"Cory is quite an androgynous name, so I was quite gendered and assumed that a man couldn’t possibly write women as complex as this," she told Refinery29. "But I was happily mistaken."
In fact, the film, which stars Cooke as Amanda, a budding sociopath awaiting trial for animal cruelty for mutilating her horse who reconnects with her childhood companion Lily (Anya Taylor-Joy), is an impressively relatable tale of female friendship. Through his sharp, almost acerbic dialogue, Finley has managed to capture the intricate ways that teenage girls interact with each other, without the voyeurism or sexualization typical of a male gaze.
At 24 and 21 respectively, Cooke and Taylor-Joy have already proven that they can more than handle dark material. Cooke's breakout role was as Emma Decody on A&E's Bates Motel, while Taylor-Joy has been steadily starring in acclaimed horror films like 2015's The Witch, 2016's Morgan, and 2017's Split. In Thoroughbreds, the two finally take center stage in a way that promises great things to come. And in fact, they're already happening. In the next couple of months, the two will be starring in major blockbuster roles: Cooke, as Samantha Evelyn Cook, a.k.a Art3mis, in Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One, and Taylor-Joy, as Illyana Rasputin, a.k.a. Magik, in Marvel's The New Mutants.
On the eve of Thoroughbred's release, Refinery29 asked Cooke and Taylor-Joy about what made these particular characters so compelling, whether fake crying really works, and why it's so scary when teenage girls stop being polite.
Refinery29: Your characters toe the line between insufferable and charming. What drew you to them?
Anya Taylor-Joy: “The dialogue, I think for both of us.”
Olivia Cooke: “The two characters were so different, and then they kind of morph and separate again towards the end. And the wicked dynamics between the two, I hadn’t seen before for a whole movie, which was what was really special.”
ATJ: "It’s a very interesting phase in any young girl’s life to have that friend that you’re so obsessed with, and each contains attributes that the other cannot possibly have, and desperately wanting each other’s attributes. That dynamic onscreen and in the script was fascinating."
And it’s a dynamic that’s so very specifically female.
OC: “Well yeah, it’s almost like, ‘I want to be this person’ slash ‘I always want to be around them,’ and actually when you’re younger you wonder, ‘Am I gay? Is that what’s going on?’
ATJ: “It’s a fascination with the other person.”
How rare is it for you as young actresses to find scripts with such fleshed out female characters?
OC: “I feel like I’ve come at this job at a really great time for women, so I don’t feel there’s a shortage. At the moment we’ve got incredible pioneers — and that could be male or female. Cory [Finley] wrote the script. [H]e’s a man, and he created two incredible, dimensional characters. So, I feel like I thankfully never struggled with that, actually."
ATJ: "Olivia and I have been very lucky in the roles that we’ve played, because they’ve been complex and emotionally interesting people. I’m really hoping that this becomes the norm, rather than the exception."
Olivia, you said you initially thought the script had been written by a woman. What was it that gave you that impression? Were there specific details that you thought only a woman could know, or relate to?
OC: "I think it was just the competitive spirit of it, and just how fucking cutting women can be towards each other. Just passive aggressive, manipulative — it feels like women can be sometimes smarter in those situations."
ATJ: "In the way we cut each other down."
OC: "Yeah, and an hour later, you’re like ‘Oh, so that’s what she meant? That fucking bitch.'"
There’s this idea throughout the film that young women are taught to be so polite and repressed, and that when they’re not, it’s terrifying. Did you identify with that?
ATJ: "This is a really silly metaphor, but I do think about it all the time. If you hold a bouncy plastic ball underneath the water and you keep it down under the surface at some point, it’s going to erupt, and shoot out of the water rather than slightly bobbing along. The fact that women, from the second we’re born, are taught, ‘Close your mouth, nod along, close your legs,’ is a really horrible way to go around. And once you start questioning that, you start noticing, ‘Wait, I’m actually an individual that has my own power.’ It manifests in a terrifying way. Hopefully, with this movement going on, not just in Hollywood but in the world right now, we can hold our own power without murdering a whole bunch of people. I think it feels good to own yourself, and not allow yourself to be censored anymore in a way that men have been lucky to have done for a while.”
OC: "I actually think it’s quite impossible. I thought Cory had tapped into something, and that the technique was a real thing, so I tried it. You’re restricting oxygen — it doesn’t really work. It makes you feel lightheaded! It’ll give you a panic attack. You just have to think about something sad, and then you just cry. "
There are no sex scenes in the movie, and that’s so rare in onscreen depictions of teen girls. Was that something you thought about, or discussed?
OC: "Yes! What I think is wonderful is that there’s no discussion of a love interest, or of us having any sexual desires. You don’t know their sexual preference, it’s never made evident, it’s all about the friendship, and what we can do for each other."
ATJ: "We never talk about a man, or a woman with any sort of sexual connotation. People in film tend to over-sex characters, and it was nice to see that it was literally just about the two of us. We didn’t need to justify ourselves with any other interest group."
The house is almost like a third protagonist in the movie. What was it like filming in that mansion?
ATJ: "It was a real house! Cory jokes that casting the two of us was really easy, and casting the house was really hard. Just because Cory came into it wanting to do these really long takes, and that just requires a lot of rooms. The house is such an immense presence. Liv and I lived three minutes away walking from this house, so it felt like we were either asleep, or in the house. It added a feeling of uneasiness, because it itself was something none of us had ever experienced before. The melding of wealth, and privilege, but also the people that lived there had very specific taste."
OC: "Yeah, it was tacky. You know, money can’t buy taste, and it was a strange thing to be in a place that was so evidently wealthy. They would have fake marble walls, and fake columns put in to further create the aesthetic of even more wealth."
ATJ: "The production department did take out a lot of things to make it specifically Thoroughbreds, and what I love about it is that it looks beautiful onscreen, but it’s always cold. It doesn’t feel like people live in there. Which I think is a wonderful symbol of how the people within it feel. They’re living in this gilded cage, but there’s actually no place to perch."
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