Metro Weekly

The Awesome Power of Katy O’Brian

Katy O'Brian thrills in the new lesbian thriller "Love Lies Bleeding," as a bodybuilder who finds her soulmate and purpose.

Katy O’Brian -- Photo: Beth Garrabrant
Katy O’Brian — Photo: Beth Garrabrant

“Katy, are you there?”

Katy O’Brian has frozen mid-sentence, her warm expression fixed in time. It’s the second time during a 45-minute Zoom call that technology has glitched.

“I don’t know what’s going on with my internet,” she apologizes, returning to the call moments later. “It’s crazy.”

What is especially crazy is how Katy O’Brian’s career has blown up over the past few years. From a stint in Ant-Man & The Wasp: Quantumania as take-no-crap rebel Jentorra, to The Mandalorian, as comms officer Elia Kane, to her latest stint as Jackie, an aspiring bodybuilder who falls in love with Kristen Stewart’s Lou in the vibrant, thrilling Love Lies Bleeding, O’Brian is leaving no corner of the cinematic cultural landscape unexplored. Later this summer, she’ll be seen in the eagerly anticipated Twisters in a role designed for comic relief, she hints.

It’s Love Lies Bleeding, though, that’s arguably making the biggest impact at the moment. The film, written and directed by Rose Glass, defies convention, as was the case with Glass’s previous feature, 2019’s chilling, dread-inducing Saint Maud. While Bleeding also contains elements of horror, blending elements of Italian giallo with the fantastical, it remains at its core very much a love story between two women with troubled pasts who become each other’s salvation.

The heart-pounding, vigorous story literally pours out before you, like a gush of blood, and, at times, defies logic. Things that seem like metaphors are literal, while things that seem literal are metaphors. Taut and intense, Love Lies Bleeding is packed with sex and violence, although none of it feels gratuitous, and everything services the narrative. It’s the way of Rose Glass, who is quickly becoming one of the current generation’s essential filmmakers, and O’Brian is grateful to be part of her world — not to mention getting to act opposite the very formidable Stewart.

Both women are members of the LGBTQ community, and O’Brian speaks eloquently about the authenticity of casting.

“I think if at all possible it’s important to cast someone who’s actually gay for a gay role, or actually trans for a trans role,” she says. “It gives authenticity to it, but it also allows people who have not been afforded those opportunities in the past to be able to participate.”

Love Lies Bleeding:  Katy O’Brian, Kristen Stewart -- Photo: Anna Kooris
Love Lies Bleeding: Katy O’Brian, Kristen Stewart — Photo: Anna Kooris

METRO WEEKLY: You were born and raised in Indiana. What was growing up in Indiana like for you?

KATY O’BRIAN: It was kind of interesting. I lived in a really cool area, in a historic home. My grandpa was a judge. My grandma was a social worker, and we lived with them. Then they passed away and we moved into an apartment and had to, I guess, figure out where we were going to go next.

I tried to do a whole bunch of things when I was a kid. I tried gymnastics, but I got kicked out of the gymnastics class, because I wouldn’t participate. I tried ice skating, I got kicked out of that. Tried tennis. They told me that I was never going to be good at tennis, so I should stop trying. So it was just a lot of me trying stuff out as a kid, with my mom just basically throwing me into stuff to see if it stuck.

And one thing that stuck was I took a monster class and just got really into movie monsters and how people created their characters. I got really fascinated with Lon Chaney, even as a little kid. And then started doing theater, and we were in a commercial agency for a while and tried to do that route. And then high school was all marching band and symphonic band and all percussion stuff and theater. Then in college, I finally was like, “Oh, I’ve got to do something realistic that’s going to pay the bills.” So I thought I would do psychology. I wound up in this police cadet program that they had at my university, and then I went back and forth as to whether I’d go straight to grad school or if I would need a break. And I took a break and worked in the city as a police officer for several years.

MW: I want to go back for a moment to the sports. It’s ironic that you were being told you’re not going to be good at sports, and in fact, you are an athlete.

O’BRIAN: The tennis thing, I’ll say this, I’m left-handed and people tried to train me right-handed. And then I got really better at right-handed and then when they tried to teach me left, it was a whole thing. So I struggled to figure out the left, right-handed thing for a while. But I think the sport that finally stuck for me was karate. My dad signed my brother, me, and himself up for that. So we just did this family karate class, which was really fun. And then I did a couple of other team sports and things, but I think obviously long-term martial arts is what caught my attention.

MW: I also want to bring up Indiana for a moment. Its legislature has been pretty hostile to LGBTQ community. How do you feel about your state?

