Two rich teenagers, Lily and Amanda, plot to kill Lily's stepfather in the new film Thoroughbreds. It's a wacky plot for sure, but that's not what makes the movie, out March 9, stand out. And it's not even that Amanda, as played by Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Bates Motel) doesn't feel emotion — ever. Where the film truly stands out is in the relationship between its two female leads. And as Cooke tells me when we chat over the phone, Thoroughbreds shows a new, obsessive side to female friendship rarely show on screen.
As the actor notes, Thoroughbreds is a movie starring teens that's not about romance or high school woes, a rarity in Hollywood. "We never find out the sexual preferences of these women, there's no talk of a love interest," Cooke says. "It's just about the obsessiveness of their relationship and how they're trying to absorb each other."
In the film, Lily (Anya Taylor-Jones) and Amanda start out as estranged childhood friends, but quickly become two sides of the same coin, becoming so wrapped up in each other that one does not fully exist without the other. It's a unique approach to the celebration of female friendship, and one that required Cooke and Taylor-Joy to spend every waking moment together — literally. "We were never not together unless we were sleeping," Cooke says. And even then, she slept in a room above Taylor-Joy's.
For the movie to work, Cooke found that she and her co-star needed to have more than just on-screen chemistry; they needed to be physically linked during scenes. "I think it was important for us to spend as much time together as possible, and to become quite symbiotic, and quite snake like [in our] movements," she says. "It was really important to kind of inhabit the space where we were one person."
Working closely with Taylor-Joy, Cooke says, was a new on-set experience. Although she's starred in a number of films, Thoroughbreds was her first main role opposite another leading lady. "It was wonderful," she recalls. "I was really excited to work with Anya because I think she's just a terrific actress, and having to play with those dynamics and have it be a load of estrogen, because I've never had that in my career thus far."
In fact, Cooke had been so used to sharing the screen with leading men, she didn't even notice how normalized the gender dynamic was until she started filming. "It was only when I was working on Thoroughbreds that I really realized that. It's so few and far between," she explains. In the future, though, the actor says she wants to work alongside women more often, whether they're co-stars, directors, or writers.
Thoroughbreds is certainly a worthy place to start. In addition to its depiction of friendship, the film is memorable for featuring a protagonist, Amanda, who shows no real emotion. "I thought the character was something that I'd never quite read before," Cooke says. "I was really turned on by the challenge of playing someone who experiences life without emotions, and how I could play that without it being lifeless, and how I could work with the art of manipulation and fakery in order to correspond and connect with Lily."
Moving forward, however, Cooke has some more emotional roles in her future. This year alone, she is set to star in Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One — "a massive experience," she says — and Life Itself, a tear-jerking movie from This Is Us creator Dan Fogelman. "I just hope I keep doing what I've been doing: working with incredible directors and writers and fellow actors, and keep telling really interesting stories," Cooke says. "I'm just kind of going with the flow and being as selective as possible."
If it's confidence like this that has led to Thoroughbreds and what promises to be Cooke's biggest year, then fans can only imagine what lies ahead.