Hollywood has seen some strange stories over the years, but what happened last week was incredibly bizarre, even by movie business standards. Nothing, it seems, could quite prepare people for the spectacle and social media fallout that followed after Olivia Wilde was mysteriously served custody paperwork onstage at CinemaCon.
Wilde — who shares two children with Jason Sudeikis, to whom she was formerly engaged — was delivering remarks to present a trailer for her upcoming film, the psychological thriller “Don’t Worry Darling,” to theater owners. The convention marked Wilde’s first major industry introduction of the movie she directed, which stars Florence Pugh and Harry Styles. Here’s another wrinkle: Styles also happens to be Wilde’s real-life beau, meaning nearly everyone involved is a boldfaced name.
“This is for me?” a bewildered Wilde asked when a manila envelope was suddenly handed to her onstage by an individual who has not been identified, but appears to be a process server. Handling the matter on the spot, Wilde didn’t flinch and continued with her presentation where the first footage of the film was shown.
Sudeikis said he was unaware his ex would be served custody paperwork at CinemaCon.
“Papers were drawn up to establish jurisdiction relating to the children of Ms. Wilde and Mr. Sudeikis,” a source said in a statement to Variety. “Mr. Sudeikis had no prior knowledge of the time or place that the envelope would have been delivered, as this would solely be up to the process service company involved and he would never condone her being served in such an inappropriate manner.”
How could it be possible than an A-list star would have no knowledge that the A-list mother of his children would be served paperwork in the middle of a highly-publicized work event? Does that make any sense?
“This is highly unlikely. While an attorney is not required to consult with a client before deciding how and when to serve, it is routinely done in the field to avoid these kinds of appearance mistakes,” family law specialist, David Glass, tells Variety, adding that while it’s “possible” Sudeikis wouldn’t have known, it’s not “probable.”
Adding to the mystery, CinemaCon does not announce its lineup in advance, nor does Warner Bros., the studio distributing “Don’t Worry Darling.” That means members of the public would not have known that Wilde would be attending the convention, so the process server would have been given prior information of Wilde’s whereabouts in order to show up at the exact time of her presentation. Tickets for CinemaCon, a trade (not fan) event, are upwards of $1,200. At that cost, would a process server really have paid their own way into the event, without clearing it first?
“The family law attorney will usually consult with his or her client on where and when the other party can be found and how it will be serviced,” Glass adds.
The legal expert, who also holds a PhD in psychology, explains that it is typically the attorney — not the process server — who comes up with the method of how to serve, and then sends papers to the process server. “Usually the attorney gives several ideas of where and when to serve, a photo, perhaps the description of the car and instruct the process server how you would like it done,” Glass says. “It is extremely rare that a process server would, on their own, do research and figure out how to serve.”
Given that Sudeikis and Wilde are both public figures who have handlers on their payroll (who work to avoid these sorts of public mishaps), the expert says it’s even more unlikely that there wouldn’t have been any consultation or awareness. “Celebrities have business managers, agents, and in this case, an attorney,” Glass says. “All of them are tasked with protecting their client.”
When contacted by Variety, a representative for Sudeikis declined to comment on this story. Wilde’s representative did not respond for comment.
Glass says serving custody papers is typically done at a time when the children are not around, so perhaps when the parent involved is at home, at work or at the gym. But the public venue would not be necessary, unless there is a particular reason to make such a statement, or it’s the only place you could find the individual.
“It is a relatively simple process, and this type of service is generally uncalled for, unless the person has been evading service for some time, and this was the only way you could serve him or her,” Glass says.
That doesn’t seem to be the case with Wilde, who has not exactly been in hiding lately. She is regularly snapped by the paparazzi, and last month, was spotted at Coachella watching Styles perform.
Sudeikis says he had no prior knowledge of the situation. But regardless of his awareness, the story has now burst into the public sphere. That means it will undoubtedly be brought to the judge’s attention. Variety’s legal expert says this could impact the court’s decision in the custody battle, though many other considerations will also be weighed.
“One of those factors is the way that the parties treat each other and whether each parents supports the other parent in his or her role. That was not done here by Sudeikis’ team,” Glass says.
“Unfortunately because both children are of elementary school age, they may hear about this from friends, who heard about it from their parents or via the internet. It is a bad start to a custody case where the children should be shielded from as much as possible,” Glass adds. “Hopefully, the parties get into the custody mediation, figure out how they will share their two children and keep the rest of this case out of the press.”