Olivia Wilde has advice for aspiring female directors: 'It's not about hanging with the dudes'

Olivia Wilde made her directorial debut with Booksmart in 2019, but one of the actress’s next projects will be more about what’s happening behind the scenes. During day two of the 2020 MAKERS Conference, the 35-year-old told Katie Couric she’s focused on encouraging more women to direct their first film — hoping to build a pipeline of talented female directors that will disrupt the “boys’ club” in Hollywood.

“We're used to this narrative of this scrappy young film school guy that could be the next Steven [Spielberg],” Wilde told Couric. “There’s not as many people to draw from with women .... women, who out of the gate who had something, so we need to empower more women to have their first film made.” After gaining critical acclaim for Booksmart — a coming-of-age film about two teenage girls — Wilde says she feels a responsibility to lift up other women around her and give them opportunities to thrive.

“I believe deeply in this idea of once you're in that spot, you have to start mentoring other women and do what the men have done for years, which is give the job to their buddies or someone who looks just like them,” Wilde said. The actress described taking this approach with Kaitlyn Devers, one of the 23-year-old stars of Booksmart, after Devers expressed an interest in directing.

Olivia Wilde and Katie Couric speak onstage during the 2020 MAKERS Conference on February 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for MAKERS)

“She has a band and so I said, ‘You have an easy way to do this. Build your [music] video, start your reel,” Wilde recalled of her advice. “I think it's about encouraging but also helping them get the job — make the calls, help people get in the room. For a long time, I feel for one woman to feel she was breaking through all the barriers and glass ceiling, there was this sense that I must go at it alone because if I bring others with me, it'll be hard to get through this small crack in the ceiling.”

But Wilde says that’s changing. “I have even felt that it was being part of a boys’ club, and now it's a part of being part of a girls’ club proudly,” said Wilde. “For a long time, it was like, if I hang with the guys, I'll be more powerful, and that really shifted for me over the past couple years.” Wilde revealed she now thinks about who her collaborators and mentors are, and realized that women, not men, have helped her get in the door. “It's not about getting in with the dudes,” stated Wilde. “It’s about finding a woman who totally believes in you and understands your situation and can actually empower you in a real way.”

For Wilde, that woman has been Little Women director Greta Gerwig, who has shared names of people she trusts for Wilde to use — something that’s more powerful than it might seem. “By recommending them to me, she's making them unavailable for her projects,” Wilde revealed. “But she so wants to support me and my next endeavor that she's like, ‘Okay, you have to call these five people. They're my trusted allies.’”

Gerwig and Wilde’s relationship is a perfect encapsulation of the change that the actress hopes to bring herself. “Sharing your brain trust, sharing something you've learned ... that has a huge effect,” Wilde admitted. “But for a long time, people have felt, like, ‘Okay, I have to protect these secrets for my own success.’”

Watch Wilde’s full session below:

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