On the CW's hit The 100, Eliza Taylor plays Clarke Griffin, an unlikely survivalist leader whose dystopian heroine braids have launched a thousand cosplays. In the gritty indie crime drama Thumper, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, she appears to be Kat, a pink-haired high schooler who's suspiciously reluctant to do the drugs she asks her classmates for. At Bustle HQ, the actor is neither. She's a relaxed presence who's more sophisticated — and more Australian — than the dystopian character for whom American audiences know her best. Thumper marks a big departure from the four-seasons-and-counting YA adaptation series, and Taylor is delighted to be getting her hands dirty as a majorly flawed grown-up. Messy female characters can be just as empowering as YA superwomen, both for audiences and the women who play them.
"I love that Kat/Meredith is just a little bit sh*t," Taylor says, laughing. "She doesn’t balance things well; she can’t handle all the responsibilities she has. Because Clarke always finds some sort of strength inside her to carry on, and Meredith lacks that. It was really fun to just kind of be not good enough."
[Plot SPOILERS for Thumper ahead.] A wayward teenager is nothing new to indie film, but a wayward teenager Taylor's Thumper character is not. Kat is actually a cop named Meredith, posing as just another of the South Central LA neighborhood kids looking to score. Like many undercover cops in movies, Meredith comes to empathize with the people she's embedded with, particularly the teens who are just going down the tragically predictable path their economically depressed town and absent parents have set for them.
"When I was studying the script to shoot — I’ve never done this before — but I wrote a backstory for Meredith," Taylor says. "And I decided that she grew up in a similar sort of situation and maybe had an addiction or something and got clean and didn’t want these kids to go down the same road that she did."
It's clear in the actor's performance that Meredith has no detachment when it comes to this job. She becomes especially close with a boy named Beaver (Daniel Webber), a sensitive foot soldier of the hardened, sadistic, and much older dealer played by Pablo Schreiber. The movie is intimate, but raises questions about the ongoing American War On Drugs, and how it can be more likely to punish the powerless while the larger distribution apparatus keeps on turning. According to the Bureau Of Justice, four out of five drug arrests are for possession alone.
"You really do see how kids who don’t know any better are getting caught doing drugs that are just going to keep ending up on the streets," Taylor says. "They’re just going to keep busting the small fish ... But it does delve really deep into the whole underbelly of how it works."
We're speaking on the day that the movie is premiering at the festival, and she's jealous that I've had the chance to see it already. She doesn't even know which of the three filmed conclusions writer/director Jordan Ross decided to go with: the hopeful, the neutral, or the dreary. The ambiguousness is fitting; as compassionate and well-meaning as Meredith is, she's not the kind of character who seems to be guaranteed a happy ending.
That was part of the appeal for the actor, though. While Clarke has endured murderous AI, warring tribes, and the loss of the love of her life, Taylor is right in pointing out her inextinguishable spirit. Meredith is a cog in a malfunctioning machine, and it's weighing on her. That makes her story compelling.
"I’ve never sunk my teeth into something quite so gritty and layered," Taylor says.
Complicating matters for Meredith is that she has a son she co-parents with her ex (Ben Feldman). If you're thinking that executing an undercover sting on a network of petty drug dealers probably doesn't leave much time for nurturing, you'd be right. It's the 27-year-old actor's first time playing a mother ("First of many, I'm sure!"), and she's definitely not the practically-perfect kind — the one who always remembers to bring the orange wedges to soccer practice.
"I really enjoyed how much of a struggle it was to play a mom who doesn’t have it all figured out," Taylor says. "She’s losing it a little bit and she doesn’t know how to be a good mom and how to balance her personal life with her profession."
The actor behind the character, though, did nab some tips from her Thumper co-star and Game Of Thrones actor Lena Headey (Cersei) while they were on set. Because when your shows are certifiable phenomenons with very vocal fanbases, you have to stick together.
"I definitely asked her a lot abut the freakish success of Game Of Thrones and how she dealt with all of that and she had some really great advice," Taylor says. "To take it as it comes and to be grateful and keep a little bit of yourself to yourself."
Taylor does give a lot of herself away in Thumper, but the performance that will put to rest any idea that she stops at Clarke Griffin.