was a huge leap of faith, and this next one is a bigger leap," she asserted. "It's totally terrifying and wonderful all at once."