Olivia Thirlby on Her Role in ‘Dredd’ and Fighting Aliens in ‘The Darkest Hour’

You may not know Olivia Thirlby by name, but odds are you recognize the 25-year-old actress, who’s starred in everything from ‘Juno’ to ‘No Strings Attached’ to ‘United 93.’ Judging from her upcoming slate of films, name recognition could soon follow as well. In addition to appearing alongside Paul Dano and Robert De Niro in next year’s ‘Being Flynn,’ Thirlby is set to play Judge Anderson in the buzzed-about sci-flick, ‘Dredd.’ The film, based on the comic book series, was originally adapted into the famously awful 1995 movie ‘Judge Dredd’ with Sylvester Stallone (not that it matters — Thirlby hasn’t even watched that one); fans of the comic have been clamoring for another version ever since. We recently spoke with Thirlby about stepping into the role of Anderson, whether she was a sci-fi geek growing up and what it’s like fighting aliens, which she does in her upcoming film, ‘The Darkest Hour,’ in theaters Christmas Day.

So things get pretty physical with your character in ‘The Darkest Hour.’ I heard you did all your own stunts.
I did. I got banged up with a lot of gnarly bruises, but it was fun. It was interesting. It took a lot of endurance.

I’ve always been curious if doing your own stunts is actually fun.
It’s a kind of a matter of necessity, like some things they can’t use a double for because they need to be able to see my face. It’s also a matter of what kinds of stunts there are, like there’s certain stunts that I wouldn’t have been capable of doing, but all of our stuff for ‘Darkest Hour’ was me on the rig hooked up to wires. It was mostly just falling and being dragged.

All the aliens in this film are computer generated. Is it tough to elicit that type of emotion when what you’re supposed to be freaked out about isn’t even in front of you in the first place?
It is difficult to shoot in that respect, because a lot of the time the things that you’re supposed to be reacting to don’t exist yet, so it can be a challenge in that regard, because you do really have to use your imagination to convincingly seem like you’re terrified of something, which at the time the camera is rolling, it is completely not there. When we were filming ‘The Darkest Hour,’ we didn’t even know what the aliens were going to look like, we didn’t even have a graphic reference. So it was defnitely a big challenge to sell those kind of extreme moments when you’re just generating them from your own imagination.

So you’ve got ‘The Darkest Hour’ and the ‘Dredd’ coming out. Were you a big sci-fi geek growing up?
To be honest, I wasn’t a sci-fi geek at all. But I do love a good sci-fi film, especially one that can really take you away. And I read some reality-bending novels growing up, like stuff by [Kurt] Vonngeut, so I already had one part my brain open to the unnatural and unusual, and it’s generally fun to venture into that world and film in it.

Did you even bother watching the original ‘Judge Dredd’ movie with Sylvester Stallone, or did you want to go in with a clean slate?
I actually didn’t watch the original one intentionally, and I still haven’t. But I think that at this point, it’s not an intentional choice. I am excited to see [the original], and whenever I have the chance [I will]. But during shooting, I decided not to watch it, just because the film we were making really has nothing to do with it, and I didn’t want to get influenced by it at all.

With ‘Dredd’ — and to a certain extent, ‘Being Flynn,’ based on ‘Another Bullshit Night in Suck City’ by Nick Flynn — do you feel more pressure because both of them have an established fan base?
Yeah, definitely. Of course, the Nick Flynn fan base is very different from the ‘2000 AD’ fan base [laughs]. It’s a little daunting [for ‘Dredd’], where I am personifying a character which already exists very firmly in people’s minds, and that people have an attachment to and have an affection for. But my hope is that people respond to it and they feel that it’s something that complements their imaginations and the ideas that they already had built up, instead of conflicting with them. All I can do is hope and pray that I won’t be disappointing anyone.

The character that I play in ‘Being Flynn’ doesn’t really exist in his memoirs, she’s kind of an amalgam of people. So luckily I am not living up to real people there.

If you look at the trajectory of your career, you’ve continued to get bigger roles in bigger films. From your perspective, do you feel like you are starting to move into a different tier of acting and/or celebrity at this point?
It’s all relative. I still audition a lot and work really hard to get work. So I don’t really walk around feeling like I’ve made it [laughs]. My short term goals are really just to be creatively stimulated and to be excited about material I might be working on. I am less concerned with maybe how each project fits into the big picture of my career, as long as, on an individual basis, it’s compelling and fun.

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