Olivia Wilde has a new film coming out and it’s her most challenging role yet. Meadowland, which opened October 23, features Wilde as Sarah, a mother whose son has been missing for over a year. Along with her husband Phil (Luke Wilson), she copes with the roller coaster of grief. Slacking on her job as a school teacher and becoming transfixed on a young student, Adam (Ty Simpkins, Jurassic Park), Sarah can’t seem to accept that her child’s gone. Phil, on the other hand, is still set on finding their son’s kidnapper. The supporting cast is also a knockout one with Scott Mescudi, Juno Temple, Elisabeth Moss, Giovanni Ribisi, and John Leguizamo. I dare you to get through this one without shedding a tear.
The film is Reed Morano’s directorial debut, known for her cinematography skills on films like The Skeleton Twins and Kill Your Darlings. Wilde, besides having the starring role, also produced the film. As it turns out, Wilde and Morano are total partners in crime. They’re artistic collaborators and admittedly best friends. Besides Meadowland coming out, they’re also already working on Vinyl together. The HBO series, premiering next year, is centered on the 1970s NYC music scene. (We can’t wait.) This month, we got to chat with both of them about forming a strong partnership and how they support each other on set.
You two have great partnership now, but leading up to this point, did you previously have other female partnerships or mentors?
Wilde: I really value the female mentors in my life and my female relationships. My friends are very important to me, my sister, my mom. I’d identified mentors in the industry to help me understand its unique qualities a little better. I remember when I was directing my short, I took Nicole Holofcener out on a date. She was confused because she said, "You know I’m not casting a movie right now. I don’t know why you wanted to meet," and I said, "I know! I’m not trying to get you to hire me! I just want your advice on directing." But I’ve never had a relationship with a director like I have with Reed—someone who feels like a true partner, someone who inspires me so much throughout every stage of the process. It makes me want to find something else to immediately do with them. I guess that’s what those partnerships that we all have seen, whether it’s the Coen brothers or Marty and Leo, what any of those great lasting partnerships have is that it’s an inspiration that lasts beyond one project.
Morano: I had females that I had looked up to and friends that I worked with closely, but it was never like this where I really feel like we can change the conversation in the industry now. I just think we each found a gold mine in each other and it’s a completely equal playing field.
In what specific ways have you been supportive of each other on the project?
Wilde: Reed always put performance on top, even though she’s a cinematographer and so technically minded, she was so invested in the story. She made the actors feel like her biggest concern. It sounds kind of obvious, that’s what everyone would want, but it’s pretty rare. I’m just thinking of filmmakers out there and what I would want them to learn from Reed in this situation—just that creating a set where there’s a real, common passion in the crew—that really informed the vibe, too. Everyone was very focused on this film and felt pride in the story and what we were making. There was no room for ego on this set.
Morano: It can be insulting to an actor when the director comes out and they have no notes on the performance and all they care about is that the camera has to do this one technical thing. A sad truth I learned as a DP starting out was that it doesn’t matter how beautiful I make it if the story and performance are not there. That should be number one.
Getting a great performance can be easier said than done when a director’s on set going we have 20 minutes to get this shot off but I want my actors to get there!
Morano: I think it would have been difficult, had I not had the actors I had. I was getting all these amazing things I felt like could work. There was never a moment I felt like I was under pressure with time.
Wilde: You would change the way you were shooting it. You were willing to twist yourself in knots holding the camera so that the actors would have another shot at it.
Did it help that a lot of this was shot with a handheld camera?
Morano: That enabled us all to improvise.
Wilde: Reed was responding to what we came up with and then finding the most interesting way to shoot that. It’s so refreshing.
Morano: It’s trying to let the real thing happen. I’d rather put parameters on myself than put parameters on them. That’s why I hate asking actors, "Next time, could you just move a few inches more this way?" Actors are already thinking about a million things!
Wilde: I appreciate full transparency from the director. I want to be let into the process of decision-making. That allows the actor to feel a certain ownership of the process, as opposed to being treated like children. That can often happen! You’re ushered in like, Okay, okay, come here this is your seat. Okay, guys we’re done with you. Come over here. Like, what’s happening? I’m neither four years old nor 94 years old! Please treat me like I’m part of this!
Can you tell me about those challenges of being friends but also getting stuff done?
Wilde: I wonder if it’s different when you start as friends and move into a partnership.
Morano: I think it is.
Wilde: Starting with her being my boss and then me coming on as a producer and then making this film together—
Morano: I was her boss then she became my boss. That’s how you make it work successfully!
Wilde: Speaking of boss, Reed sent me this clip in pre-production of the girls singing "Boss Ass Bitch."
Morano: It’s so funny!
Wilde: It was a pump-up song for like, Let’s do this. I had shirts made for us that said "Boss Ass Bitch."
You should sell these as promotion for the film.
Morano: Yeah, totally!
Wilde: But I think the only promise you have to make it honesty. I will let you know how I feel, and you’ll always know where you stand for me. That feels like the way to make it work. Stay honest.