Booksmart director Olivia Wilde: I wanted to make a film that honoured how incredible this young generation is
Olivia Wilde makes her highly anticipated directorial debut in Booksmart, an unfiltered comedy about high school best friends. We chat to Wilde and the film's stars, Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, about the coming-of-age story. By Laura Harding
You could say Olivia Wilde's latest film is a love letter to the younger generation or, as the actress turned director sees it, it's something she made to honour them.
The 35-year-old, who starred in long-running medical TV series House alongside Hugh Laurie, has made her directorial debut with Booksmart, an "unfiltered comedy about two high-school best friends".
The coming-of-age film stars teen powerhouses Kaitlyn Dever (Amy) and Beanie Feldstein (Molly), of Ladybird fame, who decide to embark on a night of letting their hair down before they graduate. Critics have praised the film for not having as its focal point the fact that the Amy character is gay.
"I made the film to honour this young generation, which I think is so evolved," says Wilde.
"(They are) so much more fluid and truly political in a personalised sense - they understand the significance of their actions and their voice.
"I wanted to make a film that honoured how incredible this generation is.
"I feel like we've put them in such a difficult place in terms of the environment, in terms of political division, and I feel them standing up and saying, 'Thank you, we'll take it from here. We're going to live differently, we're going to shift this paradigm. Give us control'."
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It's a scenario the actress makes her feel "excited, optimistic". But there's also another layer here.
"It's also aspirational in its telling of this generation, so that for young people who still live in really oppressive environments, or within families who don't understand them, they can watch the film and say, 'I'm not alone and I'm going to hang on, because my generation actually will love and accept me'," Wilde says.
Dever (22) says the project and role was a dream.
"I fell in love with it (even) before Olivia was attached to direct it," she explains.
"I fell in love with the idea of getting to lead a film, and a film that's about a strong female friendship.
"These girls are so smart and so funny and so many other things.
"To play a girl like Amy was just a dream come true for me, immediately."
On-screen she and her American co-star Feldstein (25) share a dynamic that's amplified by the script handiwork of writer Katie Silberman and her team of female colleagues.
As such, the brand of humour the film exudes was a plus point for Feldstein.
"I was just so taken by the humour between two girls that's created by their intellect and by their love for each other," she stresses.
"I'm not a fan of a humour that brings people down or is cutting. It's funny, but it's not something that I necessarily feel like is a part of my comedic style.
"I loved that their banter and their obsession with each other. They're obsessively complimenting each other - that's where the humour comes from."
For Feldstein, the script, which was written in 2009, was ahead of its time.
"It's always kind of wanted to be made, but we always say society had to catch up to the script, which is kind of a bummer, but in some ways it was meant to be told now and with this team," she explains.
For Wilde, stepping behind the lens after her own big-screen appearances in films such as 2010's Tron: Legacy and Ron Howard's 2013 Formula One epic Rush, meant she looked for a project that harked back to what had inspired her own love of film.
The New York-born star says: "I wanted to direct my first film as one that really pays homage to the films that made me want to be in the business. I grew up on movies like Breakfast Club, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Dazed and Confused, Clueless... these are movies that made me want to make movies.
"They also made me excited to be young. They made me feel that autonomy of being young.
"The fact that you aren't alone, and seeing your experiences at a very fraught time in your life reflected on screen is something that is actually really significant - it's important.
"These movies are fun, but they also allow you to feel seen, so I wanted to make one that honoured the effect films had on me when I became a film lover."
The rest of the film's acting ensemble isn't short of impressive names, including Jason Sudeikis, Friends' Lisa Kudrow and the daughter of the late Carrie Fisher, actress Billie Lourd.
Talking about her character Gigi, Lourd recalls drawing on a moment from a real-life experience.
The 26-year-old, whose recent roles include American Horror Story and Star Wars, says: "During my Bat Mitzvah, I was at the top of a staircase lined with lit candles. As I made my entrance, my skirt caught on fire. Everyone looked at me in a state of panic.
"Without thinking, I tore off my skirt, stomped out the flames and screamed, 'F*** yeah!' And that's my inspiration for Gigi."
It's just one of the memorable moments from the film's impressive repertoire of comedic jaunts.
Laughs aside, Wilde hopes Booksmart will become the go-to 'rewatch' for younger generations.
She says: "When I was researching the film, I spoke to people, particularly young women, and said 'What's the movie you rewatch with your friends?' A lot of them said Bridesmaids.
"I said, 'I too love Bridesmaids, it's incredible and it's perfect - but it is about women at a slightly older stage of life. What's the movie for you and your friends that feels like that authentic friendship that feels real?'
"There wasn't one, so I hope this is a 'rewatch' film for people to feel like a sense of a ownership, and they're going to rewatch it and see different things in it every time."
- Booksmart is in cinemas now