Rose Glass on Love Lies Bleeding

Saint Maud director Rose Glass is back with crime thriller/smouldering queer romance Love Lies Bleeding. She talks to us about casting Kristen Stewart as a moody antihero and explains how this tale of violence and bodybuilding was almost set in Scotland

Feature by Jamie Dunn | 01 May 2024
  • Love Lies Bleeding

The heart wants what the heart wants – and sometimes that’s a bodybuilder with a sweet smile who gets a bit antsy after one too many steroid injections. That’s the predicament faced by Lou (played to perfection by Kristen Stewart), the protagonist of Rose Glass’s crackerjack 80s-set crime thriller Love Lies Bleeding. Lou is the surly manager of a grimy gym in Nowheresville, New Mexico, but her hard exterior melts when she claps eyes on the bulging biceps belonging to Jackie (Katy O'Brian), an itinerant gym bunny who’s passing through town on the way to a bodybuilding competition. 

Love Lies Bleeding is the second film from Glass, who burst out of the gates in 2019 with the knockout psychological horror Saint Maud. This follow-up, co-written with Weronika Tofilska, is similarly bold, but it’s also a much more propulsive piece of work, with a bigger canvas and a starry cast (Jena Malone, Dave Franco and a practically demonic Ed Harris play various members of Lou’s dysfunctional family). The idea of a woman bodybuilder came first, she explains: “Visually, it seemed very striking territory. But it also felt psychologically potent and interesting. And I guess maybe as someone who's very definitely not a bodybuilder” – Glass is practically elfin – “I was just fascinated by the idea of anybody who manages to have that level of self-discipline and obsessiveness.”

I’m speaking to Glass in an office off Sauchiehall Street a few hours before Love Lies Bleeding is due to open the Glasgow Film Festival. The film goes down gangbusters at that gala screening, but one can only imagine the reaction it would have received had Glass stuck with her initial idea to set the film in Scotland’s largest city. “There was never an official draft set in Glasgow," recalls Glass, "but when Weronika and I were brainstorming, we were a bit unsure where to set it. Somehow, I could really imagine versions of these characters being butch Scottish lesbians. I don't know why. Part of me still thinks that would have been great.”

As the story started to develop, though, America became more logical (“just because of the sort of vastness of that place, I guess… and all the guns”). America is also the home of the noir crime genre, but that part had Glass anxious. “The visual language of Americana almost feels mythological now," says Glass. "There are so many films that have dipped a toe in the same well, so I guess I was just nervous about feeling out of my depth, like how would you make it interesting? Or how do you make it feel new?”

Her approach was to try her damnedest to ignore what had come before. “I actively didn't revisit stuff like Bound, Wild at Heart or True Romance,” says Glass, namechecking three films Love Lies Bleeding was initially compared to after its world premiere at Sundance earlier this year. "I've never seen Thelma and Louise,” she continues, "but that's so famous that even if you haven't seen it, you sort of feel like you have, so I'm sure it has an influence somewhere.” 

While Glass and Tofilska avoided these classics during the writing of Love Lies Bleeding, they did give some movie-watching homework to their lead actors. “I gave them a list which had things like Showgirls, Saturday Night Fever and Crash,” says Glass. We note that those are three wildly different slices of American cinema. “They are,” she agrees, “but I was hoping to create some sort of weird Venn diagram with a tiny crossover.” She does see a throughline: “I guess in all the films, there's a real kind of intensity and liveliness to everyone's performances. In different ways, all the actors feel like they're literally about to burst off the screen. It's all very visceral and energetic.”

She’s certainly got similarly visceral turns from her cast. Kristen Stewart is particularly wonderful, but that should come as no surprise to anyone who has kept up with her post-Twilight career, where she’s given rich, emotionally intelligent and sometimes delightfully weird performances for directors as varied as Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women), Olivier Assayas (Personal Shopper) and David Cronenberg (Crimes of the Future). “Once Weronika and I started to imagine what this character was like, we did the exercise of who your fantasy cast would be," explains Glass. "Kristen was the only actress that sprung to mind; it just felt very natural.” 

Love Lies Bleeding straddles several genres. It’s a sexy queer romance, it’s got elements of body horror, it’s flecked at the edges with magic realism, but at its heart, it’s pure pulp noir, and if we think in those terms, Stewart is stepping into the shoes of Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney.  “She's kind of our morally ambiguous antihero who's haunted by her past and smokes too much," says Glass. "Kristen, I think, embodies that. And I just liked the idea of her being a bit of a moody heartthrob as well, but a very neurotic one.”

Love Lies Bleeding is released 3 May by Lionsgate