Photography: Matthew Cylinder
Styling: Karla Welsh
Makeup: Shayna Gold
Hair: Blake Erik

In 2021, A24’s critically acclaimed Saint Maud, the austere slow-burn concerning an unsettling hospice nurse on a mission from God, established Rose Glass as contemporary cinema’s new macabre fabulist and next-gen visionary. This year, the British filmmaker returned with her much-anticipated sophomore stunner Love Lies Bleeding, bigger and brasher and throwing a Molotov cocktail, transplanting audiences from Scarborough to a blistering, unkind corner of New Mexico.

Kristen Stewart plays Lou, a small-town loner yearning to escape a classic dead end. The manager of a local gym, unclogging vile toilets and the like, she’s wasting away. That is, until a ripped and transfixing drifter named Jackie (Katy O’Brian) blows into town on her way to a bodybuilding championship in Las Vegas. Love is speedy and, of course, just as quickly, their sapphic love is greatly tested. Jackie begins to buckle under the weight of a newfound steroid dependency. Things further spiral out of control as Jackie is drawn into Lou’s crime-riddled family. Lou’s sister Beth (Jena Malone) is hospitalized after being savagely beaten by her odious womanizing husband JJ (Dave Franco), requiring the lovers to mitigate the damage. Meanwhile, the FBI comes snooping around, inquiring about Lou’s estranged father Lou Sr.’s (Ed Harris) untold illicit activities.

In the lead-up to this year’s Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFAN) in South Korea—Asia’s leading celebration of genre fare—Anthem linked up with Malone, an always-adventurous performer, for an exclusive photoshoot and in-depth conversation in New York City. Love Lies Bleeding is BIFAN’s opening night film, running parallel to its official Korean premiere on July 4.

Stateside and elsewhere, Malone has also been lighting up screens with Kevin Costner’s Western epic Horizon: An American Saga — Chapter One, the opening salvo of four planned features.

The 28th Bucheon International Film Festival runs from July 4 – 14.

Hi, Jena. How are you doing?

It’s been a wild week. We had the Horizon premiere last night. Are you back in New York?

I’m actually still in South Korea. I’m waiting for BIFAN to start turning its gears, honestly.

How long will you be there?

Until mid-July. Love Lies Bleeding is the opening night film at BIFAN, you know.

Oh, cool! Yeah, you were telling me that.

I love this for us, really. I think it’s rare. We rarely get to see this kind of spontaneity in the press space. Usually, everything is so orchestrated and premeditated. For us to be doing the photoshoot and connecting in the spur of the moment feels refreshing. There are, of course, the “correct” ways of doing things in a system, and it feels nice to make a clean break from it.

I appreciate it as well. Correct is such a funny word. [laughs]

Quote, unquote.

I’m pushing into more experimental and strange places with press, seeing how you can navigate that world. It’s a fine time to be doing things differently. Some systems work and function fine, but it doesn’t mean we can’t keep trying different things. So what did you think of Love Lies Bleeding?

I loved it. It’s incredible. And I had sky-high expectations going in.

I’m such a fan girl. I could talk about this film all day. I love it. I absolutely love it. I’m so thrilled that I got to be a part of it. I just love independent film, and I think it had a hard go of it since the pandemic. It’s nice to see it being revitalized by such an interesting and unique auteur.

Watching this film reminded me of our past conversation about passion projects. When you said, “Every project should be a passion project,” so succinctly, it felt like my whole belief system about art being echoed back to me. Because, yes, it should be. Is it realistic? Maybe not. But as you so rightly pointed out, if there’s passion in it, you don’t have to fake much.

