Olivia Thirlby in Ry Russo-Young’s Nobody Walks, a Magnolia Pictures release.
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures. Photo credit: Nicholas Trikonis

Roundtable interviews are always hit and miss affairs with a lot of silly questions punctuated by occasionally insightful ones, but smart, thoughtful and talented people like Olivia Thirlby (Juno, Snow Angels, Dredd) have a knack for giving interesting responses no matter what. She was in Los Angeles recently to talk about her new film Nobody Walks directed by Ry Russo-Young and written by Russo-Young and current “it” girl Lena Dunham (Tiny Furniture, HBO’s Girls). Thirlby plays Martine, a young New York filmmaker who comes to Los Angeles to finish post production on her latest film and she winds up having a fling with a married sound effects guy played by John Krasinski (The Office).

Nobody Walks, which also co-stars Rosemarie DeWitt and Dylan McDermott opens Friday, October 19th.

Q: Was your hair short already or did you have it cut specifically for Nobody Walks?

A: My hair was really fried after I had it dyed blonde for Dredd, so I cut it into a bob with bangs and that’s how it was during Being Flynn, but for my character Martine we felt like that little French bob was just way too cute and that she would be a bit more androgynous and a bit more modern, so the only place to go was off.

Q: Tell us what drew you to the film and your character.

A: I knew Lena and Ry before reading the script and I actually had been hearing about this project that they had been collaborating on for a couple of years. When I read it I was just totally blown away. I thought that the ensemble nature of this drama was really fascinating and I thought all the characters were really dimensional and well developed. I appreciate a film that doesn’t tell you how to feel about the events that are happening. I feel like this film is really like a window into showing dynamics that exist between people – between all of us – that are actually too subtle to even talk about sometimes. I think the film just shows those dynamics and I liked that.

Q: It seems like in this film that “no” never means “no.” It always seems to turn into “yes” or at least “maybe.”

A: I think a lot of that just has to do with Martine. She’s a young woman and she is very comfortable with sex and sexuality. It’s not a compartmentalized part of who she is. It’s part and parcel of everything she is and does. I think that she’s very confident, but it doesn’t take that much for her to feel less sure-footed and for her to get a little bit off center and a little bit thrown. I think that’s kind of what that’s about. I think it’s about this notion that society and the world at large wants her to compartmentalize sex much more than she can. Sex and friendship is supposed to be different. Sex and work is supposed to be different. For her I don’t really think it’s that simple and I think that that’s where she runs into trouble.

Q: Do you consider Martine to be the bad guy of the film?

A: Certainly not. No. I don’t think she’s the bad guy at all. She definitely makes a big mistake, but I think her mistake is born from naivety and lack of experience rather than from any kind of malicious guile. She’s not old enough to look back on her life and think “What has caused drama in the past and what can I do to avoid those same kinds of scenarios?” She’s comfortable with sex and she’s comfortable with the notion of having sex with her friends. I think that’s a modern reality. A lot of people have sex with their friends and they’re still friends. That’s something that Martine is really comfortable with and she just does not have the experience to pick up on these very obvious red flags why not to do that with one particular person. I think Peter, John Krasinski’s character, definitely makes the most questionable decisions in the film. He takes something his wife says which is “don’t embarrass me” and he takes a lot of liberty with that statement. He can’t control his lust and he decides to twist his wife’s words and give himself permission to have an affair. I think that’s a little bit worse than what Martine does.

Q: So do you think Peter is the bad guy then?

A: No, actually I don’t. I think one of the strengths of this film is that it doesn’t present you with any clear cut notions about who did the right thing and who did the wrong thing.

Q: Do you think Martine is a victim of being the object of every other character’s sexual desire?

A: In a way Martine is a victim but I’m hesitant to make her a victim at all just because I think she’s a stronger character than that. But yes, in the sense that she’s very powerful in that regard, that everyone is attracted to her and I don’t think that she understands what that means or what it does. She hasn’t developed the strength to use her power for good so it still gets out of control and kind of taints things. But Martine is very, very young and I feel like in 10 years she’s going to be the strongest, most capable, intelligent and mature woman.

Q: How is it to play a character like that who has that kind of power but doesn’t know quite how to handle it?

A: I think it’s something I can identify with. Sometimes in my life I feel like a bit of a sorceress who can’t totally control all her power. I’m a Libra so, you know, Libra women are pretty magical.

Q: Can you give us examples of that from your life?

A: No, I meant that in a very kind of metaphorical way (laughs). But I think actually it’s maybe something a lot of young women can identify with because we get very mixed messages from society about our sexuality and whether we should use it or we shouldn’t use it. They’re such unbelievably mixed messages that it’s hard to believe that any women actually get through their teens and 20s OK (laughs). We’re told that we should be ashamed of our sexual power and ashamed to use it and to experience our sexuality, but we’re also told that in order for people to like us we have to be hot and sexual (laughs). So it’s a mixed world and I think that’s something that Ry and Lena really set out to make a movie about, being a young woman and being a young artist and how to deal with your sexuality.

Q: Do you watch Girls?

A: I’m a huge fan of all things Lena Dunham. I think that she’s a genius. I actually initially was going to be on Girls but it didn’t work out. Timing-wise I was filming something so I was unavailable, but I think the world of Lena and we’ve known each other since we were five years old. I would love nothing more than to collaborate with her again.

Q: In Dredd your character is more of an innocent, you’re the rookie basically. Is there any part of that character that you identify with? She’s very different from Martine.

A: There’s so much with my character in Dredd that I identify with. She’s my favorite character I think I’ve ever played. She’s the most dynamic and fascinating woman that I could even imagine playing so I love her.  What I love about her is that her sensitivity is her greatest strength, so the thing that makes her unworthy on paper is the thing which distinguishes her and makes her extraordinary in real life. It’s not like I can identify with something really specifically, but I just find that to be very truthful about the human condition. I feel like it’s always about embracing what it is you thin is wrong with you. It’s often times your greatest quote unquote flaw which actually leads into what is greatest strength.

Q: In Nobody Walks it seems like LA is the best place for parents and kids to party together. Would you agree with that or is there another city out there that’s better?

A: (laughs) I don’t know. I have no idea, but I think it’s great to party with your parents. It’s something that I’ve started to do and nothing helps me bond with them honestly like hanging out with them and all my friends together. It’s a great bonding experience… and my parents are also awesome so I can do that (laughs).

4 Responses to “Olivia Thirlby gets a roundtable grilling about her character in “Nobody Walks””

  1. Some probing questions and fascinating responses like this one:

    Q: Can you give us examples of that from your life?

    A: No, I meant that in a very kind of metaphorical way (laughs). But I think actually it’s maybe something a lot of young women can identify with because we get very mixed messages from society about our sexuality and whether we should use it or we shouldn’t use it. They’re such unbelievably mixed messages that it’s hard to believe that any women actually get through their teens and 20s OK (laughs). We’re told that we should be ashamed of our sexual power and ashamed to use it and to experience our sexuality, but we’re also told that in order for people to like us we have to be hot and sexual (laughs). So it’s a mixed world and I think that’s something that Ry and Lena really set out to make a movie about, being a young woman and being a young artist and how to deal with your sexuality.

    I look forward to it. Terrific interview!

  2. Being a roundtable, I can’t take any credit or blame for any of the questions, but like I said she managed to be interesting no matter what and I only had to edit out a couple of Q&As

  3. Thanks for posting this! I’m a big fan of Olivia Thirlby and I look forward to Nobody Walks.

  4. If you like Thirlby then I definitely think you’ll go for Nobody Walks. It’s nice to see her playing a woman instead of a teenager.

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