“Love Lies Bleeding” star Katy O'Brian is coming for Hollywood — and a rom-com with Dave Bautista

The "Mandalorian" star also previews her upcoming film "Twisters" and reveals what surprised her most about being part of the Star Wars and Marvel universes.

<p>Everett Collection</p>

Everett Collection

In a lot of ways, Katy O'Brian's story is the story of her Love Lies Bleeding character, Jackie. They're both queer Midwestern gals who headed west to chase their dreams after discovering a newfound confidence from bodybuilding.

In the film, Jackie's dreams derail when she falls for Kristen Stewart's Lou and becomes entangled with her criminal family. From there, things only get darker and weirder. Fortunately, O'Brian says her own life has been significantly less "tragic."

She started performing locally in her home state of Indiana from a young age but struggled to find work despite help from a commercial agent. "It was really difficult for them to figure out how to cast me," she says. "I just didn't quite fit the mold of what I guess Indiana was looking for."

So, believing that acting wasn't an option, she forged a more traditional career path. After earning a degree in psychology from Indiana University Bloomington, she got a job as a police officer. Still, her passion for acting never waned. "I'd graduated, I'd had a job, and I just was like, I am not happy where I am," she recalls thinking. "I'm not happy doing what I'm doing, and I wanted to make a change."

<p>Everett Collection</p> Katy O'Brian as Jackie in 'Love Lies Bleeding'

Everett Collection

Katy O'Brian as Jackie in 'Love Lies Bleeding'

So, like Jackie, that's exactly what she did. After moving to Los Angeles in 2016, she worked with an acting coach who taught her to open up and express herself. Still, she credits her bodybuilding experience with giving her the confidence and discipline needed to progress with acting: "[With bodybuilding], you think, man, that's an impossible goal. And when you're able to accomplish it, then it's like, oh, what else can I accomplish?"

She first landed small roles on shows like The Walking Dead, Halt and Catch Fire, How to Get Away With Murder, and Tosh.0 before scoring her first regular role as George on the Syfy series Z Nation. It was "a silly zombie show," she says, but it allowed her to pay off debt and "have a little bit saved up by the time I got my next regular job" — which ended up being Major Sara Grey on the DC Comics series Black Lightning.

Several roles in short films and stints on series such as Westworld, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Magnum P.I., and The Rookie followed. But it wasn't until she was cast in Disney+'s The Mandalorian as imperial communications officer Elia Kane in 2020 that O'Brian started feeling recognized for her work.

<p>Lucasfilm</p> Katy O'Brian as Elia Kane in 'The Mandalorian'


Katy O'Brian as Elia Kane in 'The Mandalorian'

Entering the Star Wars universe was nothing like she expected. "It's funny; I had thought that Star Wars sets would be chaotic because I know obviously it's a huge fan base, and they all have opinions and things, and I had heard rumors as well that the sets were crazy and stuff was just changing all the time," O'Brian explains. "But I don't know if it's because of streaming or if [series creator] Jon Favreau just got it on lockdown or what the deal is, but Mandalorian was pretty seamless. It doesn't feel chaotic. It feels effortless. I know it's not, but it feels effortless. Everybody just works together really well, and I think they do their best to keep it like a family."

Not long after, O'Brian joined another major Hollywood franchise — the Marvel Cinematic Universe — as Jentorra in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which was a completely different experience. "Yeah, that was absolutely chaotic," she says with a laugh. "I think we were getting new pages until the last day, and I think I was getting new fights the last day. I just show up, and they're like, here's a new fight."

Still, O'Brian stresses that the people she worked with couldn't have been more "lovely." "I thought me being this kind of like newbie, they might, I don't know, either ignore me or I would just feel out of place, but they just always made it as welcoming as possible. I was surprised by that environment," she explains.

<p>Jay Maidment/MARVEL</p> Katy O'Brian as Jentorra in 'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania'

Jay Maidment/MARVEL

Katy O'Brian as Jentorra in 'Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania'

With roles in Marvel, DC, and Star Wars under her belt, O'Brian has reached career heights most actors can only dream of — and she's done it all in less than 10 years in the business. Now, with Love Lies Bleeding, O'Brian hopes to branch out from the tough gal roles she's previously played. "I do hope that it shows people that I can do something other than sci-fi, that I can take on a serious, dramatic role, and that I can be believable as something other than a military persona," she says. Still, O'Brian appreciates that the film offers "cool exposure to a body type that Hollywood has been hesitant to show."

More broadly, she hopes audiences relate to Jackie and see her as someone who will go to any lengths to feel love. "I also think it's a movie that's very much made to entertain, and you can go as deep as you want with it," she adds. "But I also love just being able to show a queer relationship and it not be perfect and it not be full of humility, and that the queerness isn't at all the purpose of the story."

Still, the relationship is central to the film and demands a lot of its two leads. While Stewart and O'Brian worked separately and together with an intimacy coordinator for the sexier moments, O'Brian jokes that a lot of their onscreen bond was forged over a mutual awkwardness on set. "My whole thing was I wanted to make sure Kristen felt completely comfortable, didn't feel like she was being taken advantage of or anything like that, and she for sure went out of her way to do the same," she explains. "We were just two nerds bouncing around with excitement about the movie, but also just being very awkward and wanting to make sure that we weren't stepping on each other's toes."

<p>Syfy</p> Katy O'Brian as George in 'Z Nation'


Katy O'Brian as George in 'Z Nation'

Next for O'Brian is another role she hopes will allow her to flex different acting muscles: Twisters, the sequel to the 1996 blockbuster Twister. The film, slated for release July 19, also stars a coterie of Hollywood's up-and-comers: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Glen Powell, Anthony Ramos, Daryl McCormack, Sasha Lane, and Kiernan Shipka, to name a few.

"We filmed a tornado movie during tornado season in Tornado Alley," O'Brian says proudly of the project (she is from the Midwest, after all). While she can't say much about her character, she teases that she gets to be a "little sillier" — though she won't go so far as to call it a comedic part. "I don't want to say comedic role, and then everyone's like, 'She wasn't funny.' We'll say it's silly and fun."

What she does say, though, is that audiences can expect "good family fun." "I think it's going to be like PG or maybe PG-13, I don't know," she says. "But [director Lee Isaac Chung] — it seems like maybe he's an interesting choice for it. He did this gorgeous indie [Minari], and then he did Star Wars [The Mandalorian], and then he did Twisters, but he's from Arkansas, so he's from the area. I think he just really understands the battle of humans and nature, but also the importance of the balance of nature and all of that."

She continues, "I think he has this really, really beautiful vision for it, and I think it's going to be cool for people to see. I don't think people are going to expect to go into a movie about tornadoes and be awed by the cinematography and the direction."

Not unlike the twisters at the center of the upcoming thriller, O'Brian has become a force of nature in Hollywood. As for where she lands when the dust settles, she evokes a surprising image: Halle Berry, holding her Best Actress Oscar (for 2002's Monster's Ball) while accepting her Worst Actress Razzie (for 2005's Catwoman). "I just think that that's so iconic because it's like, I don't want to take myself too seriously [but] I would love to be seen as someone that can hold down a very serious Oscar-worthy role."

If the bonkers twists in Love Lies Bleeding prove anything, it's that O'Brian is down for it all. Case in point, she says: "I love a good horror film. I love action-comedy. I love having fun. I love a good rom-com. I've been telling people I'd love to do a rom-com with Dave Bautista because he keeps saying no one will hire him for a romantic lead. I'm open to anything, and I'm excited to see what's coming." Make it happen, Hollywood.

Love Lies Bleeding is in limited theaters now and opens wide on March 15.

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