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Interview: Olivia Thirlby Talks Gender Politics in DREDD

Have you seen Dredd yet? Odds are, probably not. While the ads highlight the beauty of the Slow-Mo drug and the grittiness of the violence, there’s more than meets the eye in this film. I got the chance to sit down with Olivia Thirlby and a handful of other reporters to discuss what she brought to the role and how this Dredd is a cut above that Stallone pick of decades past.

What I found most interesting was her take on the gender politics within the film. In Dredd, you have this stoic, uncorruptable man, and while he’s the title character it’s really the women that do most of the heavy lifting in terms of storytelling. Ma-Ma (played by Lena Headey) is a strong female villain not often seen in film, she’s ruthless, heartless, and a touch mad. Juxtaposed against Thirlby’s Anderson, the green new Judge who’s trying to bring a little grey area to Law and it makes for a very interesting dynamic.

Read the full chat here:

It feels like a British view of the states – do you see it that way? And what do you think of the way we look at you? 
I suppose culturally there’s something about the POV there’s something distinctly British because of where it’s coming from. It takes a dreary view of a post apocalyptic world due to the fact that this only remaining outpost of civilization exists in North America. I don’t know what larger conclusions I can draw with that, but at least from the POV of acting it seems like there could be a lot of crossover from the UK to the states; it’s much more difficult for Americans to cross over. I don’t know what exactly what to make of it.


How much of the comics did you get in to research for this role? 
There’s a very rich history there. The objective of this film was so aimed at being faithful to the source material that it was important for me to go back to that source material so that I had an idea of what we were trying to do in the film. I wanted to do justice to Anderson who has a life before I was probably even born. She’s older than me. It was very important to me to at least be acquainted with her personality and her adventure and her history. I was quite lucky because depending on what comic you read Anderson can be a different kind of girl. I had the luxury to decide for myself situationally what was right for her and not be betraying any of the pre-existing material.


Was there a favorite story you found in your research from the comics? 
Not in particular, but I am a fan of when Anderson gets sassy. She can be quick-witted and kind of wry and I like that. My version of Anderson starts off in such a vulnerable place that I like the idea of her getting to a place where she’s confident enough to be doing fun, quick one-liners.



Dredd is so uncorruptable, so I’m curious for your character – what drives her? 
She’s an unusually sensitive individual. She has these psychic powers, but all that really is someone who experiences a heightened sensitivity. We can read people, we can get a sense of a situation in a room, that’s just part of the human condition. She’s just one of these people who’s awareness is so so heightened that she has this sensitivity just for all people.


Do you think your character believes in the Law? 
She does! That’s what makes her interesting. She has this strong moral seat. But I think the reason why up until the point of the movie she’s continually failed at becoming a Judge is because she doesn’t see things black and white. There’s something about her abilities that on paper make her inadequate to be a judge, but then as we see in the film it’s actually something that gives her an upper hand at being an exceptional judge.


This is a big action, shooting type of movie – can you talk about what your training was like?
It was really fun! Besides doing all the emotional character development stuff, which was really important to me since Anderson is so badass, it was really fun to get to do all the tactical training which involved weapons training, how to move with your weapons, military training like hand signals, and also stunt training for fight sequences and I had to learn how to round house kick, which was awesome! It was definitely the hardest physical challenge because even after I learned how to round house kick, doing it in the leather body suit was so much more challenging than doing it just in sweat pants that it was like I had to learn it all over again.


Were there any injuries or funny stories with all of that activity? 
I had a really good time working on all that stuff because the stunt team in Cape Town was just so exceptional. The people are just so talented and kind and patient with me, and I have to give a shout out to my team Grant, Paul, Fleur, Vern – they’re all so amazing and it’s because of their hardwork and dedication that I was able to learn how to do all that stuff.


The movie’s quite violent – how was that for you? Your past movies weren’t like that. 
A lot of that got added on afterwards, it wasn’t all there while we were filming. But for me, I don’t find the violence in this film to be gratuitous just because of the source material. The mood set in the comic is one of true post-apocolyptic gloom where brutality and violence are part of the fabric of Mega City 1. To me, the violence was something to always be excited about because it was an indication that if done right, this film would stay true to the comics.


You’ve done so many different types of movies like sci-fi, comedy, horror – what do you like to do most? 
I think that my tastes really vary depending on the material. Even though this film is a genre film adapted from a comic book, I’m so in love with the character Anderson and how she was scripted that I absolutely loved filming this movie. I’m really enjoying the process of getting to show it to people. My favorite stuff to do is just play roles that I think are interesting so that’s what I always look for.


Talk to me about the gender politics in the film, with Ma-Ma as the villain and Anderson’s struggles in the film. What do you think it adds to the films? 
Well I think that strong female characters make everything better. I wish it was something that there were more of. When I say “strong female characters” I don’t necessarily mean that they’re good guys, just that they’re well-rounded characters that have a story and a reason for existing. I think that Alex did such an amazing job writing these characters and I think that the film is stronger because Dredd, who’s this impenetrable brick wall of a man, is flanked by these two very different and very interesting women.


Sex is a weapon in this film – would you agree? 
It’s hard to say because the world of Dredd is not a sexual world. Comic book women are usually drawn so you can see their bodies, but I don’t think I played Anderson that way. She was never going to have cleavage, she was never supposed to be sexy, she was always supposed to look like a Judge. The sexual objectification that she goes through is just something that she goes through in the modern world and in the post-apocalyptic one as well. It’s something that women just have to balance and the ability to balance that is what gives us strength.
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The Author

Kristal Bailey

Kristal Bailey

With a soft spot for movies that fall into the “So Bad They’re Good” category, Kristal Bailey regularly watches B-movies, 80s comedies, and sci-fi from the 50s and 60s. She also refuses to grow up if that means she has to hide her love for Disney and Pixar films.

In her free time, she enjoys reading graphic novels or books that are soon to be turned into movies, watching hours and hours of television, and spending way too much time on Twitter.