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Love Lies Bleeding Director Dishes on Creative Choices, Casting, and Toxic Relationships

Kirsten Stewart and Katy O'Brian pose against a pickup truck. O'Brian stands in the truck bed and leans against the truck's cab behind her. Stewart sits on top of the cab and leans into O'Brian.

In a banner year for sapphic films, the latest to hit the big screen is the multi-genre flick Love Lies Bleeding. Starring Kristen Stewart and relative newcomer Katy O’Brian, the film centers on a romance between small-town gym manager Lou (Stewart) and bodybuilder Jack/Jackie (O’Brian), who’s passing through town—and the chaos that emerges from the coalescence of each woman’s life baggage.

Since Love Lies Bleeding debuted March 8, audiences have been gushing, with the movie garnering a 92 percent Rotten Tomatoes score. In a Q & A at Brooklyn’s Alamo Drafthouse on March 12, director and co-writer Rose Glass discussed how elements of the hit film came to be, what she hopes viewers take away, and more.


The beauty of bodybuilding

Glass addressed her decision to make Jackie a bodybuilder instead of some other kind of athlete. Glass said she finds bodybuilding uniquely fascinating for its convergence of beauty and incredible physical strength, and its blending of sports discipline and artistic emotion.

“[The poses] are rigid, but the individual routines are very expressive,” said Glass


Stepping into 1989 New Mexico

Originally, Glass wanted to set the story in Scotland, a world familiar to she and co-writer Weronika Tofilska—as both are UK natives. Glass was hesitant to instead write about an unfamiliar rural America. However, as the duo fleshed out the story, they knew the “palette of Americana references” was the story’s “natural backdrop.” And indeed, it’s easy to imagine a rural Southwest town in the 80s as uniquely having the mix of freedom, idealism, and constraint that underscores much of the story’s action.


Cast By Talent, Queer By Chance

As critical as the setting is to the film, so, too, is the cast. Addressing the buzz around having queer actresses lead a queer film, Glass says she didn’t explicitly seek queer stars—rather, she just wanted the best for the job.

It’s not surprising that even with that approach, Stewart was cast as Lou, since it seems tailor-made for her—and in fact, Glass said when Stewart read the role, she said, “Who else but me?”

Glass said that O’Brian then easily won over the team with her own charisma and watchability.

“There’s a wonderful duality about her,” said Glass, gushing about O’Brian’s mix of impressive action hero physique and warm vulnerability.

Glass said Stewart and O’Brian being queer was just a bonus. Additional casting feats Glass spoke to are that the villain is played by Oscar-nominated Hollywood mainstay Ed Harris (Apollo 13, The Hours) and that Anna Baryshnikov (Dickinson) stole scenes as Daisy, the ditsy yet devious secondary foil character.


Sticking points

Glass also discussed one of the film’s most objectionable elements: that Lou and Jack had backstories that were mentioned but not fully explored. Glass said that rather than spoon-feed backstory to audiences, she likes to give only what is needed to understand the story at hand, and let viewers fill in the blanks.

Another questionable element of the film: the toxicity in Lou and Jackie’s relationship, which is revealed by the horrible things they do for their romance (e.g., drugs, murder, cover-ups). Glass admitted there is a “parasitic” quality to the relationship. She said it first manifests as Jackie seemingly using Lou for a place to sleep, but ultimately, Lou does more harm to Jackie (derailing her from her bodybuilding dreams) than Jackie does to Lou, and it seems Lou needs Jackie more than Jackie needs Lou.

“Lou is stuck—she’s emotionally constipated,” said Glass, asserting that Jackie lights a fire under Lou.

However, Glass didn’t apologize for the power imbalance or other toxicity in Lou and Jack’s relationship. She feels it’s more interesting story-wise than a stable romance, and believes that—despite the toxicity—Lou and Jackie have enough love to have a future together. Glass also suggested the bad choices that stem from the romance aren’t outside the realm of reality.

“All of us have the potential to do shady things [for love],” said Glass. “And we’re good at justifying it.”


Fittingly, that’s a perfect way to describe Love Lies Bleeding: The film may have elements you don’t like ( violence, gore, whimsical style choices), but the sexiness, cast, edge-of-your-seat pace, and thrills make it easy to justify watching—and loving—this newest slice of sapphic cinema.




Amanda Ostuni
Amanda Ostuni
Amanda is a graduate of Northeastern University. She has a B.A. in Journalism with a Minor in Sociology. Her journalistic work spans a variety of publications and topics, but her favorite subjects to cover are pop culture (she’s a television addict!) and sociopolitical issues. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @aeostuni.