FLIP THE SCRIPT
Wilde and Feldstein first met in 2017 in New York City, when Wilde was starring in the Broadway production of 1984. (The part was so physically demanding that she broke her coccyx.) At a party, Feldstein caught sight of “this angel in red” and was shocked to discover that the angel knew her name. “I was like, ‘I think I’m the only person named Beanie in here, but there’s no way Olivia Wilde is talking to me.’”
Feldstein reminds me that Wilde went out on a limb to cast her and Kaitlyn Dever in their first leading roles. “She gave so many people their first film opportunity with Booksmart, whether it was behind the camera in the crew, or in front of the camera,” Feldstein says. “We all just championed her, because she championed us.”
Almost 20 years in Hollywood has attuned Wilde to its entrenched inequities. She grows passionate as she tells me how outrageous it is that the phrase “the talent” is used to refer to the cast, but not the equally essential crew; she praises the courage and commitment of stuntpeople. “We have to evolve again,” she says. “The crew’s health has to be more important than the bottom line, and at the moment it’s not at all.”
Wilde originally planned to play Alice herself in Don’t Worry Darling. Then she went to see Ari Aster’s Midsommar, and was blown away by the captivating young woman being terrorized by a group of murderous Swedes onscreen. “Anytime there’s new talent, it’s thrilling,” she tells me. Wilde opted for a supporting role, which proved sufficiently challenging. “All the people I asked for advice on how to direct and act in your own movie were men,” she says. “And they all said, ‘Oh, it’s easy, do it!’ And now I realize it’s because they wore comfortable shoes, and their characters are never in corsets.”
The next morning, I meet Wilde for a private tour of the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. She looks elegant and sporty in a long blue-and-whitestriped skirt and a navy track jacket by Our Lady of Rocco, her friend and La Ligne designer Molly Howard’s new brand. A tote bag from Styles’s tour dangles proudly from her shoulder.
Wilde knows her Hollywood history; she herself could be our guide. She explains that women dominated the craft of film editing early on, because cutting and stitching together film strips was considered akin to sewing, and walks me through the Wizard of Oz shot that took Dorothy from black-and-white Kansas to Technicolor. I’m delighting in Wilde’s gleeful-nerd side, but after nearly three hours, we both need a break. In a temporary exhibit devoted to the work of Hayao Miyazaki, Wilde lies down on a tilted disc of bright-green grasslike material that’s meant to give visitors a chance to pretend that they’re in one of the master animator’s films. “I recently took mushrooms in a park and looked at the clouds with my best friend,” she murmurs as she gazes up.
In a room devoted to the art of casting, Wilde pauses by a glass case displaying annotated Polaroids of soon-to-befamous faces, among them Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson, and Salma Hayek. Wilde interned for the casting director Mali Finn when she was still in her teens; the experience taught her to show up with her own interpretation of the role. Better to be gutsy and wrong; you might just convince someone that you’re right.
Wilde is certainly still acting—she has an upcoming role in Damien Chazelle’s Babylon, set in 1920s Hollywood—but she has at last managed to break out of the space where she had to represent, as she says, “this idealized version of a woman. And I felt really thrilled to get older. It’s great when you get too old to play dumb.” What goes for art goes for life, too. “As you get older as a woman, you put up with less bullshit,” Wilde says. “I’m only willing to surround myself with people who are positive, and root for others. I choose kindness. I choose joy.”