Love Lies Bleeding star Katy O'Brian talks facing her fears and working with Kristen Stewart on gory thriller from Saint Maud's Rose Glass

Katy O'Brian as Jackie in Love Lies Bleeding
(Image credit: Lionsgate)

"I could take 'em", Katy O'Brian's bodybuilder Jackie grins as she ices her bruised cheek early on in Love Lies Bleeding. She's just been warned by Kristen Stewart's skittish gym manager Lou not to make a habit of getting into fisticuffs with the iron-pumping locals ("round here, I'm telling you, that could've gone a lot worse"), but she's not fazed; she knows what she's capable of. Or does she? In the neon-lit thriller, co-written and directed by Rose Glass, we find out – in the most grimy, gory, and sometimes surprisingly goofy way.

When O'Brian first read the film's script post-audition and callback, though, she wasn't feeling as confident as her onscreen counterpart. "I remember shaking as I was finding out, page by page, what happens to Jackie. It was so scary. It was so intense," she tells GamesRadar+ ahead of the movie's UK release. "I was on the edge of my seat as I was reading, which doesn't happen often. Usually, like, one out of 100 scripts that you get even catches your interest. Such a visceral reaction is incredibly rare.

"In the script even worse things happened to Jackie, so when I finished it, I was just kind of like, 'Can I even do this?' I didn't know if I was a good enough actor," she recalls, candidly. "I tend to be a really understated person in general and [Rose was] like, 'This is gonna be a lot. It's larger than life.' I didn't know if I was going to emotionally be able to handle something like this, but I just kind of sat with myself and said, 'This is the career that I really want to pursue', and I knew that I wasn't going to grow unless I took a role like this. Plus, you know, I loved the character and loved the team and I wanted to work on it. So yeah, I just made the decision that if I was so lucky to book it, I'd do it."


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Thankfully for us, she did. But for O'Brian, the nerves didn't stop there. When she was first made aware of the film by a fan on Twitter sending her the casting call, Stewart was already attached – and the Hollywood newbie wasn't sure what to expect from the movie-making veteran. "On my third audition or something, I remember there were a couple other girls there as well. Kristen was out in the hall and I just went up and started chatting with her, mostly about the movie, but I also broke the ice [by] talking about my cat – as lesbians do," O'Brian remembers. 

"Straight away, it just seemed like it would be a really chill, easy relationship because you just never know, especially with someone that's been in the business that long. She was super chill. We went in for a chemistry read and just got to play, you know? We got to hang out and kind of just started making the scene up as we went along and adding little jokes and things. I assume it went well because I got the job," she laughs. "We filmed all of the intimate scenes first. So it was really just an exercise; we had to build that trust right away and dive right into it. After you've done all of that, the rest is pretty easy."

Chain reaction

Love Lies Bleeding

(Image credit: A24)

Set in the late '80s – a fact O'Brian didn't know until she got her hands on the script – Love Lies Bleeding sees Jackie and Lou fall hard and fast for one another as the former passes through the latter's small New Mexico town on her way to a competition in Las Vegas. In need of some cash, Jackie takes a waitressing job at a gun range owned by Lou's dodgy dad (Ed Harris, who just... turned up to set with that hair one day, apparently), which creates tension between the loved-up pair. But when a member of Lou's family gets brutally murdered, the couple find themselves with much bigger problems to navigate…

As things get messier, and the FBI closes in, Lou and Jackie both make increasingly questionable decisions that force them deeper and deeper down a chaotic, violent, and ultimately surreal rabbit hole. For all the horror and bloodshed, however, the frenetic flick has got its tobacco-stained tongue firmly in its cheek throughout, unlike Glass's humorless and harrowing psychological thriller Saint Maud: Dave Franco's mullet-sporting douchebag JJ tripping up some stairs, as he tells Jackie not to embarrass him in front of his boss; Lou, who's failing miserably at kicking her smoking habit, umming and ahhing over whether to pinch a corpse's pack of ciggies; that ending. An affectionate homage to campy, schlocky classics like Bound and Showgirls (the latter of which was one of the films Glass told her leads to watch for research, according to O'Brian), it all feels undeniably retro, beyond its period setting. Like the films from a time before comic book movies dominated cinema screens, and studios believed we were only interested in characters that are black-and-white heroes and villains.

"When I sat down with Kristen at the chemistry read, I was curious as to why she was interested in it," says O'Brian. "The main reason for me, originally, was that it was a queer love story that wasn't about being queer. She loved that it was a queer story, but we got to be bad.

"I loved that, too, because to me it's more interesting," she notes. "It's more human. We mess up, we make mistakes, and I think that's more relatable. Especially when it comes to our relationship in the film, it's very toxic. It's not something that anyone should want to strive for," she laughs. "Yeah, we both really enjoyed that antihero, neo-noir aspect of it."

