Updated: September 6, 2022 4:09 PM EDT | Originally published: August 31, 2022 5:40 PM EDT

Don’t Worry Darling, Olivia Wilde’s directorial follow-up to 2019’s Booksmart, is stirring up controversy before it hits theaters on Sept. 23. The film, which stars Florence Pugh, also marks pop star Harry Styles’ first major starring role. Written by screenwriter Katie Silberman and also featuring Chris Pine, KiKi Layne, Nick Kroll, and Gemma Chan, Don’t Worry Darling has been highly anticipated since it was announced in 2019.

But in the lead-up to its premiere, Don’t Worry Darling has drawn attention for more than just its star-studded cast. In July, Page Six, citing anonymous sources, reported that Pugh had a falling out with Wilde, prompting gossip and speculation online that has been fueled by recent promotional interviews given by Wilde, Pugh, and Styles. And the internet’s interest in the film’s major players—Wilde and Styles reportedly started dating after meeting on the film’s set—is at a fever pitch.

Many have cited sexism as the engine behind the rumors and drama. Wilde has faced criticism for dating the star of her own movie—something male directors have done for decades without stoking the same level of outrage. There’s an added layer of conversation from Styles’ fans, who are unhappy with Wilde and express their dislike for her online. There’s also the obsession that Hollywood—and the world at large—has with women who might not get along, drawing attention to “feuds” that might not actually exist.

There’s also a question of whether there’s any truth to these rumors, many of which come from anonymous sources and have been spread by TikTok. Either way, all eyes will be on Wilde and the cast as the film gets closer to release.

What is Don’t Worry Darling about, and when will it be released?

A psychological thriller set in an idyllic 1950s town, the movie follows Alice (Pugh), as she uncovers a dark secret being hidden by her husband, Jack (Styles), after one of the housewives in their neighborhood goes missing. The film will premiere at the Venice Film Festival and then to wider audiences on Sept. 23. The film was also the subject of a bidding war between multiple studios, thanks to a strong script and the critical success of Wilde’s debut film.

Its trailer has teased that the film will be a visual fun-house with an engaging mystery anchoring the plot. Wilde has also noted that the film centers female pleasure. “Men don’t come in this film,” she told Variety. “Only women here!”

Olivia Wilde and Florence Pugh’s differing views on the film

Initially, Pugh expressed publicly that she was excited about being cast in Don’t Worry Darling, calling Wilde her “idol” in 2020. But the more Wilde posted about the production over the next two years, the less Pugh did, prompting gossip sites and TikTok accounts to speculate that Pugh did not enjoy her time working on the film.

When the trailer for the movie was released on July 21, Pugh did not post it to her Instagram story and instead promoted Oppenheimer, a Christopher Nolan-directed movie she is appearing in that is slated to be released in 2023. That same day, Wilde praised Pugh in an Instagram post—with no response or interaction from Pugh. On TikTok, users have been analyzing Pugh’s moves, noting it is unusual for her not to post about her upcoming projects. There is an expectation for celebrities, who typically have massive online followings, to promote their work as part of the marketing process. Although not every celebrity engages online, it’s relatively common for actors to post trailers, posters, and other ephemera on their Instagram and Twitter accounts. Pugh has only posted once about Don’t Worry Darling specifically—the film’s trailer, earlier in August.

Speculation grew over why the two were said to not get along. Puck News reports that Pugh was unhappy that Wilde kept “disappearing” with Styles on set once the two began a romantic relationship.

Pugh has not commented on reports of a rift between her and Wilde. She has discussed her frustration with the intense focus on the sex scenes between her and Styles in Don’t Worry Darling‘s trailer, the same ones that Wilde has argued center female pleasure. In August, Pugh told Harper’s Bazaar: “When it’s reduced to your sex scenes, or to watch the most famous man in the world go down on someone, it’s not why we do it. It’s not why I’m in this industry,” she said. “Obviously, the nature of hiring the most famous pop star in the world, you’re going to have conversations like that. That’s just not what I’m going to be discussing because [this movie is] bigger and better than that. And the people who made it are bigger and better than that.”

On Aug. 26, TheWrap reported that Pugh has limited her attendance at promotional press events for the film, citing “three executives connected to the film, as well as an individual with knowledge of Pugh’s involvement.” According to those studio executives, Pugh’s absence has mostly to do with her filming commitments for Dune: Part Two.

What Olivia Wilde has said—and what it has to do with Shia LaBeouf

In April 2020 it was announced that Shia LaBeouf was cast as Jack. That September, LaBeouf exited the film, citing scheduling conflicts, and Styles took over the role.

A few months after his publicized departure from the film, LaBeouf’s ex-girlfriend and singer FKA Twigs filed a lawsuit against him for sexual battery. “I just didn’t want anyone else to get hurt, and that trumped any way that I felt about what people may think about me now, positively or negatively,” Twigs told British GQ in June 2022. LaBeouf’s lawyers denied the allegations. But in an August 2022 podcast interview with the actor Jon Bernthal, LaBeouf said, “I hurt that woman.” The trial is set to commence on April 17, 2023.

