‘Love Lies Bleeding’ Breakout Katy O’Brian on Getting Intimate with Kristen Stewart, Joining the A24 Family, and What’s Next

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‘Love Lies Bleeding’ Breakout Katy O’Brian on Getting Intimate with Kristen Stewart, Joining the A24 Family, and What’s Next

Katy O’Brian is about to be a big star — and for audiences who check out Rose Glass’ “Love Lies Bleeding,” in which the actress stars alongside Kristen Stewart in an audacious, sexy, unpredictable mash-up of body horror, crime thriller, and love story, that concept will prove to be literally true by the film‘s wild end. But she’s not slipping into any Hollywood starlet habits just yet.

Case in point: O’Brian signed on to our Zoom interview a full five minutes early this week (practically unheard of!), and offered to spend our extra time “just chatting.” And O’Brian, whose pre-acting resumes includes everything from bodybuilding to a seven-year stint as a police officer in her native Indiana, is a very good conversationalist.

Before joining “Love Lies Bleeding,” which electrified its Sundance audience and seems destined to join the annals of A24’s boldest films, O’Brian spent time on the small screen, including roles in “The Walking Dead,” “Z Nation,” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” plus her still-ongoing role in “The Mandalorian.” She’s one of few stars who has done both “Star Wars” and Marvel, and was last seen on the big screen in 2023’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.” Later this summer, she’ll be seen in Lee Isaac Chung’s much-anticipated “Twisters.”

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Until then, fans will get to see plenty of O’Brian’s incredible range in “Love Lies Bleeding,” where she plays bodybuilder Jackie, who blows into a dusty Southwest town circa 1980-whatever, upending the life of local gym manager Lou (Stewart), who has more than enough on her plate already (read: crime and stuff). What follows is a mostly unclassifiable genre experience in which O’Brian basically steals the show (and our hearts).

Ahead, she talks to IndieWire about her early cinematic education, Jodie Foster, joining the A24 family, bonding with Stewart, getting comfy with a number of “bedroom scenes,” and her burrito-centric attitude toward whatever comes next in her career (we’re guessing: quite a bit).

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

IndieWire: What kind of movies did you like to watch when you were growing up?

Katy O’Brian: Oh, that was horror. Horror was my go-to with my friends all the time. I was just so fascinated by it. I saw “Nightmare on Elm Street” way too young, and then I went to the library, and I got books about how they made the special effects for it, and then I just did a deep dive into how people do makeup in film. Horror was my starting point.

And I love classic stuff. My mom would play TV Land all the time, so we would watch “The Andy Griffith Show” and “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Get Smart” and all these older shows, and then that translated to movies like “Roman Holiday.”

My brother and I would come home from school, and even while we were doing homework, we had anime on, Cartoon Network, it was “Dragon Ball Z” and “Yu Yu Hakusho.” When the parents would join around the table, it was “Xena,” “Hercules,” “JAG.” Whatever we could get my dad to watch was the big thing.

When you were growing up and watching all these films and TV shows, which actresses interested you and perhaps shaped what kind of performer you aspired to be?

I saw “Silence of the Lambs” way too young, and I thought both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins were just next level. And as I get older, and I’ll turn on something, I’ll watch it again and see even more nuance and information and stuff that relates to you at an older age. I was always fascinated with more subtle performers. I liked people who were able to show just a lot with a little, that sort of thing.

Lon Chaney! I thought the physicality [was impressive]. And then, on that note, Jackie Chan, being able to say a lot with a little and then be able to do so much with your body; I just thought those guys were pretty awesome.

Kristen Stewart and Katy O'Brian appear in Love Lies Bleeding by Rose Glass, an official selection of the Midnight program at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.
‘Love Lies Bleeding’Anna Kooris

At what point did you start recognizing filmmakers that you liked?

Unfortunately, I’m kind of more recently starting to do that, because for a while, it was just, “I want to go see this movie.” And even with the actor, it never really mattered who the actor was in [a film]. It was all about what the movie was about. Only now am I kind of starting to see, and I think especially more recently because I’m seeing so many movies, that I’m like, “Wow, this is so different. Who’s doing this?” And then you find out they’ve been doing stuff for decades.