Glass deliberately withholds information on Jackie's past to shroud her in mystery, teasing just enough to pique our morbid interest. Is she an ambitious loner? Or something more sinister? "I've got horror stories, Lou," she tells her new paramour during a fight scene, while another sequence sees her ring home, only to be called "a monster" and to "never call again." According to O'Brian, a lot of Jackie's backstory got cut due to pacing reasons, including a two-page monologue lifted from the start of the film.

"One thing that Rose wanted to emphasize was that Jackie wasn't kicked out of [her] family because of [her] sexuality. It was because [she] decided to start getting big, you know?" she clarifies. "Putting on muscle in the Midwest in the '80s or even now really is… weird. People call you a freak. Even me, I think I look a lot bigger on the screen than I do in real life – there are certain camera angles, being in the right shape at the right time, your muscles pop in a different way. But people will come up and touch me in the street. You know, it's a very weird world and people have a weird reaction to bodies. But yeah, in the end the backstory wasn't really relevant to the movie. I just used everything else to feel the emotions."

O'Brian, who convinced her agents she was perfect for the gig with a presumably persuasive Powerpoint presentation, was so keen on being a part of Love Lies Bleeding largely because it's not about being queer. Shit hits the fan in major ways for Lou and Jackie (sweat, egg yolk, and gasoline, too), but none of it has anything to do with homophobia or inner-angst over their respective sexualities. 

"Just this last year we had Bottoms, Drive-Away Dolls, and this – I didn't get to see Drive-Away Dolls yet but at least with Bottoms, again, the story wasn't about alienating gay people," she explains. "For me growing up, I was able to, like, sneak some episodes of Queer as Folk, but that's gay men usually, you know? Then I found The L Word – talk about people not behaving well! And it definitely didn't offer up a realistic expectation for what a relationship should look like. It lacked a lot of representation, too, within the community, even. 

"The majority of queer cinema that I had seen was always 'some girl is currently engaged to or is dating a guy, and then… enter lesbian.' She has an awakening, then leaves the guy and it was just the same storyline over and over," continues O’Brian. "But there were a few exceptions, and those exceptions were the ones that stuck with me and the ones that were interesting. So I'm glad that it's becoming more prevalent, and I'm glad that people can just… go to the theatre and enjoy a movie."

Tainted love

Kristen Stewart as Lou and Katy O'Brian as Jackie in Love Lies Bleeding

(Image credit: Lionsgate)

Jackie and Lou's feelings towards one another aren't just toxic, they're intoxicating – in more ways than one, too. Not only do their affections lead them to do crazy things, there's also an important chemical at the center of the film that both Glass and O'Brian were keen to explore: steroids. The pair's first encounter is more meet-shoot than meet-cute, with Lou offering Jackie a dose of the muscle-boosting juice mere minutes into their conversation. "There's this symbolism, right, of love being the drug. Lou shoots [Jackie] up with it, [Jackie] takes it in fully and gets stronger from it, all of that," says O'Brian, with a wry smile. "Then obviously, you get the butt shots and that's important. It's not my butt, though, we had a silicone butt and they used a butt double in one or two scenes. I was like, 'I'm right here.'"

Given the reaction to the film Stateside, where it's been out since early March, it only takes a quick Twitter search to see just how much cinemagoers have been enjoying Love Lies Bleeding. There's so much hype surrounding O'Brian's performance, in particular, as viewers claim she's about to "blow up" or that the film is guaranteed to make her a star. While she finds the praise flattering, it's not something the actor pays much mind to. "I honestly don't really read a lot of that. It's just silly because, especially with this business, you're forgotten about so quickly," she says. "First of all, it's ridiculous to hold yourself to that expectation, especially when it comes to being 'a star'. Is that even my goal? What does that mean? This is a crazy business where you can have this amazing hit movie and then never work again. I am fortunate to have a movie coming out and a job lined up, but who knows? That might be the last. 

"I've literally got a dog bite on my face. I had to break up a dog fight this weekend. And like, if I'd lost my eye, you know, it might have put a damper on things (!) So life happens, things happen. I just play it day by day and live my life." At least next time an intimidating script rolls around, O'Brian knows not to second-guess herself.

Love Lies Bleeding is in select cinemas now, before opening wide across the UK on May 10. For more on what else you should be watching at the cinema, be sure to check out the rest of our Big Screen Spotlight series

Amy West

I am an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things TV and film across our Total Film and SFX sections. Elsewhere, my words have been published by the likes of Digital Spy, SciFiNow, PinkNews, FANDOM, Radio Times, and Total Film magazine.