Olivia Thirlby talks "Dredd"
Olivia Thirlby first came to prominence playing the best friend to Ellen Page's titular Juno in the film of the same name. Since then she's appeared in a number of cool independent films, but with her appearance in last year's "The Darkest Hour" and a major role in the adaptation of the long-running comic "Dredd" she seems poised to take a huge step forward in terms of the kinds of movies she's doing. In "Dredd," Thirlby plays Judge Anderson, a rookie on probation in the crumbling Mega-City One. It's just her bad luck that she draws Judge Dredd (Karl Urban), the town's number one lawman, as her trainer. Thirlby spoke with journalists at Comic-Con about the new movie, which is slated to come out on September 21, and explained why sometimes compassion is exactly what is needed in a person empowered to be judge, jury, and executioner, and why the new movie is nothing like the one made famous by Sylvester Stallone.
Upcoming-Movies.com: This film is so different from what you've done before. What was the appeal?
Olivia Thirlby: The appeal was the amazing script and the amazing character that Alex Garland wrote. The script didn't read like a normal genre script. The characters felt so real and the circumstances felt like they could be real. Something I like about the heroes in this film and this comic is that they're just men and women. They don't have super-human strength, they're not gods from a different planet, they don't wear magical suits that can do everything. They're just really brave and they're really real.
If somebody watched the Sylvester Stallone movie "Judge Dredd," would they see a totally different story than this incarnation?
Olivia Thirlby: It is a totally different re-imagining of the same source material. In this version, the goal was always to stay very faithful to the comic books, in contrast to what the former film had done. And so I would say that it would be a difference in the creative imagining of the world of "Dredd."
Did the comic books provide you any extra insight into characters and this world, outside of what you picked up in the script?
Olivia Thirlby: There's certainly a distinct tonal quality to the comic books that was important to preserve. It's dark, very graphic and very real and brutal, and then it's mixed with this dry humor that's comes from being in such a bleak environment. The humor just has no choice but to leak out in dark ways. And, yeah, the world of the comics really informed what we were doing, I think.
What kind of physical preparation did you do for this role?
Olivia Thirlby: There was weapons training and handling. I had never handled or fired weapons before so I had to kind of start from the very beginning. Karl was an old pro. He just picked up the gun and fired it, hit the ceramic pigeons. I was like shooting all over the place at first, but I did get better. And then there was also some fight training. There was a fight sequence in the film that I had to learn, and I also had to learn how to roundhouse kick, which was a great challenge, but I did learn how to do it.
Your character also has psychic abilities. To what extent are they developed and used in this film?
Olivia Thirlby: I think that since Anderson is young, I'm sure that there's a lot more that she could learn about her abilities. But she's also, I think, had them her whole life and when she is cluing in to this kind of heightened sensitivity that she has, I think she's really in her element and she's comfortable in her skin. She's on her own turf, even if she may be inside somebody else's head. That's where she excels. Because she comes at it from a place of compassion, it's something that's rare for a judge, and may be why, up until the point of the movie, she has always been qualified as being unsuitable. There's something about her sensitivity and her abilities that on paper makes her unsuitable to be a judge. And then in the film you see that in the field it's actually that compassion which can distinguish her.
Society in general is skeptical of the whole idea of psychics. Do you think we're just afraid of the unknown? Are there gifts?
Olivia Thirlby: Yes, and I think that with her abilities, I didn't want to make it into some comic book superpower where someone rubs their temples and says, 'Eureka!' I wanted it to be actually a part of really the fabric of who she is, and it's just part of her worldview. It's part of her entire experience of being alive is just this unbelievable heightened sensitivity to color. That's the kind of thing that I came up with is that she perceives color in every person and every situation. It clues her into the nuances of either what someone's feeling or what is happening between two people - or something larger.
Have you ever felt a psychic moment?
Olivia Thirlby: I think that we all have these abilities, not me personally, but I know individuals who have this kind of sensitivity. I don't think it's that far out or that crazy, and for Anderson I wanted to make it kind of a believable and natural part of her. But she's faced adversity her entire life and in the world of Mega-City One mutants are practically illegal. They are locked up, they're ridiculed, they're outcast into the Cursed Earth, and so she's grown up facing discrimination. Not to mention she's an orphan. She really wants to be a judge, but she can't seem to get it right. We meet her in the film after a lifetime of hardship, and she's just got so much to prove.
Compassion is something you said Anderson has a lot of but Dredd himself is always in short supply of. Is this the source of their conflict?
