For Katy O’Brian, getting cast in Love Lies Bleeding, a 1980s-set neo-noir bodybuilding drama that hit theatres earlier this spring, was a storybook tale. Originally from Indiana, the 35-year-old is a martial artist, worked in law enforcement and even competed in bodybuilding before moving to L.A. to pursue acting professionally. She’d already drummed up quite a few credits—you may recognize her from supporting roles in Disney+ Star Wars series The Mandalorian and 2023 Marvel flick Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania—when a fan tagged her in a casting notice looking for a queer woman bodybuilder named Jackie. O’Brian was all three and knew she had to at least get an audition.

 

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“[With] all the similarities [between Jackie and me] and how rare a role like this is, [it] made me walk into the room with an arrogance I’d never had before,” says O’Brian, laughing. “I just fell in love with Jackie. I know what it’s like to be from the Midwest, to be queer and to want to build your body in an unconventional way, and [I’m familiar with how] people want to police your body [because of that]. I immediately felt like I had to be protective of her. It was a cool, weird experience.” O’Brian landed the part (one of her first leading roles) and ended up earning critical acclaim for playing the ambitious yet lonely woman who falls in love with reclusive gym manager Lou (Kristen Stewart) as they both get pulled into a world of violence. And it’s just the start of what’s shaping up to be a very good 2024. Next up? A part in this summer’s Twisters, the stand-alone sequel to the 1996 cult-favourite disaster film Twister.

A new story

“One of my pet peeves—and I totally get that this is relatable—is that every queer movie I’ve seen, really, is about sexuality being the conflict. We just want to live and not have [our being queer] be the worst thing that can happen to the people around us. I love that [being queer] is normalized in this—in no part of the movie are the characters shunned or embarrassed about their relationship. I love that it’s about two women who are not role models. We make extreme mistakes and are heavily conflicted and morally ambiguous characters. There was just so much that spoke to me.”

Inner Strength

“Jackie has this layer of power and confidence, but she gets a sense of security from feeling love. She wants to be admired, noticed and seen. I think that can lead to very detrimental roads, so she’s a nice reminder that it’s not about what other people are seeing—it’s about what you see [in yourself] and finding confidence and happiness in that; otherwise it’s just going to go to shit for you.”

Pure Imagination

“I always wanted to act. My brother and I would hang out all the time, and a lot of our entertainment came from watching TV and movies, reading stories and then acting them out but changing them to be our own. I always did stuff in the arts in school, and we had a commercial agent when we were younger, but we found that we were uncastable. It was like Indiana didn’t know where to put two little mixed-[race] kids, and they struggled to find auditions for us. That was discouraging; I had a lot of rejection. I thought maybe I wasn’t ever going to be good enough and that there wasn’t a place for me. By college, I thought I just needed to find a ‘real’ job that was consistent and paid the bills. [Years later, I realized] I wasn’t happy, and I knew that the one thing that would make me happy was acting. I literally can’t think of anything else that I would want to do or that would make me feel as fulfilled.”

Adult Playground

“As a kid, acting was my big escape. It’s a way to experience worlds that I might not otherwise get to and to really feel stuff for people in heightened experiences. It’s this weird catharsis and an incredible exercise in empathy. It helps me relate to people and the world more, and I get to be collaborative and vulnerable. I essentially get to be a kid for a living.”

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