Interview: Olivia Thirlby (Nobody Walks)


After the amazing roundtable interviews with Justin Kirk and Ry Russo-Young, I achieved a small personal goal of mine by meeting and interviewing the incredibly talented (and lovely) Olivia Thirlby. For those of you that know me, you know how big this was. Granted, a 1-on-1 interview would have been better, but there’s plenty of time left for that, right? During the interview, I was Joe Cool, talking with my smooth R&B voice, and looking incredibly dapper… but that’s neither here nor there!

Read on as Olivia told us more about her character, herself, and her lack of aversion towards insects.

I really, really, really loved the film Dredd, too. The cinematography’s amazing. [Dredd cinematographer Anthony] Dod Mantle deserves an Oscar nom for what he did.

I know. He’s a genius.

And you are just so much fun to watch in [Dredd], then to see you in [Nobody Walks] right after seeing Dredd

Very different. Night and day.

Where do they fall as far as, you know, what order…?

Chronologically? I filmed Dredd, and then I filmed Being Flynn, and then I filmed Nobody Walks.

Okay, so is it a really different mindset to have to switch gears and go into drama?

Yeah, it was crazy. After Dredd finished, I was having serious doubts whether I could even act anymore because after doing so much exposition and dialogue that is so rooting in [an] imaginary world [is] the hardest thing to sell, saying stuff like, “Goddammit, if I’m going to make it, you’re going to make it, too” and you’re talking about aliens. That’s the HARDEST material as an actor, in my opinion. So I came back and I did Being Flynn and I was really terrified during that film because I just felt like I had forgotten how to act. And here I was doing drama again for the first time in god knows how long, and I knew it had to be good because Robert De Niro is in the movie, too. So that was really nerve-wracking, but then I kind of wet my teeth on Being Flynn a little bit, and then by the time I got to Nobody Walks, I was feeling a bit more confident.

How was that transition from indies to action and back again?

It’s really fun. They’re so, so different. I think it would be tiring if you had the same experience every time you made a film, and so for me, I don’t have that problem. I’m really lucky in that I seem to be able to cross budgets and genres. It’s fun.

How did you feel about Martine’s [sexuality]? We were talking about it with [Nobody Walks director] Ry [Russo-Young]. And Ry did call her a slut. She was [going] from one guy to the other, and she was all over the place. When you read that, how did you say to yourself, “I’m going to have to get into a certain veilance to do this?”

Well, I think that, you know, Martine is a slut, and I use that word in the sex-positive kind of way. One thing about this film is that I don’t feel there’s any sexual shaming that gets done, and I’m not a fan of slut-shaming. I use the term “slut” in a very sex-positive way. I’m a slut and proud of it; all women should be. And I think that when it comes to Martine and Martine’s sexuality, which is a very specific thing that we focused on nailing… no pun intended. She doesn’t compartmentalize her sexuality, so it’s not like, you know, sexual Martine comes out to play when there’s a sexual moment happening. It seems to be a really big part of who she is. It’s a really big part of her art, certainly, the way she expresses herself. And there seems to just be something about her which is just sexuality, and it’s not just the kind of sexuality where she’s wearing low-cut tops; I mean, “Hello, no cleavage.” It’s not because she’s gussied up; she’s kind of androgynous-looking.

It’s just a part of who she is, and I think the fact that she doesn’t compartmentalize her sexuality is what makes other people uncomfortable and what draws men to her. And I think what gets her into some murky situations because she’s comfortable with the notion of having sex with her friends, and I think that’s something she does, and that’s something that’s pretty popular among the young kids these days. I think, personally, [it’s] a healthy view of sex. You have sex with your friends. Why not? They’re trustworthy, you know them, you like them, you know? You have sex with your friends, but then you’re still friends the next day. This is just her world, and that’s what she knows, and she makes a big mistake in that she doesn’t realize that that same kind of formula gets very, very broken when you are dealing with a married man who is falling for you. And, you know, she kind of does go from one guy to the other, but so do people in the world. Women do, men do. There’s definitely lots of sex being had, and I kind of appreciate the fact that this movie is just showing that, and it’s not really making a statement about it, one way or the other.

