‘Love Lies Bleeding’ Star Katy O’Brian Talks 2-Week Workout Session and Doing Research on Female Bodybuilders

“Love Lies Bleeding” star Katy O’Brian is used to being physically fit, but needing the body of a competitive bodybuilder living in the 1980s took things to a whole other level. And did she mention she only had two weeks to achieve it? “It seems as though I’ve done this to myself, where people expect me to be generally in shape for parts now, so I tend to stay at least at a two weeks’ notice,” O’Brian told TheWrap.

As Jackie, one half of a romantic pairing that goes south in director Rose Glass’ latest feature, O’Brian was enthusiastic to craft a fully fleshed out character who, at times, is literally larger than life. She started by watching the 1985 film “Pumping Iron II: The Women.” “I managed to find ‘Pumping Iron II, [but] it was hard to find,” she said. “Which is funny because ‘Pumping Iron’ is easy to find.” The question of a potential double standard hangs in the air.

“When we were thinking about [the] ’80s, I was actually relieved because I used to compete in bodybuilding,” O’Brian said. “I think in the ’80s I probably could have held my own, but modern bodybuilding is a whole other beast.” But after learning about the politics of bodybuilding at that time, O’Brian had to make her body work to fit the aesthetic, which was a challenge. “I have Crohn’s disease and it’s very, very unhealthy to be that lean, ever, and then to think about performing on top of it is a struggle,” she said.

As far as getting her body into shape, O’Brian did a fairly standard workout routine that she does in her off-time, albeit for not as many hours. The biggest challenge was the cardio she needed to do. “I would do two days a week of chest, shoulders, triceps. Two days of back, biceps and traps. And then two days of legs and one day off,” she said. “And then 30 to 45 minutes of abs every day, which was really annoying for me because I felt like I was just going through the motions. And then an hour of walking uphill on a treadmill every day.”

O’Brian went on to discuss working opposite Glass and Kristen Stewart, as well as making this movie alongside “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania.”

TheWrap: The movie is just so hyper in its characters and aesthetic. How did you want to ground Jackie?

Katy O’Brian: I feel like I always am playing in a larger than life kind of environment. I always think of how if you have a really active imagination, sometimes you see the world differently. I feel like there’s a little bit of that in Jackie anyways. She’s always thinking big. She’s always thinking — I don’t want to say two steps ahead — but she’s always thinking of wanting to pursue these big, massive dreams that everyone around her is telling her that she can’t do. She lives in this heightened state already.

I see a lot of similarities to that in myself because reality can be boring or traumatic and there’s definitely an escapism element to it. Circumstances aside, Jackie is a real character or a real person and sometimes you wind up in these strange situations and how would I react or behave as this person in this situation?

What was your first impression upon meeting Rose and what was your working relationship like?

I got the sides for the first audition and then I met her at the callback, which was a Zoom thing because she’s in the UK. She’s such a quiet person, but seems so excited about it at the same time. I do a little bit of research before I meet anybody, so I’d seen [Glass’ first film] “St. Maud” and I had watched a couple of interviews with her. I had heard a lot of the cast say that they just wanted Rose to be happy at the end of the day. Like they were just performing in order to make Rose happy because everyone just wanted her to succeed. She has that ability, where you just immediately want her to do well and to succeed, and you want to give the best performance you can and she doesn’t demand it at all. She doesn’t force it.

She has this presence of someone that you want to be happy. It’s a weird thing. But in talking to her about Jackie, it wasn’t even after the callback, until I got the script [that I] found out that it was based in the ’80s. I’m like, “OK, well, why are we doing that?” And she’s like, “I want it to be pulpy. I want it to be big and the ’80s is the time to do that.” We had a lot of questions about modern technology coming into play, and I’m like, Jackie would be like an influencer or something if it weren’t [set in the ’80s]. The isolation of a low tech era is really huge for it. Every little piece of information that she added just made me so much more excited to do the project because ’80s is the time for bodybuilding.

This is the time [that] someone coming from the Midwest, they’re going to be seen as more of an outcast with this physique than someone coming from New York or Los Angeles where you might be a little more accustomed to extremes. Then you read the script and you’re like, “Oh, that’s also crazy.” It’s just different and we get to enjoy that. Even talking to Kristen, we were both excited that the characters were morally ambiguous and it wasn’t about queerness, necessarily.

You had done “Ant-Man” and “Mandalorian” prior to this. Can you talk about the transition of going from a big Disney feature to something smaller like this?

Because it’s such a big production and there are a lot of voices coming in it’s constantly changing. You have to be, like, a whole production team, prepared for having constant changes. [The] studio might call in and say, “Hey, we actually want this now” because they’re watching it in real time as it’s being created. You have more chances to sit around and [do] take after take after take on a big studio project. With something that’s a little lower budget and more indie, it’s really important that the director is able to have the vision spot-on and have creative control because you can’t waste time changing the script.

It’s a lot of having to make choices and stick with them. For this project I was really glad that the script, for the most part, didn’t change very much. I was given an in-depth character. I was able to work with Larry Moss, an amazing acting coach, and we were really able to grind out these human beings as opposed to these super beings.

Is there a scene that you still watch and are surprised you could pull it off?

The thing that kills me is the fight scene with Lou [Kristen Stewart]. We cut a whole scene before that. Originally, I go to work. Someone is popping off at the gun place and I get into another fight, which — Jackie gets in a lot of fights. We didn’t have that moment before where he [Ed Harris] takes me up to the gun range and shows me how to shoot and sees that I took care of this problem. He takes the guy in the back and he puts a gun in my hand and then asks me to shoot him. I’m about to and he’s like, “Whoa, what do you think this is?”

We have a whole pre-moment like that. We do a shot together. We have this weird little bonding moment and then I just go off walls. I start doing cocaine. So when I go into the fight with Lou, I’m actually drunk and high and not on a steroid cocktail, necessarily. It was a much bigger fight. I’d pick up a couch and I’d throw it. I just thought, “I killed that,” in my mind. I was like, “This felt so good.” It felt so intense and raw, and they just cut it up.

“Love Lies Bleeding” is in theaters now.

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