Saturday, April 13, 2024

Kristen moderated a Q&A for 'Sasquatch Sunset' with the director David Zellner in LA - 12 April 2024

 




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The movie stars Kristen's friends and past co-stars Jesse Eisenberg and Riley Keough. They were both not at this Q&A.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Kristen and Katy O"Brian on the cover of Them for 'Love Lies Bleeding'


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Inside Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brian’s Sapphic Fever Dream on Steroids

The stars of Love Lies Bleeding are proving that lesbian film can be shocking, sexy, and strange.

BY WREN SANDERS

PHOTOGRAPHY BY LUKE GILFORD

One winter morning in Altadena, I follow the smell of sweat and the sounds of Kelela into the bedroom of a rented home, where a heap of queers tussle atop a satin-sheeted mattress. Amid the pile are four nonbinary models (names: Rae, Jay, Ray, and Raw), a couple who will spend the afternoon passionately making out, and, at its center, Kristen Stewart and Katy O’Brian — co-stars of A24’s thriller Love Lies Bleeding — gripping each other with sapphic warmth.

Shoots like these can be fun, but they’re almost never this fun — a sentiment that’s palpable on set, as giggles echo, limbs intertwine, and cover stars prance around in their boxers. Between the playful atmosphere and laid-back styling, Stewart is in her element, a welcome change for the longtime couture muse. “I’ve been wanting to do this photo shoot for the last 15 years,” she beams after wrapping the day.

We’re sitting on a ratty couch in the makeshift music studio of the Altadena home. A thick knob of palo santo burns on a nearby table strewn with discarded joints and empty bottles of Coors Light. Stewart wears a black Dickies bomber and cream-colored Carharts. Sunlight slants through the smoke as she reflects further on the shoot: “It feels a little bit like, duh, but in a way that’s nice and in no way scathing. In a way that [shows how] I have grown into a chiller, more mature place, where I’m not so pissed that this didn’t happen 15 years ago anymore.”

That the 33-year-old former child star would be eager to partake in such a gay tableau at this moment in her career makes sense; after decades of leading Hollywood juggernauts from Twilight to Charlie’s Angels, her recent projects have been defined by creative agency and unruly queer narratives. Today, audiences around the country can catch her as Lou, the elegantly mulleted manager of a seedy gym in Love Lies Bleeding, which opened in theaters nationwide on Friday. Also in the pipeline: the starring role in a genre-spanning portrait of critic Susan Sontag and an adaptation of Lidia Yuknavitch’s 2011 memoir The Chronology of Water, which will mark her feature directorial debut.

For fans who have been paying attention, Stewart’s upcoming slate is not some sudden swerve. From her work on 2014’s Still Alice to her Oscar-nominated take on Princess Diana in Pablo Larrain’s Spencer, she has long focused on independent cinema. That said, we’ve never seen anything from Stewart quite like Love Lies Bleeding. Sure, there were subtle ripples of queer desire pulsing through her part in Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria. And yes, she even played an out(ish) lesbian in Clea DuVall’s 2020 holiday rom-com, Happiest Season. But there’s a difference between being the “hidden vegetables” of a family-friendly movie designed to promote tolerance, as Stewart now sees the Hulu original, and being the controlling softbutch at the heart of a film that brazenly portrays some of the fucked-up shit real dykes go through.

“The identity was beaten out of my goals there,” she says of Happiest Season. “I was getting so many studio executive notes about my hair and my clothes. I was like, ‘You did read the script. You did hire me. What are we doing here?’ It was fucking annoying.”

She continues, “And it’s fine, because I guess there are ways that you need to shroud things for everyone to easily digest. And I’m down with that. And honestly, fucking hats off to Clea, because I don’t have the patience [to do] that.”

With her latest, there was no shrouding necessary. “It’s pretty fucking sick,” she says with a laugh.

If Love Lies Bleeding represents a kind of breakthrough performance for Stewart, the project represents a more traditional breakout for her co-star, Katy O’Brian, who auditioned for the role of Jackie — her first lead in a feature — after a fan DMed her the casting call on Twitter. “A gay bodybuilder from the Midwest,” read O’Brian, herself a gay former bodybuilder from the Midwest. I’ll die if I don’t get this part, she thought.

In person, the 35-year-old martial artist and Mandalorian actor appears every bit as powerful as Jackie, her biceps ready-made for TikTok thirst. Though unlike her character, whose pyrotechnic rage drives the film, O’Brian is goofy and unguarded — “a little dork,” to use her words.

While eating lunch at a small park in Beverly Hills, she relates her initial impression of the script: “Holy shit.” I can see her eyes widen through the chestnut glass of her aviators as she remembers that mixture of enthusiasm and terror. “I’m shaking as I’m reading,” O’Brian recalls. This is definitely going to be the most challenging role that I’ve ever played.

It would also be the most exciting. “Because [Jackie] was a full character with real stakes and real emotions,” she tells me. “And there were some [sex] scenes, too.”