I actually found that very refreshing how her sexuality’s presented, but do you worry at all because of how people in society generally approach presentations of female sexuality could instantly criticize anyone who has embraced their sexuality? Do you sort of worry about reactions to the movie that way?

I mean, I can’t be worried about it. My character is very ambiguous, and I think that’s part of the movie, is showing a complicated situation and showing people’s part honestly in it. Part of what I like about the character is that she is not perfect, and she makes a big mistake, so I think that’s what makes her interesting. I think being judged for that is part of it.

Well, what about the thing with the bugs? Do you have any aversion toward bugs when you read the script, like, “Oh damn, I got to deal with ants”?

I don’t have any aversion towards bugs. I don’t like mosquitos, and I don’t like fleas. My cat had those not long ago, but I actually really like insects. I’m not afraid of them. I never, never kill them. I also live in a house that’s like a hundred years old and kind of ram shackled and there’s a lot of seams where the floor and the wall don’t totally meet. I fully cohabitate with spiders and all manners of insects, and we get along very well, although I keep finding black widows outside my house. Those I do dispose of because I don’t want my cat to eat one because that would be terrible!

You don’t want to have a run-in with one yourself, either.

That, too… but I’m only worried about my cat, though.

It’s always about the animals.

It’s always about the children. The children!

Do you think that the relationship that Martine develops with the character that India [Ennenga] plays [is] more of a function of her maturing into a big sister-type role, or do you think she kind of sees herself in that character?

I think that she sees herself in that character. I think that’s a very accurate way to put it. In this film, it’s a lot about three different women in three different stages of life and in their sexualities, and I think that what happens toward the end of the film with the Italian tutor… I’ve heard Ry and Lena say this, so I’m totally taking this from them, but they really wanted to give Martine a sort of “save the cat” moment, like a moment to cast her in an even more morally ambiguous waters, and to have her instinctually know what’s going on and what’s okay and what’s not. I like that, and I think that it’s a really strong moment for her and a testament to how strong and mature she is, that she can walk into that situation, see something which is clearly not alright, and instantly have really no fear in terms of telling that guy to leave. I think that it’s a real bonding moment for them, and I think that actually Martine has a very maternal moment and tells her that it’s not her fault. I think that that sentiment could be almost as if Martine is talking to herself. Possibly.

You and John [Krasinski] have a very interesting dynamic on-screen. Did you two get any rehearsal time to develop? Did you shoot chronologically so that your relationship would grow and shift over time?

We did do a little bit of rehearsing before we got started. We blocked out the sex scenes. That was the first order of business from Ry. John Krasinski is not a difficult person to get along with. He is very funny, as we all know, and he’s also very nice and very charming and very intelligent, and it was not a stretch to have to have a nice time with him.

What did you take away from this film personally [with] all the stuff that went on in there?

You mean what’s my personal opinion about it?

I mean, did you learn anything from it, because that part where you put your foot in the tutor’s butt really changed my opinion of [Martine] after that scene.

Yeah, sure. I think where the film leaves Martine is that she’s very young, she’s 22 or 23, and she’s walking away from a situation that was not explosive or bloody or dire; no one’s going to die, no marriages are going to end in divorce. She’s walking away from a situation and going, “…ooooh, I really could have handled that better.” I think it’s about reflection, and I’m proud to say that I am about to emerge from my early 20s. I am turning 26 on Saturday [October 6], and I am so happy that I am not in my early 20s anymore because it is a time of moral ambiguity, and I think that part of being that age is just being too young to realize when you’re acting really selfishly. That’s my opinion, and my experience, at least. I think that this film is about that time in somebody’s life, someone who’s really acting selfishly, and it’s not because they’re a bad person; it’s just that they’re a bit oblivious because they’re really young. I think this film is about interesting women in different stages of their lives.

The subject of that one line for me keeps coming up, where the man’s wife says, “This will be the last you’re going to hear from anybody in this family.” That really stuck with me. When you guys shot that, how did that feel to you to hear that?

I cried. I cried after we finished shooting that scene, and Rosemarie [DeWitt] came up to me and said, “Sorry.” She’s like, “I’m sorry!” and I was like, “You’re so good! You’re so fucking good, you made me cry!” And bless her heart, Rosemarie looked at me and she was like, “It’s not the first time I’ve done that.” She’s just that good.