We all know what it’s like to have to do the dishes. We all know what it’s like to take our trash out or to sweep our floors. Even with those kinds of things, which are dull, you can choose to do them in a way where it’s not something you’re simply checking off a to-do list. There are ways to lift it, you know? The world is so wildly chaotic and complex that it’s just nice to lift things whenever possible. Even when it’s not a perfectly framed thing where you go, “I love every aspect of this project,” I can definitely try and find at least one or two things that I love about it. And passion projects are hard to find. They’re hard to find ‘cause, you know, you also need to get paid. [laughs] But even in those money pursuits, I think you can still find things to love about them.

Kevin [Costner] is an outlier. He has the means to make his passion project at the level he’s working at. He was so genuine in talking about this at Cannes this year. Apparently, he went from yacht to yacht, trying to secure investors for the additional chapters he has planned for Horizon. But he took financial matters into his own hands up until now, just as Francis Ford Coppola did with Megalopolis. I find that thrilling, no matter who does it. We’re all going to die. They have the means to do it. It’s like, go make your dream movie before that happens.

Yeah, and it’s funny how that kind of pursuit is heralded in the golden years of your life, whereas if a 22-year-old director mortgages his house and gambles on a film, it feels more risky or something.

The 22-year-old filmmaker has no safety net to break his fall, presumably.

It’s different for Kevin who’s had a really amazing career. It’s interesting that something like Horizon hadn’t come about already. At what point do you go, “Why does it always have to be someone else’s money? Why can’t we put our own finances into our creations and do it in a way that is creative and fiscally feasible?” So I think it’s cool. It also speaks to where the film industry’s at right now. It’s very hard to find the money. It’s actually very hard to get films financed. In some ways, that’s always the case with smaller films and newer directors, but it’s interesting that, now, even the biggest names in the industry are struggling to find the money to put into their projects. 

To be so bold and take those chances, it obviously requires passion and an unwavering attitude. You need gumption, a spirited initiative. Crucially, you need a vision right? You need a singularity of voice and talent. We’re talking about Rose [Glass] now, too. Because her cinematic world is stylized and uniquely her own, her auteur qualities are unmistakable.

She’s an amazing director. She’s an amazing writer. I loved Saint Maud. But more than that, I loved Love Lies Bleeding. When I read the script, I felt like it was something so unique. It was something I had never read before. That’s such a hard thing to find as we start approaching our teen years” in this art form. It’s like there’s nothing new under the sun, right? It’s so hard to have a new idea. I think because Rose has such a fearless perspective, you can’t help but just be completely enthralled and fascinated by it. And to back it up, she’s technically incredible as a filmmaker. She’s not winging it. So she’s like a triple threat. I can’t wait to behold the next thirty years of her career.

I saw footage of you from the premiere screening of Love Lies Bleeding at Sundance. There’s this moment where you don’t even hear the moderator’s question. You were spellbound, too.

The film’s so transportive, you know? It’s so visceral. I really admire someone who can create something that affects you on so many levels. I crave stories that I’ve never seen before. Rose is creating these characters that I didn’t know I was so hungry for, like the female scumbag. [laughs] I feel like cinema was built on the back of the male scumbag genre. Taxi Driver. Raging Bull. They’re the despicable men that are trying really hard to get through life. I just don’t know many films that allow a female energy to be in that space, and Love Lies Bleeding is such a unique look at that. I love it. And Sundance was wild. I always find it strange, too, that you have to come back on stage after the screening, ‘cause films transport you. It’s so awkward. Nobody wants to talk after a screening. You’re all torn up inside. There’s a blizzard in your heart. You need time to settle down and reacclimate to the world. If it’s a good film, it’s guaranteed to take you there.

This is only Rose’s second film, although you wouldn’t know it watching her steady hands at work. You’ve always championed new voices, and I think I get it. There’s excitement in those beginnings because they haven’t been shaped or warped by the apparatus yet. For the actor, there are probably more opportunities in which to be surprised. As you say, it’s visceral.