There sure as hell were. In fact, those deftly realized sequences are part of why Love Lies Bleeding reflects a turning point not only in the careers of its lead actors, but also the landscape of modern sapphic cinema. Arriving at the end of an era almost comically saturated with a certain sort of lesbian narrative — that is, largely tepid, often white, and invariably antiquated — Rose Glass’ propulsive second feature embodies everything that films like these were not. It’s horny, it’s brash, and it’s invested in portraying contemporary queer relationships with all the telltale markings of tenderness and toxicity that make them legibly ours. Only rarely since the Wachowskis’ Bound have onscreen dykes made such a delicious mess. This was the plan all along, the director notes with a wry smile. “There are a lot of very tasteful lesbian period dramas out there,” she tells me over Zoom. “I knew I didn’t want to make that kind of film.”

What she did make is a sapphic fever dream on steroids, a lurid, gloriously gay romp starring a brawny soon-to-be heartthrob and the most recognizable queer actress of her generation.

What would you do for love? Would you run away from home? Would you fight? Would you kill? These questions have inspired scores of romantic thrillers. Lucky for us, Love Lies Bleeding adds some new prompts to the canon, namely: What would you do for sex so good it makes you feel reborn? So validating it replaces the loose ends of a rudderless life with sudden, undeniable purpose? How far would you go for a pious top who worships at your altar? For a switchy princess who makes you feel like a god?

Enter Kristen Stewart’s Lou and Katy O’Brian’s Jackie. Set in a nowhere southwestern town during Reagan’s America, Love Lies Bleeding is at once a revenge story and a refreshingly empathetic depiction of infatuation, one that treats the subject with curiosity rather than as a cautionary tale. Where other films might focus on the tragic consequences of romantic obsession, this one seeks to understand how two characters who barely know each other can take their love to murderous extremes.

“What I love about this movie is that the queerness isn’t the conflict,” says O’Brian. “It’s the type of film that I, as a queer person, would want to watch — to not have drama around my sexuality, and to just admire these two absolutely wacky individuals.”

Our protagonists collide early, when Jackie stops by Lou’s gym on her way to a competition in Vegas. The meeting reads easily as cosmic; time seems to slow as they flirt between the bench presses. For O’Brian, the moment evokes memories of her own first brush with queer attraction. “I had the same experience the first time I saw someone with that kind of androgynous look — someone who wasn’t worried about putting on all the stupid fucking makeup and stuff,” she tells me. “That was my awakening.”

Back in the gym, Jackie gamely pulls down her shorts, offering a cheek to fill with Romanian steroids. “Feel it already?” Lou grins after administering the injection. “Like Popeye and his spinach.” Soon the pair have made it to Lou’s apartment, where they stumble passionately toward a honey-lit bed. What follows is the first in a series of striking love scenes — energetic yet unhurried, earnestly erotic without tipping into sapphic pandering. “Compared to something like The Handmaiden, where you’re watching them go at it and screaming, this is a lot more intimate,” O’Brian observes.

Stewart agrees, noting that what makes the scenes hot is more than a granular attention to physical maneuvering. “It’s not about [showing] simulated sex on film,” she tells me. “I’m so embarrassed by that. I’m so sick of watching it. I’m so sick of doing it.”

The actor is far more interested in the sexual subtext and tacit dialog that fuel onscreen intimacy — “the ways that you let the person you’re with either take over or be consumed,” she explains. “Those were choices, and they were very articulate, yet nonverbal decisions that we made together. And without that dynamic, nobody would have cum. Literally, you could almost take the body out of it. You could tell me the right thing, and that’s what’s going to get me there. Tell me I am something to you. Tell me I can be taller than you, even though I’m 5’5”, and you’re fucking 5’10”, and I’m there.”

Jackie and Lou’s instant attraction is even more remarkable knowing the decidedly unsexy circumstances of their real-life counterparts’ first meeting. This was back in 2022, on a warm spring morning in Los Angeles. Stewart had already been cast and O’Brian was coming by for a chemistry read.

“I never thought I’d meet Kristen Stewart. Then I walked in, and she was just there. I was like, Huh, it’s Kristen Stewart. That’s cool,” O’Brian remembers. Not long after, while another potential Jackie was screaming in the other room, the newcomer decided to introduce herself. “I should just go talk to her and see what the vibe is… [see] if we can do this,” O’Brian tells me. “So I went up to her and said, ‘Hey, I’m Katy. I’m reading for Jackie. And Kristen is just like, No shit.”

So far, it doesn’t sound like the kind of interaction that translates naturally into licking each other’s armpits in front of a director, which at this point is less than an hour away. “I told her, ‘I had a super short drive here, but it felt long because my cat peed in my car, and I can’t get it out,’” O’Brian says. “And that’s how I met Kristen.”

When I ask Stewart about the encounter, she says the actors’ mismatched energies actually positioned them ideally for the roles they played. “The weird interpretations we had of our characters, and what might be happening in a given moment, they were never the same,” she explains. “It was perfect, because they’re obsessed with each other even while they’re [rarely] having the same conversation.”

