The promotion for Don’t Worry Darling was chaotic, but you can’t deny that there was word-of-mouth “buzz” for the film. Was most of the buzz about the behind-the-scenes drama? Yes. But that’s worked for other films too. It does look like all of the dramas between Olivia Wilde, Florence Pugh, Harry Styles and Chris Pine created enough interest to ensure that people came out for DWD’s opening weekend. Box office prognosticators were at their wit’s end trying to figure out what the up-and-down tracking meant, which led to a curious piece on Vulture. Vulture spoke to those industry insiders, executives and prognosticators to figure out what could be learned from the Please Worry Darling promotional debacle, and unnamed sources actually spilled some tea about the on-set tensions between Olivia and Miss Flo herself.
An anonymous executive from a rival studio called early estimates of DWD’s opening-weekend box-office performance “schizophrenic,” and an exec at yet another studio called it “all over the place.”
“I’ve never seen tracking go up and down so much,” said the latter exec. “They went up three points of interest, lost five points of interest. Now they’re, like, nowhere. They’ve got young girls excited because of Harry Styles, and that’s it. Their campaign keeps changing: ‘It’s a thriller!’ No, just kidding. ‘It’s a romantic drama!’ ‘It’s this. It’s that!’ Kim Kardashian liked it on Instagram. The audience is like, What the f–k is going on?”
In one alarming indication of ebbing interest for Don’t Worry Darling, ticket presales have leveled off this week rather than spiking upward as is more typical of a film about to make its multiplex debut, according to tracking data. By contrast, Paramount’s supernatural-horror title Smile — which opens a full week later on September 30 — just pulled ahead of Don’t Worry Darling with a score of 13 in the crucial box-office tracking metric of “unaided awareness” versus DWD’s 12, according to a Thursday report from NRG. Not helping matters: Chris Pine’s “last-minute” cancellation of a promotional appearance on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live! earlier this week. (He joined Pugh in skipping DWD’s New York premiere.)
Pugh’s refusal to do more than the barest minimum of media appearances in support of the film has been parsed as confirmation of her animus toward Wilde… and rumors about the true depths of DWD dysfunction have seemingly picked up the promotional slack. According to an anonymous source who spent significant time on the DWD set and spoke to Vulture last week, a blowout argument between star and director did indeed take place in January 2021 — about three-quarters of the way through filming. Pugh, who is a few degrees removed from Wilde’s ex, Jason Sudeikis, had reportedly grown fed up with the director’s frequent unexplained absences. “Olivia and Harry would just disappear,” the source says. But the breaking point came when Pugh, 26, and Wilde, 38, broke into a “screaming match,” this person recalls.
According to our source, the acrimony between Wilde and Pugh allegedly reached all the way to the top of the studio totem pole, with the highest-ranking Warner Bros. executive at the time, Toby Emmerich, forced to play referee in a “long negotiation process” to ensure Pugh would participate in the film’s life cycle “in any way” and not jeopardize the potential box office. (A Warner Bros. spokeswoman said Emmerich was traveling and unavailable to comment. Vulture also reached out for comment to representatives for Wilde and Pugh, who did not respond.)
An anonymous executive with knowledge of the situation told us that top Warner Bros. brass are ultimately unhappy with how Wilde has handled DWD promotional duties — specifically with regard to how she’s discussed LaBeouf’s departure from the film in interviews. (Warner Bros. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.) “Olivia is either a mad genius who figured out a way to make people more aware of the movie in a way that just drives up the box office,” says another source close to the production, “or she doesn’t have any self-awareness that she is f–king up her movie.”
This is actually not the first time we’ve heard about a “blowout argument” between Florence and Olivia, nor is it the first time we’ve heard that Florence was upset with Olivia’s unexplained absences, when she was off with Harry. That gossip has been layered into tabloid reporting before now, so it’s interesting to see Vulture’s industry sources backing up those stories. Now, I hadn’t heard about Toby Emmerich coming in to mediate the conflict, but I think it’s worth pointing out that no one from the studio seemed the least bit surprised that Florence refused to do promotion and that she didn’t even do the press conference in Venice. Florence has clearly been backed by Warner Bros for months and the WB has been kept in the loop about Pugh’s issues with Wilde (which is smart for Pugh – go above Olivia’s head, deal with the issues at an executive level). This Vulture piece also confirms something I’ve been half-way assuming this whole time: the studio isn’t happy with Olivia and this whole DWD drama has done serious and lasting damage to Olivia’s career, regardless of the film’s box office.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Backgrid, Cover Images.