Filipino cinematographer Matthew Libatique on 'Don't Worry, Darling': 'My job is to make this heightened reality acceptable as a reality'

A scene from 'Don't Worry, Darling' (Warner Bros Pictures)

Two-time Academy Award-nominated cinematographer -- and proud Filipino -- Matthew Libatique is back lensing another provocative film with “Don’t Worry Darling” directed by Olivia Wilde and starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles.

The audacious, twisted and visually stunning thriller tells the story of Alice (Pugh), a 1950s housewife living with her husband, Jack (Styles) in a utopian experimental community of Victory. Everything seems perfect, but when cracks in her idyllic life begin to appear, exposing flashes of something much more sinister lurking beneath the attractive façade, Alice can’t help questioning exactly what they’re doing in Victory, and why.

Libatique’s goal is to commit “Don’t Worry Darling” to film, in all its luxurious and seductive glory that harkens back to the Rat Pack era, with all the outward glamour and entrenched gender roles of the times.

He shares, “Olivia already had a vision of how she wanted the film to be. And she was really good at getting me to understand the feeling, the vibe. It was very easy for me to understand what she was after. As a rule, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking how I want the movie to look—I spend it trying to understand how the movie should look.”

Wilde and Libatique looked at films that inspired them within the genre—like “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Vertigo” and one that netted Libatique multiple awards and an Oscar nomination, “Black Swan”—with a specific eye to creating a subjective and visceral world that would take the viewer inside Alice’s experience and “to make this heightened reality acceptable as a reality.”

In the following Q&A, Matthew Libatique talks about “Don’t Worry Darling,” his creative process and the last time he was in the Philippines.

Question: How did you get involved with “Don’t Worry Darling” and what elements about the project that resonated with you?
Matthew Libatique: Olivia and I made a short film together in the fall of 2019 called “Wake Up.” This is where she made first mention of a psychological thriller set in the 1950s. At the time I was unavailable due to another project but after the pandemic shutdown in 2020 I was available, and I was happy that she called. The prospect of working on a feature length film with Olivia as well as the world building opportunity that the script presented made the decision easy.

Q: How did you adjust to working with Olivia Wilde? Did she already know the look she wanted, or did she give you a free hand?
ML: Olivia has a strong aesthetic and conveys her vision in expressive ways. She has a unique ability to get her collaborators on the same page. The beginning of our preparation started with a literal wall of inspiration in her office and evolved to many discussions about how to incorporate the camera and the light into a language that would articulate the themes and ideas in the screenplay.

Q: One of the most memorable scenes was the parlor game, with the housewives balancing plates and glasses on their heads. What was it like shooting that scene?
ML: The scene you are talking point was pivotal in establishing the world. Although VICTORY is set in this idyllic world, Olivia’s vision included inserting a debaucherous and sexy vibe to the characters.

Q: You already have two Oscar nominations and looks like more are forthcoming. What would it mean for you to win an Academy Award?
ML: It would certainly mean I’ve reached another of many goals that I have, but I must say that it is NOT in the front of my thinking.

Q: You mentioned in a previous interview that one of the factors you consider in choosing a project is whether there is a night rain scene. Can you elaborate?
ML: When I say that, it is to mean that when I read the script I don’t bother with logistics and because of this I have often found myself in difficult and challenging positions of problem-solving.

Q: Did you always want to be a cinematographer?
ML: Define always… NO. I used to want to be a rockstar or a baseball player.

Q: Where is your family’s roots in the Philippines? When was the last time you visited? Where did you go and how was your stay?
ML: In 2018 I was invited by Oli Laperal to visit Manila to do a master class for the cinematography community. It was a highlight in my career and my life because I was able to bring my family and introduce my children to the Philippines and so much family in Manila and Quezon. It was a thrill to be able to share my experiences with so many in the local film community.

Q: What is your take on Hollywood’s recent trend of championing Asian representation, among other minorities?
ML: It’s a beautiful thing. Diversity in American Cinema has been a long time coming, and it’s important to afford the opportunity to give a voice to people whom have previously been silenced.

A New Line Cinema presentation, “Don’t Worry Darling” is distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures and is set to open in cinemas across the Philippines on Sept. 28. Join the conversation online and use the hashtag #DontWorryDarling.

About Matthew Libatique
Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Matthew Libatique’s credits span a wide array of genres,
showcasing his extensive creativity and ability to adapt to any style of film.

Recently, Libatique collaborated with Ryan Murphy on “The Prom,” starring Jo Ellen Pellman, Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Keegan-Michael Key, Andrew Rannells, Ariana DeBose and Kerry

Libatique also shot “Birds of Prey,” in which Margot Robbie reprises her role as Harley Quinn. His short for Olivia Wilde, “Wake Up,” premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

He received Academy Award and American Society of Cinematographers nominations for his lensing of Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut, “A Star is Born,” starring Cooper and Lady Gaga. He also shot “Native
Son” for director Rashid Johnson, which premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

Libatique photographed Darren Aronofsky’s: directorial debut “Pi”; “Requiem for a Dream”; “The Fountain”; the critically acclaimed “Black Swan,” for which he received his first Oscar nomination; “Noah”;
and “Mother!,” starring Jennifer Lawrence. He also shot the award-nominated “Straight Outta Compton,” as well as “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2,” kicking off a defining style for the Marvel franchise.