Turning Kristen Stewart Into a Heartthrob in a Blood-Splattered Romantic Thriller: Rose Glass Chats 'Love Lies Bleeding'

After making an exceptional debut with 'Saint Maud', the British filmmaker wrote her vengeance-fuelled 80s-set sophomore feature with KStew in mind.
Sarah Ward
March 26, 2024

With almost every new Kristen Stewart-starring movie that has reached screens since her Twilight days, a distinctive feeling radiates. It was true with Clouds of Sils Maria, Certain Women and Personal Shopper, and then with Happiest Season, her Oscar-nominated role in Spencer and also Crimes of the Future as well: each of these films are exactly the types of flicks that one of the most-fascinating actors working today should be making. Then arrived Love Lies Bleeding, which partly sprang from that very idea and couldn't perfect it better. This revenge-driven, blood-splattered, 80s-set romantic thriller about a gym manager and a bodybuilder who fall in love, then into a whirlwind of sex, vengeance and violence, was written with Stewart in mind. As Saint Maud writer/director Rose Glass must've imagined while putting pen to paper, she's stunning in it.

Love Lies Bleeding casts KStew as Lou, whose days overseeing the local iron-pumping haven — well, unclogging its toilets and scowling at meathead customers from beneath her shaggy mullet — are shaken up when female bodybuilder Jackie (Katy O'Brian, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania) enters her remote New Mexico hometown. This is a girl-meets-girl tale, but it's also about the chaos of finding the person who best understands you, dealing with a lifetime's worth of baggage and trying to start anew. Here, amid neon hues and synth tunes, that means navigating Lou's gun-running dad (Ed Harris, Top Gun: Maverick) and abusive brother-in-law (Dave Franco, Day Shift), trying to protect her sister Beth (Jena Malone, Rebel Moon — Part One: A Child of Fire), chasing Jackie's competitive dreams and attempting to leave complicated pasts in the rearview mirror.

Co-writing with Weronika Tofilska (a director on His Dark Materials and Hanna), Glass didn't just conjure up Lou with Stewart as her ideal lead; she also leapt into a helluva sophomore project that follows quite the experience with Saint Maud. The 2019 movie, Glass' feature directorial debut, marked her as one of the next exciting filmmakers out of Britain. But little about getting the psychological thriller to audiences, and to adoring acclaim, was straightforward. Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival as all very well and good. So was A24 coming onboard afterwards. The timing of Saint Maud's original April 2020 US release date says everything, though. The early days of the pandemic might've derailed getting the picture to viewers, but it didn't stop it becoming one of the standouts of the past five years.

"The release was very odd, because we went down well at festivals, and then 24 picked us up," Glass tells Concrete Playground. "And they'd been planning on doing this whole wide cinematic release in America, and everyone kept saying to me 'oh my god, this never happens with a debut, this is incredible'. And I said, 'oh wow, okay, amazing'. It didn't quite feel real anyway, and then we're literally days away from getting on a plane to come out to America to do a whole fancy press tour, which felt so surreal in and of itself, and then lockdown. Obviously, we all know what happened next."

"I'd been nervous about bringing the film out into the world, and people's reactions, but I think a global pandemic certainly helps put things in perspective. It certainly helped to not take it too seriously, I think," Glass continues. Before that, writing Saint Maud was "very stressful and got very unpleasant, because you're plagued by so much uncertainty about whether it's actually going to happen," she shares. Then, "making it was wonderful and just very collaborative — it was just a massive relief that it was actually happening". 

Consider Glass' Saint Maud journey fuel for Love Lies Bleeding; the filmmaker herself does. The latter veers in an array of vastly different directions from its predecessor; compare Saint Maud's claustrophobic focus on a highly religious carer who becomes obsessed with saving her latest patient's soul versus Love Lies Bleeding's frantic lovers-on-the-run antics. And yet, as much as Love Lies Bleeding can play like a heel-turn response to Saint Maud, they also boast more than a few things in common, such as a fascination with transformation, a deep willingness to push boundaries and, of course, an uncompromising vision.

We chatted with Glass about being motivated to make Love Lies Bleeding after her Saint Maud experience, how the idea for her second feature came about, the difference between writing a part for KStew and getting her to actually play it, finding IRL bodybuilder and former cop-turned- The Mandalorian and Westworld actor O'Brian as Jackie, the film's wild ride and more.

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Saint Maud

On Glass' Approach to Love Lies Bleeding After the Response to (and Chaotic Release for) Saint Maud

"I'm sure it lights a fire under the arse, or whatever the expression is. I mean, it's wonderful. It definitely exceeded anything any of us were expecting or hoping to happen on the film, so that was very cool.

And I think maybe because also it happened during lockdown, so I was getting a sense that people were responding to it well, and it was going down well, but because it was all basically just through [online] — I wasn't used to doing everything over Zoom at that point — it all felt very removed. I was just in my house with my flatmates in lockdown like everyone else, so it sort of felt like it wasn't happening.

Saint Maud

But, in a way, because we didn't get to do the proper release then with the film, it did mean there was a pent-up frustration, which probably spilled over into making this next one, I think.

It definitely gives you a confidence and a fearlessness, which I hadn't really felt before. And definitely there's this feeling of 'oh, wow, I get to make another one — I don't know if I'll get to do another one again after that', so you treat it as if it's the last one.

I think maybe also Saint Maud's kind of uptight, obviously, and quite insular and claustrophobic — so I think maybe that combined with lockdown, probably this when I was like 'let's do something bombastic and a bit more extroverted, and try something risky and irresponsible and see what we can get away with'."