Yeah. My beginnings in acting was built on working with a lot of first-time directors. I’ve had such incredible experiences that it’s something I never wanted to stop doing. And I’ve definitely had a few of them, too, where I was like, “I really didn’t like that experience,” you know? Because you can’t always tell if someone’s gonna be able to lift their vision. It is very easy to feel shackled. It is very easy to become a mindless worker in this art form. It’s really hard to take risks when you’re trying to manage a two-hundred-person crew, not to mention financiers and insurance companies. It’s a really funny place to be taking risks. You either completely crumble under the pressure, or you rise above it. So it can be really thrilling—or not. [laughs] It’s definitely a gamble.

You can also find the thrill in your co-stars, right? Everyone wants a good sparring partner. Kristen [Stewart] told Variety that, in your sisterly showdown at the end of the film, you did something that wasn’t remotely scripted. It literally knocked her back. You surprised her.

That’s very sweet of her to say that. I mean, I think we all try to do that. But you can’t bring it to every scene, you know? I like painting in that world. I like making people feel uncomfortable—with kindness and compassion, of course. That’s always the space where you’re gonna find something really amazing. It’s where I’ve always found the gems. I’m not a trained actor so I can’t recreate or find these gems again and again through technique. I have to be in the moment and on my feet with another actor that trusts, where we can really go find something that I could never predict would even happen. I just like that approach. But it’s not the only approach. I definitely respect actors that know exactly what they’re gonna do when they come in to do it, where they can do it every single take. It’s still alive and interesting. But I’ve just never been that kind of actor.

This film also reunited you with Ed Harris [after 1998’s Stepmom]. More often, you never get the chance to work together again. Sometimes, you do, and in a totally different life chapter.

The funny thing is, I don’t think he remembered me.

You’re kidding.

I mean, I get it, though. That was so long ago. Also, that was much more memorable for me ‘cause it was a lot of firsts. It was my first studio film. It was my first time working with a bigger director. It was my first time working with amazing actors that I had known and watched my whole life. And he did eventually remember. He was like, “Oh yeah, that’s right.” [laughs] He’s just so interesting. He’s such an intricate, subtle actor. I felt like Love Lies Bleeding was very different for him. He was operating on this very tightly wound, expressive wavelength. There was this tension to his character that I felt pouring out of him, both onto the screen and in-between takes. It was also nice to see his love of the script and how far he wanted to take it, you know?

Amy Ryan once told me a story about Ed. When they met at the table read for Gone Baby Gone, he walked up to her and said, “That’s quite a part you got there.” She said she was shitting bricks because she knew what he was actually saying. You know, “Don’t fuck it up!”

That would be so intimidating!

Ed has an amazing skullet in this movie. I love all the mullets. You have crazy hair in this, too. Every character is so distinct, and distinctly different from one another. What were your early impressions of Beth when you found her on the page? Where did you want to take her?

When we first meet Beth, we get a bit of an understanding of her situation: having the children and being stuck in that kind of life. She’s in love, but in a way that she doesn’t fully understand it. Also, I had a vision for her in how she’s trapped in this really strange family dynamic. And it’s interesting because, in the past couple of years, some friends of mine had to go through different forms of domestic violence. I had felt like I became the Lou character in their lives, really trying to get them to leave and trying to protect them. I was seeing red. I’d wish to know how to operate a shotgun—that type of thing. So it was really important for me to step into my friends’ lives with Beth and not become the Lou character. I had to become the woman who doesn’t wanna be saved, and that’s not the space I naturally go to with my mama bear vibes. I think it was challenging for me in that way. But once I surrendered to it, it was shocking how much I found myself in her.

There’s a reason why people don’t leave abusive relationships, right? Often, the love is real, too. When the abuser is no longer in the picture, it’s not always, “Phew, the monster is gone.”

Love works in crazy ways. Love is a wild thing. It’s nothing we can predict. It’s such an interesting, natural phenomenon. It’s really hard to say what is good or what is bad about it.

This exploration of power dynamics in intimate relationships is a big connective tissue in Rose’s films. And that, love is complicated. It’s never one thing. Love contains multitudes.