In that same vein: What was your perception of A24 before you did this film? Because A24, I’m sure you well know by now, has such a dedicated fanbase, the kind you usually only find with a filmmaker or actor.

Before this film, yes, [I did know A24]. It kind of became this thing of like, “Wow, this is such a beautiful movie. Who did this?” And you look it up, and you’re like, “A24.” And then you see another one, you’re like, “Who did this? It’s A24 again.”

I think it started with “Moonlight,” and I was like, “This is such a beautiful film and such a, it shouldn’t be, bold topic, but it was, and shot so stunningly.” And you’re just like, “Who did this?” Pop, A24. And then you go to a totally different realm, and you’re like, “Wow, ‘Hereditary,’ ‘Midsommar,’ who’s this?” And then “Marcel the Shell,” right? And I know that that was around before, but A24 had the film.

It just became this thing of, “I’m really loving these voices that I’m seeing, who’s supporting them?” And you’re seeing that it’s the same company over and over again. You’re like, “Wow, that’s somebody I want to work for, somebody that wants to elevate these artists and these beautiful stories and definitely doesn’t seem worried about if it’s going to relate to mass audiences or not.”

It’s funny you mentioned Marcel the Shell, because he’s the background on my computer. It’s Marcel on his little keyboard.

I have a Marcel! I got the one that they sell with his little matchstick box, and I have a tennis ball for him if he needs to go around to avoid our dog in the middle of the night.

‘Love Lies Bleeding’

So when did you see Rose’s first film, “Saint Maud”?

It’s kind of right down my alley anyway, so I saw it before my audition because I was like, “OK, Rose Glass.” And my wife had seen “Saint Maud,” and she’s like, “You have to watch it. You absolutely have to watch it. It’s incredible.” And she goes, “You have to audition for this movie, period. That’s a director you want to work with.” So I checked it out, and I was like, “This is gnarly. It’s really cool.”

As someone from the Midwest, growing up in a more conservative environment where people can be very judgmental and holier-than-thou or whatever, I’m looking at “Saint Maud,” and I’m like, “I know this person. I know someone that’s like they’re going to punish themselves because they think that that’s what they have to do for whatever reason.”

Rose is so interesting, because she has a really unique vision, but also an interesting sense of humor. So when you talk to her about, like, “Oh, what’s the point? Why did you want to make this?” There’s a little bit of a “because why not?” in her, and I love that.

I know that when you found out about “Love Lies Bleeding,” you really put yourself forward for the role. How did that happen?

I had a fan from this show that I did, “Z Nation,” who sent me this casting call that they were looking for a queer female bodybuilder to work opposite Kristen Stewart for Rose Glass and A24. All of these things where I’m like, “Hello?” I don’t know many other actors that also do bodybuilding. I don’t know many that do it and are queer.

So I put a PowerPoint presentation together with my past bodybuilding experience. I know sometimes the short hair is a thing where people are like, “No, she looks too this way, whatever,” and I used to have really long luxurious hair, and I’m like, “Maybe that’s what they want. … I will show them that they have options with me as a person.” But also I just really, I want them to know I have the experience, I can do this part.

I sent the PowerPoint to my agent, and I was like, “I really want this role. Can you please get me an audition?” And she did, and that was that. It was a really weird series of events, but I’m glad it happened.

Putting together a PowerPoint presentation seems to say a lot about you as a Type-A, organized person. How often do you do something like that for your work?

For a while, my manager would put together my press kit, my EPK, and I was like, “No, I’m doing it.” I have a very, very specific way that I want things to be done. Back in high school, I was way worse, and my mom had a sit-down with me, and it was like, “You need to just worry about you and what you can do and not try to control everyone else.”

I have definitely calmed down a bit, and my wife has helped with that too. She’s just very laidback, chill, and she’s like, “You just cannot be like this person all the time.” In a way, I feel maybe like I’ve almost gone a little too far in one direction. I definitely am reminding myself that the hustle is in my mind.

So you know about this film, you know that Kristen will be in it. What other Kristen performances had you liked that made you think she was someone you wanted to work with?