O’BRIAN: Obviously, sometimes I’ll see some legislation that comes through that I’m really disappointed. When I go there I don’t feel like anybody treats me poorly, but that might be my own opinion or experience, I guess. I went to school in Bloomington at Indiana University, which is one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in the nation. But then it’s surrounded by one of the worst states in the nation. So it’s a weird kind of aura, like this undertone of discomfort where people are nice to your face, but you’re like, “Okay, but you’re still passing this legislation detrimental to the community.”

At the same time, I saw some checks and balances at certain points. I know at one point [Mike] Pence, when he was governor, passed some kind of anti-LGBTQ legislation, and a lot of businesses left. So Indianapolis had to adjust and realize, “Oh, okay, if we want young people to come in and support our city and support our businesses, we have to open our minds a little bit.” So I mean, I don’t think it’s as bad as it comes off in the media, but it’s still not great.

Katy O'Brian at Love Lies Bleeding Premiere
Katy O’Brian at Love Lies Bleeding Premiere

MW: Pence actually backtracked quite a bit at the time.

O’BRIAN: He had to. They were losing business.

MW: When did you come out?

O’BRIAN: It was a slow process. I think I first kind of realized that I might be attracted to women in college, because it was the first time that I had seen someone who was androgynous and wasn’t worried about putting on appearances or anything. And it just was something that was different and something that I was drawn to. Otherwise, I was just not really interested in dating before that. I think when I was maybe 23, I had my first actual girlfriend, and that’s when I would say that I fully came out.

MW: How did the family take it?

O’BRIAN: My parents were great. I think they kind of assumed when I wasn’t falling over in love with some guy. I think they’re probably a little suspicious. So they didn’t have any issue with it — at least that they brought up to me. And if they struggled with it personally, then they didn’t let me see that, which was nice. The rest of my family, I don’t really know, because I didn’t ask them how they felt. I just started showing up to family events with my girlfriends.

MWThat’s a good approach.

O’BRIAN: Yeah, I don’t really care how they felt about it. It doesn’t matter.

MW: I’m part of the generation who same-sex marriage was never really on the table for. We never even conceived of that. You’re part of a generation where marriage actually became a possibility when you were still in your 20s, early 30s, and you in fact did get married. What does it mean to you that you could marry your partner?

O’BRIAN: I mean, it’s incredible for a lot of reasons. Even as a kid when you would hear same-sex marriage is illegal or whatever, you’re like, “Why?” As a kid, it never made sense to me why that would be illegal, because I’m like, “It’s just two people together.”

There was a big part of me that thought for the longest time that I would never get married. And it wasn’t just for the sake of being illegal or anything like that. It was just like I never thought that I would connect with someone at a level where I would want to marry them. So that was kind of the revolution for me: to run into someone that was just so weird and so unique and so unusual that I was so drawn to them that I would have to marry them and stay with them forever.

And knowing that I could do that when that person came into my life was, I mean, it was amazing. It kind of felt like our relationship was, in a way, validated, which is kind of a sad thing to have to think about. But yeah, I mean, there’s a weird dichotomy to it, because I’ve lived when it wasn’t, and I lived when it was. By the time I thought I would be ready to be married, it was already legal, so I felt, “Great, the stars have aligned for me.”

MW: How long have you been married?

O’BRIAN: Three and a half years. We did a very non-romantic Covid wedding at a ticket booth in Anaheim.

MWA ticket booth?

O’BRIAN: [Laughs.] We wanted to go to a really cute courthouse and have a beautiful little exterior, but all of those cute courthouses shut down because of Covid, and all you could do was drive up to this ticket booth and get out of the car. You were allowed one witness, you had to have masks on. You get married and then you just drive away. It was at the Anaheim Honda Center, so they put up little Anaheim Honda cutouts and stuff like that to, I don’t know, make it as cute as they could. It was so stupid, but it was really fun. We made the most of it.

MW: That’s a memorable wedding. You’re not going to forget the circumstances of that.

O’BRIAN: Yeah, it’s really easy to remember.

MW: What’s your wife’s name?

O’BRIAN: Kylie Chi.

MWIs she in the acting field as well?

O’BRIAN: No, she would die in front of a camera. She’s a screenwriter, so she loves to spend her time behind the scenes. She’s currently a showrunner assistant, so she’s working on developing projects and stuff. Her type of writing is endearingly inappropriate. [Laughs.]

MW: I want to take one more detour. Working as a police officer. What was that like?