I mean, we’re never gonna stop writing about it. [laughs] It’s like the ultimate gift of abstract weather. We can study love, we can encounter it and we can have it in our own backyards, but it’s going to be different and unique in the way it expresses itself within the terrain of each individual’s heart. And that’s it. It’s never gonna be the same. It’s always going to be different, you know?

There’s a blink-and-you-missed-it shot at the beginning of the film where you see a sign that reads, “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” For a gym rat like Jackie, that means one thing. But applying it to Beth, I go to her moment of seeing red where she unloads onto Lou. I needed to see that from her so that I wouldn’t only pity her. And she became complex.

The theme that Rose was really interested in exploring is not at all about being the victim of something. It’s that you’re still engaging in some perpetration because love will always have rage in its breath. They coexist. The more you love something, the more fiercely you’re going to want to protect it—and sometimes own it and keep it from others. Beth definitely needed that release. It’s interesting. It’s unexpected because you don’t want a woman to feel that way. You want a woman who’s been so extremely abused to accept protection and to accept a new life. It’s just that, sometimes, a new life is something that they can’t even fathom, you know? It’s nothing that they want because they would have to lose everything in the process and the idea of losing everything just isn’t surmountable. It’s such a hard blow. They can’t even imagine life without this trauma.

Rose is just so good at blurring the lines between fantasy and reality to take that kind of point home, isn’t she? For instance, whenever Jackie turns into The Incredible Hulk, it’s not that she’s actually that size—it’s the visual manifestation of her untamed desire to protect Lou. 

Oh my god, it’s amazing. And Katy O’Brian is so incredible in this. Her role is what I meant when I said this felt like nothing I had seen before. The ability to weave in these elements? It’s exactly what you want a film to do. It’s not life. It’s not a puppet show. It’s not a dinner party. It’s not a painting. It’s a visceral experience. I love it when filmmakers push into that fantastical realm to use metaphor and to use imagery to express things that are really hard to express. And if you’re talking about female rage? [laughs] That one deserves the trophy. I don’t think there’s ever been a vessel to contain it properly. So I love that Rose took such a big swing at building a vessel to contain that.

This is the part where I admit to watching this movie on my laptop. But I’m so excited to see it again on the big screen with an audience on opening night at BIFAN.

When is that?

We’re a week out now. 

That’s gonna be so cool.

I looked at the guest list today and saw that Anna [Baryshnikov] is gonna be there.

Give Anna a big hug for me! She’s amazing. She just killed it with her performance.

I’ve heard from visiting filmmakers in the past that Korean audiences are kind of different. The screenings are really quiet—you can hear a pin drop. But when they ask questions about the film afterwards, that’s when you know you had their undivided attention.

That’s like the the sixth sense of the moviegoing experience, right? It’s not just that it’s a moving image. It’s not just that it’s sound to a moving image. It’s not just seeing humans and humanity expressed in a three-dimensional way. It’s also about sitting in a dark room with strangers. We don’t get to do that often. We’re atmospheric creatures. We can’t help but be influenced by our surroundings. You build a home in the desert and you’re gonna have a different life from having built a home by the ocean. That’s just science. Going through that very sacred and spiritual and clumsy and human experience at the cinema—sitting in a chair, letting the lights go dark, and watching something with complete strangers—it adds to the experience. How can it not?

And to think we almost lost that to the pandemic.

I don’t know that we’re even fully back yet. We’ll see where it goes. I mean, nothing ever has to return. But when it does return, it’ll always be different. That’s biological. Everything changes. That’s just part of being on this planet. And I like the idea that, even in a downswing within either the independent cinema world or just storytelling and filmmaking in general, it’s such a gorgeous time to be planting those seeds of revolution. It’s a great way to be changing our perspectives and trying out new things. I can’t wait to see what comes next to lead us to higher ground.

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