At this year’s Comic-Con, I was able to sit down with Olivia Thirlby for an extended video interview. Urban was at the Con to promote his upcoming hard-R adaptation of the comic book series Judge Dredd. For those unfamiliar with the film, Dredd is an adaption of the 2000AD comics character Judge Dredd, and it stars Karl Urban, Thirlby, and Lena Headey. The film follows Dredd and rookie Judge Cassandra Anderson (Thirlby) fighting through a tower that’s crawling with thugs in their attempt to bring down drug overlord Ma-ma (Headey). I actually got to see the film at Comic-Con and it’s great.
During my interview with Thirlby we talked about the R rating, how she got involved in the project, deleted scenes, how Urban never takes off his helmet, the drug slow-mo, what it was like playing a bad ass girl, and a lot more. In addition, we also talked about Bored to Death, Red Knot, Nobody Walks, and more. Hit the jump for what she had to say.
Olivia Thirlby: This is my first time.
Thirlby: Yeah, I went to the Comic-Con in New York last year, but I think by comparison it probably can’t even touch what is going on here.
I ask this to everybody who attends these kind of Nerdapalooza festival kind of things: What is it that you collect and have you been on the convention floor yet at all?
Thirlby: No. I just got here last night and this is my first morning here. I have not even been inside the convention center yet.
Is there anything that you collect whether it be comics, posters, movie paraphernalia, or toys? Is there anything that you look on eBay for?
Thirlby: I don’t look on eBay but what I do collect is amazing memories of people expressing themselves in the most glorious way they can.
So you are not a materialistic person?
Thirlby: No, it is all about what is inside, man. [laughs]
I respect that a hundred percent. Jumping into why I am actually talking to you today; I saw the movie last night. Obviously, Lionsgate is excited because they are willing to show the whole thing way before release. I totally dug it and one of the things that is great about it is that it is a super hard-R. It is not like some bullshit with “Let’s just cross the line.” We are talking about a borderline NC-17. So was that always the case when you signed on? Did you always know that it was going to be like “…wow.”?
Thirlby: That was always the concept. They always wanted to make the world of Mega-City One and the reality of the lives of these judges and the people who are living in the slums of the city to be as graphic and real as possible. The comic book is, you know, if you read it, there are no bright colors anywhere ever. There is no sunshine and there are no smiles. This is a hard, dark, cruel, world. In order to do justice to what people love about the comics. I think the creative team always had the goal of making it incredibly graphic.
Thirlby: I do! I got to wear the helmet in one scene. I don’t know if you remember, but there is a scene where we are on our motorcycles. He is asking me what I would like to respond to and that was my one scene where I got to wear the helmet – it was very exciting. So I did have a helmet, but I think they felt, and understandably so, that they couldn’t have two people whose eyes you never see. I think having Anderson not being able to wear her helmet was a very clever trick to kind of give the audience something to look at. [laughs] I think that what Karl [Urban] does is incredible and one of the things that I am so excited about is just seeing how well what he was doing while we were shooting has translated to what is on screen with, you know, that grimace and voice that he has going on. You completely forget when you are watching the film that he is from New Zealand and has a kind of nice, normal, sounding voice. [laughs]
Was last night your first time seeing it?
Thirlby: It wasn’t, actually. It was my second time seeing it.
Often, when you sign on to do a project, a lot changes along the way. Whether it be the script, filming locations, etc… How does what you saw last night or the first time you saw it compare to the project that you signed on for?
Thirlby: I am happy to say that it is a real demonstration of what the script had in its arsenal of potential. I will say that it is exciting to see a film and remember the script and it feels it like you are watching the script come to life. The film is very close to the project that I signed on to be a part of, and that is very exciting.
Often times there are deleted scenes. Do you remember any deleted scenes that you guys shot that did not end up in the final cut?
Thirlby: I don’t know if there are any. I am probably wrong about that. But in terms of Anderson’s big stuff, I think it is all there. There might be a couple things that were added. But in terms of deleted, I am not sure that anything was.
I think what is also interesting about the film is that the drug of choice is the slow-mo. What is interesting about it is that the cameras right now like the RED and other ones can do this kind of slow-mo that no one has really thought to do. It is basically as if they incorporated a camera trick into the drug of choice in the movie. It is a really interesting use because it works, but it is also a really cool camera thing. Was that always in the script?
