Olivia Thirlby Explores the Path of Sexuality in ‘Nobody Walks’

John Krasinski and Olivia Thirlby stars in “NOBODY WALKS.” ©Magnolia Pictures. CR: Nicholas Trikonis.


Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—Olivia Thirlby almost was cast in the acclaimed new HBO series “Girls,” but conflicts with other projects changed all that.

Still, the 26-year-old actress hasn’t ruled out eventually guest starring on the series created by her childhood pal Lena Dunham.

In the meantime, the native New Yorker stars in the Dunham penned “Nobody Walks,” in which she plays a sexy young filmmaker who wrecks havoc when she moves in with a sound engineer and his family to finish up her latest art film. Martine is not so much a sexual predator as a woman whose overt sexuality sparks passion in almost everyone she comes in contact with. Directed and co-written by Ry Russo-Young, the drama also stars “The Office’s” John Krasinski and Rosemarie DeWitt.

Thirlby’s enigmatic Martine is a sharp contrast from the innocent young rookie she plays in the sci-fi actioner “Dredd 3D,” currently in release. Yet the busy young actress says can relate to certain characteristics of both roles.

The brunette beauty arrives for an interview dressed in a black suit accented by a sheer cream color top. Her eyes light up when a publicist delivers a tall iced latte, which she sips between responses about her new movie roles.

Q: You sport a cute pixie haircut in this film. Was your hair short already or did you have it cut specifically for the movie?

Thirlby: My hair had been dyed blond for “Dredd 3D.”  After “Dredd,” It was really fried because of the dye, so I cut it into a bob with bangs and that’s how it was during “Being Flynn.” For Martine, we felt like that little French bob was just way too cute for her and she would be need to be a bit more androgynous and kind of modern. So the only place to go was off.

Question: What attracted you to this project and how you got involved?

Thirlby: 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. Then, when I read it, I was totally blown away. I thought that the ensemble nature of this drama was really fascinating. All the characters were really dimensional and well developed. And I appreciate a film that doesn’t tell you how to feel about the events that are happening. This film is a window into showing dynamics between people that exist in all of us, that are actually too subtle to talk about sometimes. The film shows those dynamics and I liked that.

Q: The film puts it out there that “no,” to Martine, generally means “maybe” or probably “yes,” as opposed to “no means no.”

Thirlby: A lot of that has to do with Martine. 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. 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 maybe, and I think that’s what it’s about. It’s about this notion that society, the world at large, wants her to compartmentalize sex much more than she can.


Q: Do you consider Martine the bad guy in the film?

Thirlby: Certainly not. I don’t think that she’s the bad guy at all. She definitely makes a big mistake, but her mistake is born from naiveté 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 kind of scenarios.

Q: Martine seems to have a pattern of betrayal to those around her. It’s set up early on that she published pictures of her boyfriend that he didn’t want to make public so he sued her. So is she someone with bad judgment or does she not have any boundaries at all in terms of what’s OK and what’s not?

Thirlby: It’s not touched upon that much in the film, but we did talk about it. I don’t feel that way about her. I think that what happened with her former boyfriend and the lawsuit had more to do with him being a crazy a** than it had to do with her misleading him in any way. She did not mislead him about the nature of the photographs that she was taking. He just changed his mind about how he felt about them after the fact.


Q: Is she a victim of being the object of everyone’s sexual desire?

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

Q: How was it for you to play a character that has that kind of power but doesn’t know exactly where to put it?

Thirlby: 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 and Libra women are pretty magical. (She smiles.)

Q: Can you give some examples of that in your life?

Thirlby: No, I meant that in a very kind of metaphorical way. But it’s something that maybe a lot of young women can identify with because we get very mixed messages from society about our sexuality and whether we should or shouldn’t use it. We get such unbelievable messages that it’s hard to imagine any women get through their teens and 20s okay. We’re told that we should be ashamed of using our sexual power but we’re also told that in order for people to like us, we have to be hot and sexual.

Q: Was there anything in your personal life that you could draw on to inform the character?

Thirlby: (She takes a long pause.) I identify with being 22 and emerging from a situation and going, “Oh boy, I really could have handled that better.” That’s what happens with Martine. In terms of Martine, that’s something that I identify with, just realizing that you still have a lot to learn about certain things.


Q: Are you a fan of Lena’s HBO series “Girls?” Do you watch it?

Thirlby: I’m a huge fan of all things Lena Dunham. She’s a genius and I could just listen to her talk forever.


Q: Is there any chance of a role on the show?  If they offered it, would you be interested?

Thirlby: Yeah, absolutely. Initially, I was going to be on “Girls” and it did not work out. 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,” you’re more of an innocent and the newbie learning the ropes, which is very different from your character in “Nobody Walks.” Was there any part of that character you could identify with?

Thirlby: There’s so much with my character in “Dredd” that I identify with. She’s my favorite character 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 that 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 that you think is wrong with you. It’s oftentimes your greatest “flaw” that actually forays into what is also your greatest strength.