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On Coming Up with the Idea and Story for Love Lies Bleeding

"Initially, it was just wanting to do something about a a female bodybuilder. That seemed psychologically and visually exciting territory. And I guess I feel like I'm probably the polar opposite of a bodybuilder — and the obsessive level of discipline is something I can only be fascinated by and aspire to myself, but never quite achieve.

So maybe, maybe that's how it became a two-hander between a bodybuilder and a woman who's basically just 'oh, my god, you're amazing'. 

But I decided that I wanted to try co-writing. I had this initial germ of an idea about a bodybuilder who kind of loses her mind while she's training for a competition. And then I teamed up with my co-writer Weronika Tofilska, who I've been friends with for years. 

Then, so the rest of the story, all the twisty-turny rest of it, we basically came up with together just bouncing back and forth."

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On Having Kristen Stewart in Mind While Writing

"She's just, I think, a very natural fit for the character. I guess it was just a quite instinctual thing. I like the idea of her playing a moody heartthrob in loose, boyish way — like she's playing someone who's kind of an asshole but you kind of really like her as well.

Kristen, she's actually, in person, she's very twinkly and energetic and stuff, but there's I think a more famous version of her which is much more held back and a bit aloof, all this kind of thing, which I think is really what the character needs. She's kind of an enigma, like a mystery — she keeps a lot held back, and then hopefully throughout the film you pick her apart a bit.

I just thought she'd be a really hot, moody heartthrob."

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On Getting Kristen Stewart Onboard as Lou

"I couldn't believe it. I met her for the first time — we had an awkward blind date kind of thing, and it was the morning after they'd released Spencer in the UK, I think, so she'd had a late night. I was basically suddenly very starstruck and quite nervous, and just as far as I saw it, I just waffled at her incoherently for an hour, and she went 'mmmm'.

But then, luckily, afterwards she sent me a really lovely message, and then I sent her the script. It's weird and awkward having a meeting where you don't actually have something specific — because I hadn't shared the script with her then, it was this awkward thing where I was told that I wasn't actually allowed to, even though I wanted to offer the her the role outright. It was more of like a temperature check. So it's much nicer to have a conversation when you're actually talking about a specific script, and she's agreed, and there's none of this weird awkwardness.

Anyways, she basically said she really likes Saint Maud. She's said in interviews since then that she was up for doing whatever I wanted to do next — which is very obviously a very lovely feeling and takes the pressure off a little bit, because I thought I did a really bad job of pitching it to her. But anyway, she was all in."

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On Finding Katy O'Brian to Play Love Lies Bleeding's Pivotal Female Bodybuilder

"Katy's just — I think both her and Kristen, just on a basic level, they're just incredibly charismatic and incredible to look at. They're two people that I'm like 'I would love to watch these two people falling in love with each other'. A lot of the film just has to play on you being like 'oh, these people are amazing'.

But with Katy specifically, it's the duality. On the surface, she's obviously got this incredible physicality and a very imposing physical presence, or can be. And so this more steely action-hero stuff comes very easily to her. But actually naturally, in terms of how she is and as a person, you scratch just underneath that and she's incredibly warm and soft. She's described herself as like a snuggle bear.

And also, her character goes on a pretty tumultuous up and down, and does some pretty terrible things, but ultimately is still the innocent of the film. There's a naivety to her. Katy is just so incredibly empathetic, I think, which the character needs — because otherwise she'd just lose her and it'd just be 'oh, it's just this crazy woman doing crazy things'. But Katy just makes you so care for her so much.

Given it was her first big lead dramatic performance — she's acted before, but more as supporting roles, normally previously in roles which have mostly been requiring her just to do the physical kind of stuff — she jumped into this. We cast like two weeks before we started shooting, and then a few weeks later she's doing all these quite tricky scenes with Kristen. I immediately would just completely forget that it's the first time she's doing a role like this."

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On Making a Film That Feels Like It Can Go Anywhere and Everywhere, Even While Building in Familiar Elements

"In terms of the surrealism, and some of the weird combinations of things, I think it's what comes naturally. Me and Weronika, when we were writing it, we were playing with a lot narrative and character tropes. There's quite a few formulaic elements in the story, which probably are quite familiar to people, which hopefully we then take off course into somewhere a bit more surprising.

There's definitely a framework in this. I think there's a lot of elements in the film which are very recognisable and which will probably feel familiar in some way. 

So hopefully it's setting up an expectation of something to happen — and then, because you know what the expectation is, it's easy to go 'let's go the other way'."

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On Taking Love Lies Bleeding in the Opposite Direction to Saint Maud in So Many Ways, But Still Finding Connections Between Them

"It's kind of intentional. I mean, I think there are quite a lot of things which do connect the films. But each film, you spend a few years of your life just obsessively thinking about that — so I think after several years of just thinking about one particular tone and style of story, it's definitely, I think, a natural instinct to want to mix things up a bit.

So yeah, the idea of wanting to do something which was more extroverted and bombastic than Saint Maud was definitely a deliberate, instinctual kind of thing.

And I guess also Saint Maud was kind of about loneliness, so in a way this one was like 'oh, if you think being lonely is hard, try being in a relationship'."

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Love Lies Bleeding released in Australian cinemas on Thursday, March 14, 2024, and opens in New Zealand cinemas on Thursday, April 4, 2024. Read our review.

Images: Anna Kooris.

Published on March 26, 2024 by Sarah Ward
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