Olivia Thirlby: Yeah. Well, you know, she doesn't have that many chances to be compassionate in this. In the beginning of the film, you definitely see her compassion is causing her to fail her assessment which, of course, because she's psychic, Dredd doesn't have to say that she's failing for her to know that's what's going on. But I think at the end of the film even Dredd sees that her compassion is what gives her the upper hand and gives her the chance to be extraordinary.
Do you gravitate toward genre forms at all, and if not, do you have to learn - because that's being made now - to love them?
Olivia Thirlby: My interest really varies on the material. There doesn't seem to be any genre that completely excludes good material. I do mostly small films, mostly independent films, but then sometimes things like this come along. It's a pleasure to work on a film like this because I really believe in the story and I like these films. I find their entertainment value to be culturally significant, and I enjoy going to the theater and putting on a pair of 3-D glasses and living in a fantasy for a couple of hours. I think that it's clearly a big part of global culture and human culture at this point. I've enjoyed seeing all these films in the last couple of years.
Getting into the skin of this character, what helps you feel the most bad-ass? Is it the gear, the weapons, or the ability to do a roundhouse kick?
Olivia Thirlby: A combination of all those things; it was a combination. But there's definitely a feeling that you have of feeling cool. It's like playing laser tag but with production values, and you're an adult. It actually took a team of people to get you into the leather body suit, and there's something about being covered in blood spatter and looking and feeling really mean and having a sub-machine gun in your hands. Oh, and being blonde, that's another part of it. It's really fun. It's so much fun.
What was your most memorable day on set?
Olivia Thirlby: There were many. It depends on if you want good memorable or bad memorable. The wind in Capetown, which is where we were shooting, has been known to blow over buses. There was one night shoot when the wind was pretty much blowing us all away. Actually, more than one time. I'm just remembering the hard times at the moment, but that's not to make it sound like there were only hard times. It's kind of criminal to work in Capetown because it is such a beautiful place that when you're not on set, you just feel like you're on vacation. The whole thing was kind of a huge highlight.
Can you talk a little bit about the politics in the movie and what we can talk about in a comic book movie that we don't seem to want to deal with in a harsh drama?
Olivia Thirlby: I think it might be like a commentary on what happens when all you can do is treat the symptoms. Mega-City One this is post-apocalyptic world, things are so dire that you have to give individuals absolute power. Things are so black and white in Mega-City One, but it almost seems like there is no end in sight. Like at the beginning of the film, the chief judge says that the judges are losing the battle for the city and the crime and the desolation is taking everything over. It's a symptom of a fully broken society. My guess is, without knowing John Wagner's intentions, it's probably some kind of commentary on the state of things that it's so bad that all you can do is persecute and execute criminals. There's no way to treat the grander problems that are happening in this bleak world that arises from this situation.
Dredd Movie Trailer:
Dredd Movie Details:
CAST & CREW:
Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Domhall Gleeson, Deobia Oparei, angley Kirkwood, Francis Chouler, Karl Thaning, Luke Tyler
Director/s: Pete Travis
Written By: Alex Garland based on the characters created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra
Produced By: Andrew Macdonald
Genre/s: Sci-Fi Action Fantasy
Release Date/s: September 21, 2012 (Showtimes & Tickets)
Production Company: DNA Films, IM Global, Paradise FX Corp., Reliance Big Pictures
Alternate Titles: Judge Dredd
The future America is an irradiated waste land. On its East Coast, running from Boston to Washington DC, lies Mega City One- a vast, violent metropolis where criminals rule the chaotic streets. The only force of order lies with the urban cops called "Judges" who possess the combined powers of judge, jury and instant executioner. Known and feared throughout the city, Dredd (Karl Urban) is the ultimate Judge, challenged with ridding the city of its latest scourge - a dangerous drug epidemic that has users of "Slo-Mo" experiencing reality at a fraction of its normal speed.
During a routine day on the job, Dredd is assigned to train and evaluate Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a rookie with powerful psychic abilities thanks to a genetic mutation. A heinous crime calls them to a neighborhood where fellow Judges rarely dare to venture- a 200 story vertical slum controlled by prostitute turned drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) and her ruthless clan. When they capture one of the clan's inner circle, Ma-Ma overtakes the compound's control center and wages a dirty, vicious war against the Judges that proves she will stop at nothing to protect her empire. With the body count climbing and no way out, Dredd and Anderson must confront the odds and engage in the relentless battle for their survival.
The endlessly inventive mind of writer Alex Garland and director Pete Travis bring DREDD to life as a futuristic neo-noir action film. Filmed in 3D with stunning slow motion photography sequences, the film returns the celebrated character to the dark, visceral incarnation from John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra's revered comic strip.