O’BRIAN: It was tough. I mean, I think it was a big learning experience for me, and at the end of the day, I did not enjoy it, which is why I left. I started when I was 20, so at first it seemed like something that would be really exciting. Then reality hits you very quickly. I will say that at one point, I was given extra training in our crisis intervention team, which deals with helping people who are in crisis. So it’s like suicide prevention, dementia, autism, someone who’s having a psychotic breakdown, things like that. So you have special training to go in and talk to those people and work with them and try to calm the situation down. In doing that I felt a lot of relief, because I felt like I was genuinely able to, at least in a moment, at least for a few seconds, really help somebody.

But you start to see that it’s kind of like everybody’s set up for failure in a way. You take somebody to get help at a mental hospital, and there’s not enough beds for them, so they just put them right back out on the street. And it’s like, “Well, how is this person going to get help?” And then you might take someone who assaulted their spouse or whatever to jail, and they’re out the next day, and then they’re back together. So it’s this weird cycle, and it’s so difficult to really get people the help that they need.

So it was discouraging, but at the same time, it’s just doing the best with what you’ve got and learning about as many resources as you have to use to try to help people out. But I think it was a life experience that I definitely needed. It showed me a little bit about what the world is like.

MW: The police are increasingly criticized and vilified in the LGBTQ community. Having worked as a police officer, do you think some of that criticism is warranted?

O’BRIAN: Look, I think whenever you’re given a position of power, you have to act responsibly with that. And I think that not a lot of people do, and it’s really important to check that. I think if you go into law enforcement, you have to expect that not everybody’s going to like you. And to be fair, not all laws are just, and it really feels crappy that you have to enforce some of those laws.

But yeah, I mean, sometimes I think it’s warranted. Sometimes I think people are doing the best with what they have, but I mean, everybody has to see the world the way that they feel that it needs to be seen. So yeah, I don’t fault people for that, and I certainly can’t fault people for their personal experiences.

MW: I’m sure that being a police officer helped inform your acting ultimately. Much as your bodybuilding career no doubt helped to inform your performance in Love Lies Bleeding.

O’BRIAN: Everybody looks back on their life however they want, but I feel like I’ve been very fortunate in that every little thing that’s happened to me has, I think, informed how I live my life. So I definitely think it helps with acting like everything that I’ve done, the physicality and the discipline of bodybuilding keeps you focused in this career that can be otherwise very chaotic.

So I think a lot of that has made a difference. The police experience — I think it’s like you really have to learn to listen to people, and you have to learn to be able to read an entire room if you’re doing it correctly. And that’s super integral to acting, because acting is listening. Acting is reacting. It’s taking in what someone is really saying, not just what they’re saying on the surface and responding in one way or another.

MW: Let’s talk about Love Lies Bleeding. It’s a real breakout role for you, and you play virtually every single possible human emotion within the film’s narrative. Can you talk a little bit about just the breadth of that kind of acting job?

O’BRIAN: One of the things that I loved about the script was that it was just well-written from the start. So even the way that Jackie was written in her dialogue is how I speak. It was very clear where Jackie was at any given point, and it just felt immediate and natural. And I always say that you can’t out-act bad writing, you can’t do it. So I was already given a gift of amazing writing.

I wanted to make Jackie as fully formed a human being as possible, despite what you see on this exterior. She’s got muscles, she’s got tiny outfits, she puts on this facade, but I really wanted people to see that there’s a human being underneath that, because I think a lot of times people base their entire opinion off of what somebody just looks like from a distance and don’t give them any kind of humanity.

Love Lies Bleeding: Katy O’Brian -- Photo: Anna Kooris
Love Lies Bleeding: Katy O’Brian — Photo: Anna Kooris

MW: What was it like working with Rose Glass?

O’BRIAN: Rose is so unique. I’m used to working in a more formulaic atmosphere, and she’s really intuitive. It’s finding those little moments as we’re going through the scene over and over again. The struggle with that is obviously in a lower budget production, you have to be very fragile with your time so it was kind of neat that she was able to find those moments so quickly within a scene.

But then she also just has this wild, unique imagination. I mean, she came up with this movie. She has this strange idea for how she wants things to be done, even if it doesn’t seem like it makes sense to you in the moment.

And as quiet and as shy as she comes off, she sticks to her guns when it comes to those moments. She’s like, “No, it really needs to be this way.” And it plays off on screen in a way that you would not, as an actor or as a participant on the interior, have thought it would. So yeah, she was really great. I don’t want to say that she wouldn’t let us do our own thing either — she was very collaborative and really trusted us with our performances too, which was really cool. Especially me coming in, having not done a role to this scale before. So yeah, it just felt kind of like I was able to just cut loose.

MW: You did Ant-Man and are basically acting in a green screen environment for most of the shooting. Was it a shock to actually be on a tangible set and have real items around you?