I hadn’t seen a lot of her work, but I did watch “Runaways” when it came out because I was so interested in Joan Jett and that rocker vibe or whatever, and I thought that was a great performance. I saw “Panic Room,” but it was because I love Jodie Foster, and it didn’t register to me that that was baby Kristen. More recently, I saw “Happiest Season,” and I was like, “I’m glad that Kristen is doing a rom-com Christmas movie.”

Before this film, I was just like, “Everyone knows who she is, and hopefully she’s cool.” And when we got to work together, I was like, “OK, cool. We can do this. We’re chill.” She doesn’t have this weird, I don’t know, what you might think someone that’s been doing this forever would [be like or] have an attitude or anything. She’s just chilling, excited to make this movie, just really gung-ho and supportive and fun. And then I saw “Spencer” after [we filmed], because I was like, “OK, I’ve got to support my homie a little bit more here and watch some more movies.”

Love Lies Bleeding
‘Love Lies Bleeding’A24

Do you remember the first scene you guys shot together?

I threw a wrench in shooting a little bit, because the first day we were supposed to go on set, I somehow tested positive for COVID, even though I didn’t have COVID. So I ruined the first day of shooting, which was supposed to be bedroom scenes, right away.

So it ended up being the the scene with me, Kristen, and Daisy [co-star Anna Baryshnikov] at the apartment. I think it was one of the first things that we shot together, so it was explosive right off the bat.

You do have a number of, as you call them, bedroom scenes, and they are really beautiful and sexy, but they also teach you a lot about your characters, and there’s this sort of ongoing thing about the necessity of sex scenes in movies.

We were just talking about this discourse, where it’s like there’s kind of more of a puritan thing happening in the world right now. It was hard to find, as a kid, queer sex that was realistic on screen. I think that’s kind of important, especially when I was trying to be confident in myself as a person sexually. Obviously, there can be sex things that are harmful to that narrative of like, ‘Oh, that’s not how you’re supposed to do it.’ But just seeing it happen, I feel it’s maybe helpful for some people.”

How did Rose make those scenes feel comfortable for you as a performer?

We had an intimacy coordinator. You know what’s in the script, you read it, you’re like, “OK, I know what’s happening from the script level.” The intimacy coordinator says, “This is exactly what’s happening. Is there anything that makes you uncomfortable? Is there anything that we need to relate to Kristen separately? Anything we need to relate to Rose? What can we do to make the set comfortable for you?”

It’s usually a closed set. No one’s looking at monitors. They don’t have monitors outside on the street where some passerby can see you naked. There’s none of that. It’s as literally bare minimum people in a room that need to be there, and none of them are making creepy comments. And that was kind of our big thing. Kristen and I were both pretty much ready to go. My only please-don’t is don’t blow in or lick my ear. That was it for me!

We set our boundaries, we go onto set, and we just do a verbal run-through of the scene and make sure it works out for the camera. You don’t really do any of the physicality of it until you start rolling, so it’s limited touching. We’re not just having to make out constantly or do all these things where it starts to feel a little cringe. It’s just the bare minimum amount that you need for this shoot itself, and then it’s done, so they’re not milking it or whatever.

I think everyone was just really excited for those scenes, because they’re awesome, and we wanted to see those, but also be really respectful. I think Kristen and I were both like, “Were you OK?” We were both just trying to make sure that the other person was comfortable. It was as comfortable as you can make it.

The big last question: what do you want to do next?

I’m so excited with some of the stuff that’s been coming out, because we’re starting to see success in these unique stories or even simple stories like “Past Lives,” which was one of the most beautiful movies of last year, and it was so simple. So I want to do something like that, just something that speaks to the human condition.

I’m not a big fan of sci-fi, maybe shockingly, since I’m in lots of sci-fi. I love fantasy, but when it goes to space, there’s a disconnect for me. I still enjoy doing action. I still enjoy having that fun. I just saw “Godzilla Minus One,” and it’s action but also heavy melodrama, and it was beautiful, and I’m just like, “Yeah, let’s make a monster movie like that.”

The world is my burrito. I just want to do whatever somebody puts together that seems delicious.

“Love Lies Bleeding” opens Friday, March 8 in limited theaters from A24.

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