Olivia Wilde: ‘You Have to Look Beyond Resume’ to Make Casts More Diverse

Olivia Wilde didn’t have trouble finding a diverse cast for her high-school comedy “Booksmart.”

“It turns out when you see all actors and you just hire the best people, you actually end up with a really representative set. The problem is most people don’t look at everyone. If we keep drawing from the same pool, it becomes this recycled pot of inspiration. There’s nothing new if you don’t take a step further,” she said at a screening of her film at the Film Independent Forum on Friday.

Wilde even had a couple first-time actors in her feature directorial debut. Victoria Ruesga and Nico Haraga, who play classmates of the hilarious leading duo, Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, are professional skaters and had never acted in a film before. However, their lack of experience on screen didn’t stop Wilde from hiring them.

“In order for casts to become more diverse and representative –– the same goes for crew behind the camera –– you have to look beyond resume. You have to hire people based on their talent, their skills, their ideas, their passion. If we keep hiring based on resume, we will just continue this paradigm and everything will be the same as it’s been. We have to break the mold, we have to change the way we hire people. Maybe you could be a little bit nervous to hire an actor who’s never been on a film set and has a pretty sizeable role, but I found that pretty exciting,” she said.

Film Independent kicked off its weekend of programming with a screening of “Booksmart” and a Q&A with Wilde and writer Katie Silberman at the Harmony Gold theater in Los Angeles. Feldstein and Dever lead the side-splitting, coming-of-age tale as two top students who realize they missed out on partying and having fun in high school in favor of hitting the books. They make up for it with one wild night of antics the night before their graduation.

“I wanted to work on a high-school comedy for a long time because the best ones are timeless and timely,” said Silberman. “The best ones are very reflective of the generation they’re talking about, but the stories and the arcs and themes are timeless. The opportunity to try to do that with brilliant young women was very exciting.”

Wilde and her all-female team of writers make “Booksmart” feel like the feminist version of “Superbad” or “American Pie.” Feldstein and Dever’s characters routinely hype up other up with compliments, sport an Elizabeth Warren 2020 bumper sticker and reference Malala Yousafzai, Rosa Parks and Ruth Bader Ginsburg throughout the film. They greet each other with dance-offs in the middle of the street, something that became the opening scene of the film when Wilde’s original idea fell through.

“Beanie and Kaitlyn just had this thing they did –– every time they saw each other, they would dance. Watching them one day, we were like, ‘That’s it,’” she said.

One surprise hallucination sequence also transforms the two women into their ultimate fears: Barbies.

“We wanted a fresh spin on the accidental drug trip moment, and I thought, ‘What would be the worst possible nightmare for two young, ardent feminists?’ It would be becoming the literal physical manifestation of what’s wrong with the patriarchy,” said Wilde. “What would make that even worse would be if one of them started to like it.”

Having directed music videos for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Wilde’s ear for popular tunes spread to the film and on set. She played a lot of Lizzo between scenes and said she might make a good music supervisor someday.

I Shazamed so many songs on set that I had to go to premium,” added Silberman.