O’BRIAN: Everything was kind of fixed to the set in Ant-Man. So if I picked it up, I might break something. But in Love Lies Bleeding, it was like there’s a pencil on the table that’s an actual pencil on the table. I can pick it up, I can put it back, whatever. It was like being in a playground and it was fun to see how other people interacted with the environment around them too. It made things feel more natural and more lived in and yeah, just real.

MW: Let’s talk about that bodybuilding scene because you’ve gone through competitions. Clearly this is back in the ’80s, but how authentic did it feel to you? I’ve never been to one to be honest.

O’BRIAN: There are a few changes to modern bodybuilding. The ’80s was such a cool time, because around when we were filming, we were slipping into the ’90s. And there was this big kind of political uproar within bodybuilding as to how muscular they actually wanted women to be. It used to be just a little bit of tone, and they almost used to be wrestling ring girls where they would just come out and do poses, but not even really have a lot of musculature. It was more for show. It gradually evolved into what it is today.

So I think today we’re kind of seeing this extreme version of bodybuilding, which used to be considered extreme in the ’80s when it was considered weird for women to have muscle at all. Now performance-enhancing drugs are way more rampant. I don’t want to say everybody does it, I don’t want to put a blanket over everyone and say everyone uses drugs. But it’s like unless you have superior genetics that allow you to maintain muscle as a woman and get lean to where you can see every vein sticking out, you have to start using stuff. I would not be able to compete at a professional level in modern bodybuilding because of that.

I don’t even know what types of steroids they use or diuretics — I know insulin is becoming a bigger thing, especially amongst male competitors. So it’s just even more drastic of a world now.

In the ’80s they didn’t have as many categories as they do now either.

When I competed, I was in what’s called the figure category, which is just four poses. There’s a bikini category, which has its own poses. There’s physique, which is the whole routine, like what we did in the movie. But otherwise, I mean, it does kind of seem like the behind-the-scenes feels right. It’s usually at a hotel or somewhere random that you’re not really expecting it to be at. You walk in back and people are spray tanning you, and some people don’t want to pay for that, so they’re rubbing the tan on themselves. I think they did a really great job catching the behind-the-scenes moments and then the intensity and discomfort of being on the stage and having to flex and be tense, but also pretend that you’re being light and airy.

MW: The bodybuilding competition is a great scene. The whole sequence of you doing your routine is so beautifully put together, the elegance of what you’re doing. Did you have to — what’s the term? — “beef up” for it?

O’BRIAN: It was more of trying to maintain the muscle that I already had, and then it was just cutting weight, because they gave me two weeks’ notice that I booked the project before I had to be on set. So it was just leaning out basically while working out and trying to make sure that the muscle that I had didn’t go away. I tend to do kind of a bodybuilding workout on my off time anyway, just because it’s what I’m used to, and I go into the gym — it’s like my safe place, I guess.

MW: I have to get to the sex scenes. I saw Drive-Away Dolls a few weeks before this film. So two intense lesbian films in a row and both arguably have really powerful, no-holds-barred scenes of sensuality and sex, this even more so. Explicit isn’t the right word, but the sex is at a level that we haven’t seen in a while in LGBTQ films. What was it like to play those sex scenes with Kristen Stewart? I think they’re so integral to the movie. They’re servicing the plot in an important way.

O’BRIAN: Yeah, and I love that. Obviously, you don’t want to just have random gratuitous sex for no reason, because it seems abusive. It’s fun to go back and watch the scenes because you just remember how awkward everything was when you were filming them, and not just because you’re doing this intimate act with somebody, but because you’re in these small spaces. At one point, I think our camera operator was hovering over us, and the camera’s really close to you when you’re naked, basically. And the poor boom operator is trying to look away and also trying to find space in this crowded room. So there’s that external awkwardness that you have to shut off and try not to be aware of, even though it’s right in your face.

And then it’s Albuquerque, so it’s 112 degrees, and we can’t have air conditioning flowing, so we’re dripping sweat. So I’m already like, “Okay, Kristen’s going to be disgusted by how sweaty I am right now.” It’s like an intimate nightmare.

And then they put all of these layers of protection on us, so at no point is her face actually touching any of my privates, but it’s so hot that they’re just coming off. So there’s all of this weirdness to it.

We did get to work with an intimacy coordinator, which was really awesome. We got to talk about separately what things were big “no’s” for us, and what we were fine with. We went over the scenes in detail just verbally. And then when we go to shoot for rehearsal, you just do the blocking. So you’re just kind of like, “This is where we’ll be,” but you’re not really touching each other. So the first time that you’re actually touching each other is when cameras are rolling. It is the first time that we’re doing this stuff, so it’s like it feels fresh, it feels new, but it also feels comfortable and safe.

