Movies

The Alleged Celeb Civil War Between Olivia Wilde, Florence Pugh, and Shia LaBeouf, Explained

The gossip includes conflicting accounts, a leaked video, and an on-set romance, but how much is just in fans’ imaginations?

Florence Pugh, Olivia Wilde, Harry Styles, and Shia LaBeouf.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images, Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images, Frazer Harrison/Getty Images, and Julien M. Hekimian/Getty Images For Dior.

Perhaps it was tempting fate to name a movie Don’t Worry Darling. Just a week out from the 1950s-set thriller’s world premiere, there appears to be nothing but things to worry about, as whispers of tension between the film’s A-list leading lady and director have gone into overdrive over the past few days. How did this movie go so quickly from eagerly anticipated awards bait to cursed tabloid fodder? How much is real and how much is just feverish online speculation? And just where do Shia LaBeouf and Jason Sudeikis, neither of whom are even in the movie, fit into all of this? Don’t worry, darling, because we’re about to tell you everything you need to know.

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What is Don’t Worry Darling? And is it supposed to be any good?

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We don’t know! Olivia Wilde’s second feature film, the movie is set to premiere next week at the Venice Film Festival, before opening in theaters on Sept. 23. Wilde first made the jump from actress to director with 2019’s Booksmart, a pop-feminist spin on the high school party movie. A critical hit if not a commercial one, it made Wilde a director to watch. She switched gears from comedy to psychological thriller for her follow-up, choosing a script about a 1950s utopian community where all the husbands work for the same employer, with the lead role, that of an unhappy housewife, going to Florence Pugh. Much like Wilde, Pugh was on the fast track to superstardom: When she was cast, she was fresh from widely praised performances in movies like Little Women and Midsommar. The male lead was originally Shia LaBeouf, but in September 2020 it was announced that pop star Harry Styles would replace him.

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Does the movie really have no comma between Worry and Darling? Isn’t that grammatically incorrect?

It’s funny you should ask, because as a former copy editor, I can tell you, if “don’t worry” is intended as an instruction to someone who the speaker is referring to as “darling,” it’s missing what’s called a direct address comma. Alternately, it’s theoretically possible that there is someone who’s known as “Darling” who the audience is being instructed not to cause to worry, but this reading begs—

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—I’m sorry I asked! I came here for the drama. What’s a top-line summary of it all?

There’s reportedly a rift between Wilde and Pugh, but it seems to go only one way: Pugh, if rumors are true, is annoyed with Wilde and thus unenthused about promoting the movie, but Wilde has been trying, and seemingly failing, to get back in Pugh’s good graces. Wilde’s task recently got considerably harder when a certain video surfaced a few days ago: It was a plea to Shia LaBeouf, sent in 2020 before Styles was cast, asking him to reconsider leaving the project, and reassuring him about “Miss Flo.”

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How does Harry Styles fit into this? Aren’t he and Olivia Wilde dating?

Yes, though they won’t actually admit it or talk about their relationship, and that’s part of this. The two met and reportedly began their relationship while filming the movie. Wilde recently endured a messy split from her former fiancé, Ted Lasso actor Jason Sudeikis, and there has been speculation that her romance with Styles began before her relationship with Sudeikis was over. “I can tell you for a fact that Flo seeing Olivia and Harry all over each other on set did not go down well as Olivia was still with Jason when she first hooked up with Harry,” a source told Page Six in July. This frankly pretty flimsy-sounding source was followed up by an even more unreliable one a few days later in the form of an anonymous tip to DeuxMoi, the celebrity gossip Instagram account, discussing a “very hyped sophomore movie” where the “gorgeous female director” had supposedly shirked some of her directing responsibilities. There was yet another report, this time from a site called Showbiz Galore, that Styles was paid more than three times as much as Pugh for the film, but Showbiz Galore cited no sources, while Wilde has told Variety that Styles, a supporting actor, was not paid more money than her leading actress. This is pretty thin evidence, it must be said, and it sounds a little unrealistic that a star would torpedo her own movie because she took issue with its director’s morals. But the alleged affair having a negative impact on on-set morale feels a little more plausible as a reason for tension between the two. Still, even if there is tension, and we don’t 100 percent know that there is, we don’t really know what it’s about.

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Is there any actual proof that Pugh is displeased with Wilde?

Most of the evidence falls into the silence-speaking-volumes category: It’s what Pugh hasn’t said, rather than what she has. Fans have noticed that while Pugh is normally effusive about her projects on social media, she’s been uncharacteristically quiet about this one. That wasn’t always the case. When Pugh’s casting was announced, she gushed on Instagram about how excited she was to work with Wilde, calling the director her “idol.” In more recent months, though, Pugh has refrained from re-sharing any of Wilde’s posts praising or congratulating her, and when Pugh has posted about the movie, fans have written it off as unenthusiastic. In a recent interview with Harper’s Bazaar, Pugh spoke about being uncomfortable with audiences’ outsized interest in the movie’s sex scenes. Fans also read this as a dig at Wilde, who has been outspoken in the press about the movie’s empowering (in her view) treatment of sex. On Friday, entertainment outlets reported that Pugh would be substantially limiting the amount of press she did for Don’t Worry Darling. This seems possibly overblown, given that she already did that Bazaar cover story, and it’s not like she’s been completely silent about the movie—not to mention the fact that she is busy shooting Dune: Part Two—but it further fueled the chatter.

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Can we get back to Shia LaBeouf leaving the movie?

