26-year-old Olivia Thirlby appeared in one or two films (including Paul Greengrass’ heart-breaking, white-knuckle September 11 drama United 93) before her star-making turn in 2007’s Juno, as Ellen Page’s kooky best friend Leah.
While Page has gone on to some mainstream fare like Inception, Thirlby remained the go-to girl for quirky female parts in independent ensemble dramedies. Her first big budget mainstream attempt, The Darkest Hour, sputtered at the gate thanks to a critical drubbing, but she’s also appearing in Dredd, which many geeks and critics promise will make you forget the travesty of Stallone’s 1995 attempt.
But before that she returns to indie land with Nobody Walks the story of discord in an artistic LA family. Thirlby plays Martine, an experimental art filmmaker from New York who stays at the home of sound effects artist Peter (John Krasinski), his therapist wife Julie (Rosemarie DeWitt) and their kids.
From a script co-written by writer-of-the-moment Lena Dunham (TV’s Girls), Martine is a sexy young ingénue who throws the hormonal balance of the houeshold completely out of whack, and Thirlby explained where Martine’s coming from recently in Los Angeles.
What did you like about the script?
I thought the ensemble nature of this drama was really fascinating, all the characters were really dimensional and well developed. And I appreciate a film that doesn’t tell you how to feel about the events that are happening. I feel like this film’s a window into showing dynamics between people that are actually too subtle to even talk about sometimes.
What themes attracted you?
Sexual energy and sexual expression are really a big theme in this film. If you look at Martine’s bug film [the character’s short film project in the movie] she says she was trying to make something that wasn’t sexual to but me that film is really sexual, there’s something sensual about it. Sexual impulses are hard to control, it’s just part of being human and this film presents people who aren’t controlling their sexual impulses properly.
Any comment on the sexual politics? Every time Martine says ‘no’ it ends up being ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’.
She’s very comfortable with sex and sexuality, it’s not a compartmentalised part of who she is. She’s very confident but it doesn’t take that much for her to feel less sure-footed. Sex and friendship is supposed to be different, sex and work is supposed to be different, but for her I don’t really think it’s that simple and that’s where she runs into trouble.
Do you consider Martine as the bad guy or isn’t it that simple?
I don’t think that she’s the bad guy at all. She definitely makes a big mistake but I think her mistake is born from naivety and lack of experience rather than from any kind of malicious guile.
As I was saying, she’s comfortable with sex and she’s comfortable with the notion of having sex with her friends. I think that that’s a modern reality, and it’s something Martine’s really comfortable with. She just doesn’t have the experience to pick up on these very obvious red flags.
I think Peter [John Krasinski] definitely makes the most questionable decisions in the film because when his wife says ‘don’t embarrass me’, he takes a lot of liberty with it and can’t control his lust. He decides to twist her words and give himself permission to have an affair and that’s a little bit worse than what Martine does.
So is she a victim?
I’m hesitant to make Martine a victim, she’s a stronger character than that. Everyone is attracted to her but I don’t think she understands what that means or what it does. I don’t think she’s developed the strength to use her power well so she loses control of it. I think in ten years she’d be the strongest, most capable, intelligent and mature woman.
How was it playing a character who has that power but doesn’t know exactly where to put it?
It’s something I can identify with. Sometimes I feel like a bit of a sorceress who can’t totally control her power. It’s something a lot of young women can identify with because we get very mixed messages from society about our sexuality and whether we should use it or shouldn’t use it. It’s hard to believe any women actually get through their teens and 20s okay.
We’re told we should be ashamed of our sexual power and to use it and to experience our sexuality we should be ashamed of that. But we’re also told that in order for people to like us we have to be hot and sexual.
Anything in your personal life you could draw on to inform on that in the character?
I identify with being 22 and emerging from a situation and going, ‘Oh boy I really could’ve handled that better’. Just realising you still have a lot to learn about certain things.
Are you a Girls fan?
I am a huge fan of all things Lena Dunham. She’s a genius and I could just listen to her talk forever.
Any chance of a role on the show?
I don’t know if I should say this but I initially was going to be on Girls and I was filming something so I was unavailable. But I think the world of her and we’ve known each other since we were five years old. I would love nothing more than to collaborate with her again.
In Dredd you’re the rookie and the innocent. What were you able to draw on for that character?
There is so much with my character in Dredd that I identify with. She’s my favourite character I think I’ve ever played. She’s the most dynamic and fascinating woman. What I love about her is that her sensitivity is her greatest strength, the thing that makes her unworthy on paper is the thing which distinguishes her and makes her extraordinary in her life. I feel like it’s always about embracing what it is that you think is wrong with you, it’s often your greatest flaw that’s also your greatest strength.