And Rose was really great at setting that up. Kristen and I talked about it, and our whole thing was we just wanted to make sure the other person was comfortable. So it was a really great environment. It’s nice that people forget about this scene, I guess, but with Dave Franco at the beginning, also an absolute gem, super professional, and totally down to embarrass himself. But the reality of what’s happening kind of clicks in sometimes. So at the end of that scene, he throws a condom out the window. And the last take, our props person was like, “Did you throw it out the wrong window?” And he’s like, “No, it’s over here.” And they pull up another one from the ground that was just there from reality. So we’re like, “Well, we’re in an alley in New Mexico….”

MW: The scene with Franco introduces sex in a negative way compared to what comes later with you and Stewart, the obvious passion and tenderness. It serves as an important contrast. I have to ask, did Kristen really lick chocolate shake off you, or was that a body double?

O’BRIAN: [Laughs.] No, that was me. That was me. So I hate being sticky. I don’t love it. And that was really sticky. So yes, that was me, chunky milkshake all down my neck, chest, whatever. There was a lot of licking.

Love Lies Bleeding: Katy O’Brian, Kristen Stewart -- Photo: Anna Kooris
Love Lies Bleeding: Katy O’Brian, Kristen Stewart — Photo: Anna Kooris


MW: I’m going to assume many of our readers have seen the film by this point, and if not, we’ll say right here that a huge spoiler follows. I’m curious how you interpret the ending, where Jackie grows into a giant.

O’BRIAN: Originally, I was supposed to be completely naked, and my makeup artist actually suggested having the bodybuilding outfit. And then they were like, “Okay, let’s make it glittery, and let’s make her look like she wanted to look on her competition day.” So it was kind of this feeling of self-actualization like you don’t need those accolades finally to be powerful. And it was kind of this love is your power kind of thing. You could see it like that — but Rose is also very cheeky, and she’s just like, “I just wanted to do something fun. I wanted to throw some fun out there.”

So she’s not really interested in analyzing the movie too much, and I think that’s really fun, because you can sit there and come up with whatever you want and whatever it means to you. For me, it was Jackie finding her power, and at least in that moment, because then Lou also finds it through love, as well, right after, and we’re gallivanting through the clouds. How do you see it?

MW: I chose not to take it as a metaphor. And I noticed the moment is foreshadowed early in the film with a clip from Gulliver’s Travels. So, I took it literally.


MW: You’re one of the few people who’ve been in Marvel and in Star Wars. You’re in Mandalorian. You’re in Quantumania. What is it like to be part of two of the biggest franchises out there?

O’BRIAN: It’s cool. I’m also in DC, but people forget about it.

MW: What’s the DC one?

O’BRIAN: I’m in Black Lightning. I feel like they didn’t promote that show as well as they should have. But it’s fun.

But yeah, it feels like a lot of pressure in a weird way. It’s fun because it’s the universe that everybody knows and that you enjoy being in usually, and it’s fun, wild, crazy, whatever. But it’s also like the character’s already done, it’s already been created, and you’re just kind of portraying this thing that’s been around for years and years and years. Versus something like Love Lies Bleeding, where you are the first person to create this character. You’re the first person to play this character. You’re the first person to get to explore this world. And I think that there’s a little bit more ownership to that for me, and it’s a little more exciting for me. But yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of nostalgia that goes into being in those other universes, for sure.

MW: You’re about to be in another potential blockbuster this summer — Twisters, the sequel to 1996’s Twister. Do you have a big role?

O’BRIAN: I’m not one of the leads. Anthony Ramos, Glen Powell, and Daisy Edgar-Jones are the top three. But I get to have fun. And I’m definitely a more — I’ll say a sillier character than I usually get to play, which I’m really excited about, because I just got to go out there and have a good time.

MW: Well, we’re being given the sign to wrap this up. So I’m going to trot out my stock ending question: Are you happy in your life right now?

O’BRIAN: Yeah, I am. I think my wife and I are slowly getting to accomplish the things that we want. My big thing is my wife and I still haven’t gone on our honeymoon, and part of that is Japan just recently opened up, and that’s where we want to go, because Covid derailed things. But it’s also like I’ve been very fortunate to get to work, even in times where work’s been slow for a lot of people. But the honeymoon is the big thing that I want to do — that’s going to be my next big checkoff. And then we’re talking kids. But yeah, I feel extremely blessed and fortunate for where I am so far.

Love Lies Bleeding is playing in theaters nationwide. Visit

Follow Katy O’Brian on X at @thekatyo.

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