Some two years and one six-month shoot later, the actors share space easily, at one point draping themselves around each other on a sun-drenched couch. During a break in photography, I pull up a seat. We’re chatting about astrology when O’Brian excavates a frayed notebook from between the cushions. I gulp, noticing the familiar coffee-stained pages. That’s my journal, I tell her, sheepishly.

“Can I take a look?” she grins, aware of how audacious the request is, and yet charmingly unbothered.

“Sure.”

Stewart watches quietly from the other side of the sofa as O’Brian flips, stops, then slowly reads aloud, “Good girl.”

I glance around nervously, flustered by the sudden intimacy. “A line from your movie,” I croak.

Stewart brightens, quickly recognizing the moment — one in which Lou oozes approval as Jackie touches herself. “There’s nothing better than that feeling,” she exclaims, projecting herself into O’Brian’s character. “Tell me I’m doing a good job; God, I’ll do anything.”

Later, Stewart elaborates on the potency that sexual narratives carry: “We’re all in our heads, it’s all fantasy. That doesn’t mean it’s a lie, but we need to believe the stories we hear about ourselves in order to then reckon with a body, put it out in the world, and allow it to be touched in the way you’ve decided feels good.”

The thing is, sometimes the stories we tell to turn ourselves on leave us with pieces missing when morning comes. Jackie and Lou learn this the hard way. About halfway through the film, after a night of bitter fighting and transcendent sex, our lovers wake up to a brutal twist, sending them down a bloody path of retribution.

Contrasting countless timid movies about unrequited yearning, Love Lies Bleeding actually lets its dykes fuck around and find out, subverting what it even means to be a “lesbian” film. “To imply that ‘our’ experience can be in a genre of its own is dangerous. I don’t want to perpetuate that,” says Stewart. “We have so much unearthing to do — so much unabashed self-exploration and self-touch. We need to touch base, dude. It’s the only way to tell stories: from the inside.”

Amid the beauty and chaos of rippling muscles and exploding cars, Glass finds subtle ways to continue the sapphic coding. Notably, as O’Brian points out, Lou pulls up to a crime scene in a curiously specific get-up. “She puts on her murder outfit,” the actor giggles. “She’s got this red jumpsuit with short sleeves. It’s stylish, but a murder cleanup outfit? It’s hilarious.” (I guess if we can have farmers market chic, we can have the perfect little fit to dispose of a dead body.)

In truth, Jackie’s just getting started. Yet even as the film descends deeper into violence, it still traces the textures of codependence woven through relationships we can actually recognize. Yes, the stakes have been played up for dramatic effect. But who among us hasn’t chased the promise of love into the jaws of infatuation?

Back in Altadena, Kristen and I are talking about blood. Specifically, she’s describing the sensory inspiration for her upcoming adaptation of The Chronology of Water, Lidia Yuknavitch’s stunning exploration of grief, kink, and adolescent ambition.

“I love the book. I love how it’s written — I can smell it. I can feel it pulsing, I can feel it leaking, and that needs to be seen,” she tells me. “The first shot in the movie is just blood seeping out of the body.”

Real blood, the director adds, then wonders aloud: “Do I get her to fill a DivaCup, or do I get a vial of blood from a vein? It needs to be chunky.”

She’s talking about Imogen Poots, who’s set to star in the film. “I’m going to get her blood and my own probably,” Stewart muses.

Using her own body isn’t the only way she seeks to bring herself to the adaptation. In addition to Poots, Stewart sees the rest of the cast being filled out with fellow former child stars — “people that we missed, women that just stopped getting hired because they weren’t ‘the girl’ anymore.”

“Not to say they’re not still around,” she clarifies. “But I want to give really fucking great parts to the people I looked up to when I was little. I want to put [them] in movies.”

For Stewart, stepping behind the camera is a natural transition; after feeling constricted on past sets, she craves creative flow. “Working with a bad director feels like breathing through a straw, like any truth or room to be seen is stifled,” she says. “I feel like I have nowhere else to go. I have to make a movie.”

As the final rays of the afternoon sun fill the room with amber light, our conversation turns to chemistry — the kind that brings people together, that turns us on, that inspires us to grow. I’m thinking specifically of a passage from The Chronology of Water. Opening again the journal O’Brian pulled from the couch cushions, I begin to read: “You will see that you have an underlying tone and plot to your life underneath-”

“-the story that you’ve been told,” Stewart continues, from memory. “Who would have thought of it but you — your ability to metamorphose like organic material in contact with changing elements.”

Many actors wish to be seen as the Platonic ideal of themselves, wax sculptures in the public eye; Stewart is seeking something different: the space to be mutable, to resist the confines of calcified industry expectation. “In a word I’m fucking liquid, man,” she says. It follows that this freedom would lead her to Yuknavitch, whose memoir finds beauty in “repossessing pain, repossessing bad experience, and repossessing narrative.”

“Retelling story is so necessary for survival for anyone who’s had to change the path where they were put,” she continues. “You know what I mean?”

I nod, then ask, “You’re talking about yourself a little bit, right?”

“Absolutely,” she confirms after a pause. “I don’t know who else I’d be talking about.” 

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