Thirlby: It was always in the script. That was exactly how Alex Garland had conceived it. Part of his idea about this drug was that the reason why is was becoming rampant especially in these slums was because it takes something that is dirty and nasty and turns it into something that is beautiful even if only for a split second. You know, the goings on of a drug den are suddenly infused with this kind of magical beauty. It is an ethereal beauty. The reason why people are becoming addicted to this drug is because it really is an escape from a really dark world. So there is that in combination with our DP, Anthony Dod Mantle, who is an academy award winning DP. He is absolutely brilliant and I think we have him to thank for the movie and especially the slow-mo sequences looking as beautiful as they do. He built a special camera I think. It was a 3D camera that was very small and could be handheld. I don’t think that had existed before this. He built it so he could do extreme close-up stuff.
Thirlby: I agree.
There is no getting around that part. I looked on the “always accurate” IMDB, which I know you know is crap. But I definitely want to reminisce about Bored to Death, which is a show that I really dug. Have you had a lot of people that have watched that that have said, “I really enjoyed that.”? What was your experience like making that?
Thirlby: It was a wonderful experience making that show. I was only on the first season for a few episodes, but I am a big fan of HBO and I am a big fan of the tone of the show, and of the whole creative team that was involved with it including the cast. I think that Jason [Schwartzman], Zach [Galifianakis], and Ted [Danson] are the most magnificent trio. It was a pleasure to work on that show. I am sorry that it ended in fact because I continued to watch the seasons and I just thought that they were wonderful.
There is a rumor that they might try to write a feature and there is a lot of stuff like that.
I only hear the rumor mill. Who knows, you know what I mean? Jumping into the other things on IMDB, there is Red Knot and other things. What is accurate on IMDB and what is not? What is coming up for you?
Thirlby: There is Nobody Walks, which comes out in October, It is a very, very small independent film that was at Sundance and I am excited that it is getting a release. Red Knot is a film that I shot in Antarctica almost three years ago on a boat. It was a film that was improvised and it had very interesting circumstances while making the film, obviously. We were on a small boat bobbing around in Antarctica. It was a really remarkable experience. The filmmaker, his name is Scott Cohen, has taken several years to craft the footage that we shot into the film that it is now. But it seems that it is finally coming together and I am very excited about it. It is a very small non-narrative drama about a young married couple going through problems in their marriage and it takes place on a boat in Antarctica, which is kind of remarkable. The Movie is something that I made with some friends of mine in L.A. My friend, Luke Eberl, is the filmmaker. He shot this movie and asked a bunch of his friends to be involved with it. I just saw him the other day and there is no money to finish the film. But, you know, I literally have a cameo in it.
Thirlby: It is both, I would say. It depends on the specific film. I have done three or four films that were improvised now and it really depends on the filmmaker. Sometimes you improvise a scene and the idea is definitely best when you know the point of the scene that you are improvising. You know what is supposed to happen during the scene and you know where you want to end up and what you want to accomplish. Then improvising is very liberating and a lot of fun. Then there are other scenarios where maybe you don’t even have a clear idea of what the point of the scene is or what you are supposed to be improvising and you kind of just….something happens/nothing happens – you aren’t really sure. It is always nerve wracking to see the final product, regardless if there is a script or not, because I think film is an editor’s medium more so than an actor’s or director’s. It doesn’t matter so much what you do while you are shooting because everything comes together in post-production with film.
Jumping back to Dredd for a second, you have done a lot of films and a lot of stuff. But when they approached you for this project were you sort of like, “I am going to be able to fire a gun and I am going to be in an action movie? Really? You thought of me?” Were you looking for that kind of a project or was it sort of like they came to you and you were like, “Wow!”?
Thirlby: You know, the script came along and I was captivated by it. I read the script and despite the fact that it was a comic book film and a kind of, you know, “Bang! Bang! Shoot your gun!” Film, I was entranced by this story and more over by this character, who I felt brought so much heart to the movie. It seemed to me that the script was an atypical action script just because it really was about people and characters and it wasn’t shiny or pretty. It was dark and brutal. I wasn’t looking for that per say, but I had no qualms about playing a bad ass girl. I think that I have always wanted to play the kind of girl who can don leather, blonde hair, a sub machine gun, and hopefully look good doing it. [laughs]
I believe you pulled it off. Was this experience for you one of these things were it opened the door to these sort of bigger action kind of things or does it really depend on the script? Has it opened up what you are looking for in terms of a future project?
Thirlby: Well, you know, that remains to be seen. I think I certainly feel hopeful that it will be in the least well received and loved by the fans.
The reviews were very good last night.
Thirlby: That is very exciting to hear. I am personally a fan of the film. So it feels good to be able to show it to people who already care about it or want to care about it. You know, because it is so early in the process, I have yet to reap any of the benefits that this could bring but, knock on wood, I am hopeful that it will provide future opportunities for me.
For more on Dredd, here’s my recent interview with Karl Urban.