Little was mentioned about the casting changes until Wilde said in August 2022 that she fired LaBeouf. “He has a process that, in some ways, seems to require a combative energy, and I don’t personally believe that is conducive to the best performances,” she said. “Creating a safe, trusting environment is the best way to get people to do their best work. Ultimately, my responsibility is to the production and to the cast to protect them. That was my job.”

Two days later, LaBeouf contradicted Wilde’s claims, telling Variety that he wasn’t fired, but that he quit because there wasn’t sufficient time to rehearse. He also shared a video that he alleged Wilde sent to him, in which she appears to be trying to get him back on board and seems to confirm that she and Pugh had some differences of opinions on set.

“I feel like I’m not ready to give up on this yet, and I, too, am heartbroken, and I want to figure this out,” Wilde says in the video, “You know, I think this might be a bit of a wake-up call for Miss Flo, and I want to know if you’re open to giving this a shot with me, with us. If she really commits, if she really puts her mind and heart into it at this point, and if you guys can make peace — and I respect your point of view, I respect hers — but if you guys can do it, what do you think? Is there hope? Will you let me know?”

LaBeouf also shared an email he said he sent to Wilde. “You and I both know the reasons for my exit,” the email reads, “I quit your film because your actors and I couldn’t find time to rehearse.” Wilde’s alleged lack of attention to the cast was part of the reason she is said to have fought with Pugh.

How have Florence Pugh and Harry Styles responded?

Pugh has not directly responded to the controversy since LaBeouf’s comments became public. She did, however, begin limiting her participation in public events to promote the film. Styles has not commented publicly on the continued drama.

Asked in an August interview with the Associated Press about the buzz surrounding the film, Wilde said she hopes people will see it. “If people are excited about a film, for whatever reason, what you hope is that it gets them in the door.”

What happened on the Venice red carpet and press conference

The Venice Film Festival is currently underway, and the cast of Don’t Worry Darling was in attendance for the world premiere of the movie. Given the buzz around the film, they were all under a microscope and appeared well-aware of that fact. It was the first time the actors had been together since the advent of the media whirlwind. Olivia Wilde, Harry Styles, Chris Pine, and Gemma Chan sat on a panel in a conference room where Pugh was noticeably absent. Wilde told reporters that Pugh’s flight arrived after the press conference. Reporters were given the chance to ask questions—almost all of which were directed toward Wilde or Styles—and one reporter took the chance to ask Wilde the question that was on everyone’s mind: What does she make of these rumors about a feud between her and Pugh?

Her response: “Florence is a force, and we are so grateful that she is able to make it tonight despite being in production on Dune,” Wilde told the crowd, “I know as a director how disruptive it is to lose an actor even for a day so I’m very grateful to her and Denis Villeneuve for helping us—we’re really thrilled we’ll get to celebrate her work tonight. I can’t say enough how honored I am to have her as our lead.”

She continued, “She’s amazing in the film, and as for all the endless tabloid gossip and all the noise out there, I mean, the internet feeds itself. I don’t feel the need to contribute, I think it’s sufficiently well nourished.” The same reporter attempted to ask about the events that unfolded with Shia LaBeouf, but the moderator blocked the question and said, “I think this question has been answered when she talked about the internet.”

Not soon after the press conference, Pugh was seen sauntering into Venice in a three-piece royal purple outfit with what appeared to be an Aperol spritz in hand. She took the red carpet in a flowing Valentino gown and was seen only interacting with Pine, Chan, and Nick Kroll. The group took one cast photo together that was largely described as awkward.

What critics had to say after the Venice premiere

The critical reception of the movie has been lukewarm. Many critics shared a view that the film on the whole is decent, but many parts of it don’t work. “The biggest problem with Don’t Worry Darling is that it ends in the wrong place: This could have been a reasonably effective dystopian chiller, but it takes a sharp swerve into feminist triumph that feels patched-on and facile,” TIME critic Stephanie Zacharek writes. Other critics praised the cinematography and acting, but called the script itself convoluted with many problem areas.

That spitting rumor

The stars loaded into the theater to watch the movie for the first time in Venice, with Wilde and Pine already seated next to one another. Videos that show Styles walking in and taking his seat next to Pine began to circulate on social media because eagle-eyed viewers observed what they suspected might be Styles spitting on Pine. In the video, Pine can be seen clapping, and as Styles takes his seat, Pine stops clapping while looking down at his lap, seemingly annoyed. This video essentially dumped a gallon of gasoline on the casting feud rumor fire.

 

As footage from different angles made the rounds and internet users speculated wildly, a representative for Pine gave a statement to Variety which said, in part: “This is a ridiculous story—a complete fabrication and the result of an odd online illusion that is clearly deceiving and allows for foolish speculation … Just to be clear, Harry Styles did not spit on Chris Pine. There is nothing but respect between these two men and any suggestion otherwise is a blatant attempt to create drama that simply does not exist.”

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Write to Moises Mendez II at moises.mendez@time.com.

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