LaBeouf’s exit wasn’t much a part of the conversation until Wilde revived it with a Variety interview that came out last week. When LaBeouf initially left the project, it was reported as a scheduling conflict. A few months later, Variety reported that Wilde fired LaBeouf. Wilde never confirmed this, but comments she made about having a “no assholes” rule on her sets were widely interpreted to be about him. In this most recent Variety piece, Wilde didn’t explicitly confirm that she fired LaBeouf, but she also didn’t contradict that account. Instead, Wilde seemed to choose her words carefully, saying his process didn’t mesh well with hers and wishing him well in spite of his personal problems and the allegations against him (because, she pointed out, she believes in restorative justice).

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Can you remind me what the allegations against LaBeouf are?

Most notably, LaBeouf has been sued for alleged sexual battery by an ex-girlfriend, musician FKA Twigs, and has been accused of abuse by multiple other women. (LaBeouf’s lawyers have denied the allegations, though on other occasions, including in a recent podcast conversation with actor Jon Bernthal, LaBeouf has appeared more remorseful, saying, “I hurt that woman.”) He also has been found guilty of disorderly conduct on multiple occasions, and has admitted to a long struggle with substance issues, though he now claims he has been sober for more than a year.

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Was all of this before or after Wilde hired him?

Wilde hired LaBeouf before he was sued for sexual battery but after at least two of his arrests and years of stories about disruptive behavior on set. Wilde probably wasn’t expecting LaBeouf to have anything to say about leaving Don’t Worry Darling, since he’s dealing with a lot right now, but say something he did. He contacted Variety to challenge Wilde’s account, claiming that actually he quit the movie. LaBeouf shared with the publication an email he sent to Wilde about this, which included the line “I quit your film because your actors & I couldn’t find time to rehearse.” No one is really talking about this because of the video, but doesn’t that also sound a bit suspect? Or like at least there must be more to it? If you couldn’t find time to rehearse, why not … find time to rehearse?

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OK but the video though!!!

It was a pretty interesting video. It’s unclear exactly how it resurfaced, because it wasn’t included in the Variety article and instead mostly seemed to circulate via fans on social media, but it seemed to be a message Wilde recorded for her then-leading man when she knew he was considering leaving. Wilde, in her car and sweaty after going riding, asks LaBeouf if he can find a way to make the project work. She in particular discusses a “Miss Flo,” saying that maybe LaBeouf almost leaving could be a “wakeup call” for her. What does this tell us? It’s clear from the video that there was no love lost between LaBeouf and Pugh, but unless Wilde is just trying to feign sympathy in order to win back her star, the video also makes it seem like she herself might have had a problem with Pugh. Why else would Pugh need a “wakeup call”? Entire articles worth of analysis could be written about the way she says “Miss Flo,” but suffice it to say it was not used as a term of endearment.

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Tone aside, the video would seem to contradict the account of what happened that Wilde has been giving publicly: Here she was asking LaBeouf to stay, not pushing him out for breaking her no-asshole rule. Though many fans and others see the video as damning and as proof Wilde didn’t actually care about protecting her cast and crew, it doesn’t seem that implausible that Wilde could have decided later to fire LaBeouf, or that the decision could have been mutual, or some other explanation. Once again, there’s a lot we don’t know here.

Why would LaBeouf be so vocal about this?

It’s pretty out of the ordinary for a celebrity to share texts and emails—receipts—in this way, and there are good reasons we shouldn’t necessarily take them at face value. LaBeouf addresses the lawsuit in the email he shared, writing, “My failings with Twigs are fundamental and real, but they are not the narrative that has been presented.” Does he think correcting the record in this way deflects from the allegations against him? In the conversation about whether Wilde enabled an alleged abuser, it seems to be getting lost that the same alleged abuser is the one now seeking to exonerate himself with this whole defense.

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Does it seem like people are a little too quick to blame Olivia Wilde here?

Maybe that’s not actually a question you’re asking, but you should be! Because once you read about Harry Styles’ fans’ treatment of Wilde, it’s hard not to let that color your view of the situation. As the Daily Beast reported earlier this year, there’s a particularly outspoken corner of Styles’ fanbase that has been hostile to Wilde the whole time the two have been dating, unjustly accusing her of things like “grooming” him (because of their age difference—she is 10 years older, though he is 28 and was very much an adult when they met) and other abuses. It’s a type of bullying Pugh herself has been on the other side of, when she was in a relationship with the much older actor Zach Braff. The two have since broken up, but Pugh’s fans were relentless about Braff and the age difference when they were together. “[A]t the end of the day if you’re complimenting someone by trolling another person… you’re just bullying,” Pugh wrote about the situation.

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Pugh has not actually said anything explicitly negative about Wilde or the movie. Is it possible that Pugh actually wouldn’t want fans villainizing Wilde in her name? Even if they do have a problem with each other. Some say Wilde has appeared too eager to burnish her feminist credentials, taking credit for walking the walk when she’s only talking the talk to build her brand. Sure, no one should lie, or protect abusers, or … flaunt their hot pop star boyfriend on set … but haven’t male directors done so since time immemorial without facing this level of scrutiny? This is not to say that Wilde is completely in the right, but it does seem like people have gotten a little carried away in their criticisms of her.

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Huh. We’ve been talking about Don’t Worry Darling now for a while, haven’t we?

We have, and we surely would not have been if not for this so-called feud. Is it possible that all of this attention is going to be good for the movie? Was that the strategy all along? Or just a happy side effect? Because it seems like a whole lot of people who’d barely heard of this movie a week ago are now very invested in it. If the movie turns out to be even half as compelling as the off-screen drama, darling, they may have a hit on their hands.

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