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Steve Granitz

Olivia Wilde: ‘I wanted it to resonate with old people like me, but it’s very specific to Gen-Z’

The actor-turned-director on her riotous high-school comedy ‘Booksmart’

Phil de Semlyen
Written by
Phil de Semlyen

Best known as a Hollywood actor, Olivia Wilde popped round to the other side of the camera to direct the thoroughly ace ‘Booksmart’. A high-school comedy with loads of charm and big laughs, it features one of the most surreal drugs scenes in all cinema, plus Wilde’s IRL partner, Jason Sudeikis.

The film is quite specific to 2019. Why did you want to do that?
‘I wanted it to reflect the generation that is leaving high school this year. It should be universal, so it resonated with old people like us, but it’s very specifically Gen-Z focused. We hired people of that generation behind the camera and in front, and I said: “Anytime something feels inauthentic, please raise your hands.”’

Did they?
‘Yeah! They’d just ask if they could put things in their own words. Skyler Gisondo [who plays Jared] added the line: “Sorry I’m late, traffic was nerrrrts”, and for days afterwards, everyone on the crew was like, “This is nerrrts!”’

The film has a mad stop-motion drug scene. What was its inspiration?
‘I love stop-motion. One interesting thing that happens with hallucinogens is that your concept of time is warped, and stop-motion plays with time because it’s lots of static moments strung together. Why not? There are no rules.’

What’s the best and worst thing about working with Jason?
‘You get to see that person do their special magic trick. I was a big fan of Jason’s and I used to go to “Saturday Night Live” all the time and watch him and think: God, that takes courage. But when you become partners, you lose the opportunity to see them work. So that’s the positive side. The negative side of it is that no one is watching your children. They have to fend for themselves.’

Will there be more Olivia Wilde movies?
‘I hope so! I’m writing another female two-hander comedy right now with Katie Silberman, who co-wrote “Booksmart”. And there are a few other [projects] that are exciting that are very different genres. I really like thrillers. At the moment it’s like: how dare I stop working for a minute? I’m proud to be a part of this movement of female filmmakers, and we have so much work to do. We have an entire paradigm to shift.’

‘Booksmart’ opens Fri May 24. Read our review.

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