The Inverse Interview

“Trashy, But Beautiful”: Love Lies Bleeding Relishes In Its Toxic Love Affair

The director and star of Love Lies Bleeding talk about bringing the sapphic neo-noir to life.

The Inverse Interview

Rose Glass has never actually seen the Twilight movies, but she’s wanted to work with Kristen Stewart as long as she can remember. The writer-director first caught the actor in Panic Room, the 2002 thriller directed by David Fincher. Stewart was just 12 at the time; as fate would have it, so was Glass.

“I can very clearly remember seeing Panic Room for the first time and thinking, ‘Oh, who’s this boyish-looking girl? She’s cool,’” Glass recalls on a recent call with Inverse. It wasn’t until much later, catching Stewart in such indie landmarks as Personal Shopper and Certain Women, that Glass connected the dots. In the span of a decade, that boyish-looking girl had grown into one of the most “enigmatic, fascinating” performers of her time. Glass had made a name for herself, too, just on the other side of the camera — and after her debut film, Saint Maud, made major waves with A24, the filmmaker was set on looping Stewart into her next project.

That dream became a reality with Love Lies Bleeding, Glass’ sophomore feature and second collaboration with A24. Glass had Stewart expressly in mind for the part of Lou, a reclusive gym manager caught in a cycle of ultraviolence. Stewart joined the project shortly after reading the script, cementing one half of what Glass conceived as a debauched, sapphic crime saga — but finding Lou’s love interest, Jackie, would prove a bit more difficult.

The Perfect Chemistry

The search for Jackie reportedly went on for months before Love Lies Bleeding found Katy O’Brian. In truth, though, it was the other way around. “When it was announced, they put out a casting call for my character and I didn't get an audition,” the Mandalorian actor told Inverse’s Dais Johnston in 2023. O’Brian later learned of the search via Twitter, and shot her shot by tweeting a photo of herself alongside the caption: “I’m free.”

A proper audition wasn’t far behind. “I put a PowerPoint presentation together for casting. I was like, this is why I should have this audition. I wound up getting one right after,” O’Brian says. It’d be the first of many: the process was one of the longest and “most grueling” that O’Brian had ever faced; she had to audition twice before she ever got into the room with Stewart and Glass. Looking back on it now, O’Brian tells Inverse it was all worth it.

“I do appreciate auditioning. I love the process. I love finding the character and doing that collaboration upfront,” she explains. “But I would say that after a few auditions you're just kind of like, ‘Hey, it’s either me or it’s not.’”

“Their connection had to feel very electric, and immediate and impulsive, far more than it is intellectual or sensible.”

Fortunately, Glass had no one else in mind. “I had a very good feeling,” she recalls of O’Brian’s audition. “By that point we’d seen so many people, and I was starting to get a bit worried that we'd never find the right person.” As Love Lies Bleeding is partially set in the world of competitive bodybuilding, Glass was adamant about getting someone who could look and play the part. O’Brian’s chemistry read with Stewart — the third trial of six — cemented her as Jackie in Glass’ mind.

“I think it’s the combination of, one: she’s got this incredible physicality. She’s done bodybuilding before and trained as a martial artist. There’s no shortcuts to looking the way she does: she’s put in years of work,” Glass says. The second virtue came with O’Brian’s “incredible warmth and softness,” as well as a vulnerability that helped to sell the “great and terrible” duality of Love Lies Bleeding.

Embracing a Toxic Romance

Jackie and Lou’s love affair is far from idyllic: “There’s definitely a few toxic traits in there,” Glass admits.


Glass’ sophomore feature serves as a deconstruction of the “strong woman” archetype. Stewart’s Lou and O’Brian’s Jackie are two sides of one volatile coin. Where Lou is the tightly-wound, overprotective fixer, Jackie is a performer through and through. She’s searching for an “intrinsic inner power,” same as Lou, and the pair briefly find it in each other, but it doesn’t take long for their lust-fueled fling to curdle into something that both O’Brian and Glass describe as toxic.

“There’s definitely a few toxic traits in there,” Glass laughs. “I think a lot of their connection had to feel very kind of electric, and immediate and impulsive, far more than it is intellectual or sensible.” Glass and her co-writer, Weronika Tofilska, were “slightly pushing against this idea of romantic love being this ultimate aspirational thing that brings out the best in people.” There’s a clear conflict between love and morality in Love Lies Bleeding, and that conflict resonates throughout the film’s many impassioned detours.

“That’s kind of the line we’re trying to straddle: beautiful trash.”

“We kept getting notes in post-production: ‘We’re not sure about this bit, it makes their relationship seem a little bit toxic,’” says Glass. “But it’s like, ‘They murder people! Of course!’”

O’Brian, meanwhile, was a bit less intimidated by her volatile scenes with Stewart than she was by Jackie’s descent into madness. As she preps for a bodybuilding expo in Las Vegas, Jackie starts taking steroids, a choice that kickstarts a jarring physical transformation and allows the film to get into some truly bonkers territory. Crucially, Love Lies Bleeding never posits Jackie and Lou as role models — but O’Brian still had to find a way to embody Jackie’s aggression without completely alienating the audience.

Jena Malone, Katy O’Brian, Kristen Stewart, and Anna Baryshnikov at the Love Lies Bleeding premiere.

Michael Buckner/Variety/Getty Images

“It’s intimidating to walk in and be vulnerable and to know that this person isn't perfect and people are probably going to hate them,” the actor admits. Add Glass’ penchant for surreal, shocking imagery, and O’Brian really had to dive into her character’s psyche, as well as her physicality.

“The big thing was reading the script,” O’Brian says. “It scared me. It’s a layered character. She has so much going on. It’s really beautifully written, but so much happens to her that I’m just like, ‘Can I pull this off?’”

O’Brian solved half of that hypothetical with the magic of hair, makeup, and wardrobe. Love Lies Bleeding sets the scene in the ‘80s, an era of big hair and even bigger muscles. O’Brian threw herself into that aspect of the character, training to achieve the “softer” style of the era. “I got to wear her outfits. I got to have that body. I got to wear the wig and walk around like that and [use] this ‘80s workout equipment that’s made for men. It was cool to just throw yourself into somebody and genuinely feel those feelings that they have,” she says. “It’s kind of addictive.”

A Shot in the Arm to the Genre

Glass builds Love Lies Bleeding on the “mythological” language of the western.

Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images

That’s all heightened by Glass’ fascination with Americana. The British-born director draws from her own ideas of the western and the noir, citing a “mythological kind of visual language” that so many films have contributed to. Showgirls, Saturday Night Fever, and David Cronenberg’s Crash each leave an imprint on Love Lies Bleeding, but Glass brings her own brand of heady horror to the proceedings as well.

“I like things that feel a bit heightened and choreographed, and sort of trashy, but beautiful at the same time,” Glass says. “That’s kind of the line we’re trying to straddle: beautiful trash.”

Love Lies Bleeding certainly finds the balance between the two. There’s no shortage of blood, guts, and bodily fluids in the film, but it’s tempered with a fair share of magical realism, too. With audiences at the Sundance Film Festival, Germany’s Berlinale, and the U.K.’s Glasglow Film Festival already raving about the project, Glass is content with the success of the film. “It’s one that I hope is a fun one to watch with an audience,” she says. “That collective groaning and gasping is what I’m about.”

Love Lies Bleeding opens in theaters on March 8.

Related Tags