She may not be a household name just yet, but if Olivia Cooke's performance in Katie Says Goodbye is any indication, you can expect to see a whole lot more of her on the big screen soon enough. Cooke plays the title role in the independent film, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 11. The actor stars as a teen girl who lives in a trailer with her derelict, unemployed mother, Tracey, working as a waitress by day and a sex worker by night in order to make ends meet. But, unlike many of her peers in her tiny town, Katie dreams of a better life for herself and saves every spare penny she has so she can eventually move to San Francisco and start over. For Cooke, Katie's optimism in the face of adversity was what drew her into the role.
"She was so hopeful. I’ve never met anyone who is so optimistic, pure, and innocent. And she's so different from myself, because I'm a pure English pessimist," the 22-year-old actor says with a laugh. In the film, Katie always looks for the good in people, which proves to be her fatal flaw when an attractive new guy, Bruno (Christopher Abbott), moves to town. She is immediately enamored with the ex-convict, and the two begin a relationship. Katie remains in love even though Bruno shows her scarcely any kindness — and, in fact, barely even speaks to her. As for why Katie would fall for him, Cooke has her ideas. "I think it's because he was so shiny and brand new in this town that was really, really small," she says. "Everyone knows everyone's business and she pins all her hopes and dreams on this mysterious man who comes to town."
Although Katie is a constant optimist, the film isn't afraid to get dark, with the plot heavily focusing on Katie's job as a sex worker for older male patrons of the diner where she waitresses. While at first, Katie is "in control of everything that she was doing," Cooke says, it's impossible to keep a secret in a tiny town and it doesn't take long for a number of young men to target Katie because of her work. When she's (spoiler alert!) brutally raped, it's a turning point for Katie, Cooke says, because "that was the moment when the control was taken away from her."
The rape, Cooke adds, makes Katie even more determined to escape the toxicity of her town. "She always wanted to see the best in people, but she knew she had to get out. Katie loved her mother, but she didn't want to turn into her," she says. As an actor, Cooke says there's no real way to prepare for such a violent scene. Describes the star,
I don’t know what you can do to prepare. It was a safe environment, but having to act with that physicality and get in the mindset of the sadistic experience was difficult. We filmed it in seven or eight hours, because it was one continuous shot so we had to get the choreography just right. Afterwards, we went our separate ways after and took a deep breath and reflected. Then we went out for dinner and had some wine. It’s never easy and you have to handle it with as much sensitivity as possible.
It's a tough scene in a difficult movie, but with Cooke in the lead role, Katie Says Goodbye makes for a compelling watch. And for the actor, it's just one of many exciting projects Cooke has in the works. She can currently be seen on the small screen in Bates Motel, and she's in the middle of shooting Steven Spielberg's sci-fi thriller Ready Player One, scheduled for a 2018 release. "It's half based in virtual reality and it's a really adventuresome role," Cooke says of the highly-anticipated film. She also recently wrapped up filming Thoroughbred, a movie about, she says, two high school girls who bond over "a really gruesome thing that happened." Cooke's career is taking off, and her performance in Katie Says Goodbye proves that no role is too difficult for her to pull off.