Rose Glass Gets Down With Dolly Parton

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images, Everett Collection, Retailers

The last time Rose Glass was promoting a film she’d made, the world was in the middle of lockdown. Saint Maud, her directorial debut about a pious nurse (Morfydd Clark) who goes to extremes to show her hedonistic patient (Jennifer Ehle) the light of God, rolled out without a flashy press tour but still became one of 2021’s horror favorites. For better or worse, Glass had to wait for her second feature to experience the madness of true Hollywood hype.

That moment has now arrived. Love Lies Bleeding is bigger and bolder than Saint Maud in every way. Its lead star, Kristen Stewart — playing Lou, a small-town 1980s gym manager who falls for a bodybuilder (Katy O’Brian) while trying to evade her own criminal father (Ed Harris) — brought attention to the film with a controversial Rolling Stone cover and an eye-popping ensemble at last week’s Los Angeles premiere. Everywhere Stewart goes right now, she is proselytizing about Glass, calling her both “an incredible filmmaker” and “a little freak.” No more quarantining for this director, who is steadily becoming a name herself. “I haven’t quite decided how I feel about it all yet,” Glass tells the Cut. “Pictures of something you were doing just a few hours ago are suddenly on the internet. I’m still getting used to that.”

Love Lies Bleeding is a propulsive thriller, sexy and grisly and entirely worthy of A-list magazine photo shoots. In conversation, the London-born director is a bit more reserved than the movie might imply. Her interests are wide ranging: The soundtrack features former gay-porn composer Patrick Cowley, but it could have just as easily included a swoony Dolly Parton song. When we talk, Glass is wrapping up her stint in Beverly Hills, after which she’ll spend several weeks in New York working on her next script.

What did Saint Maud leave you hungry to do next? Were you looking to scale up?

I definitely felt like I wanted to. I was riding a rare wave of confidence and feeling like maybe it makes sense that you alternate with what kind of energy you put out. That sounds really pretentious, but Saint Maud was quite an insular and intimate story, and a bit more restrained. After being in that headspace for those years, I was definitely like, Fuck it, let’s have a go at doing something a bit more extroverted and energetic and bombastic. I’ve really enjoyed making it, but it has been a slight sensory and tonal overload. Maybe the next one will be smaller. I’m still writing it.

You’ve said you wanted to make a movie about an incredibly muscular woman. How did that turn into a violent-lesbian erotic thriller starring Kristen Stewart?

There seems to be a fairly obvious through-line to me. I guess you automatically start thinking about what kind of ideas and feelings a very muscular woman brings to mind. We’re so used to seeing and treating women’s bodies in a particular way in art. Inevitably, if you have a character whose ambition is oriented around how their body looks, it naturally leads to thinking about their sexuality as well. Saint Maud was about someone who’s incredibly lonely and how difficult that can be, so for the next one I wanted to show falling in love, which is not necessarily going to make everything much better. You see what it’s like when two people collide. I was writing it with a friend, Weronika Tofilska, so it spread out to something bigger than I ever would have felt confident doing if I’d been writing it solo. We were led by wanting to make the most entertaining film we could think of.

Do you watch stuff while you’re making a movie, or do you want to step away from any potential influences?

On this one, I kind of stepped away from watching stuff that could be a reference for another film set in the ’80s in America. I actively avoided watching things like Thelma & Louise and Wild at Heart. When I’m shooting, I just come home at the end of the day and go, Zzzzzz. I would listen to podcasts as a brain-soothing, comfort-food thing. I listen to this one called The Creep Dive, which is my absolute happy place. It’s these three funny Irish girls talking about weird, creepy stuff they’ve found out about on the internet.

Where do you get your best cultural recommendations?

Friends. The internet. I’m not on social media anymore, which sometimes I slightly miss. I used to be on Instagram. I just found, with the scrolling, you start to lose your mind a bit. But I knew more about what was going on, so I need to make more of an effort. Music-wise, I literally just listen to NTS Radio and get recommendations from there.

You told Kristen to watch Showgirls while making Love Lies Bleeding. Has she given you any movie recommendations? 

She had just watched Solaris for the first time, and I hadn’t seen it. The original one. Very, very good.

You’re hosting a dinner party with celebrities, living or dead. Who are you inviting?

I’m a socially awkward and anxious person, so I think the idea of getting a bunch of celebrities who are my heroes together is terrifying. But John Waters. He was one of the first filmmakers whom I liked as a teenager. A friend of mine introduced me to his films and took me to his live one-man show, This Filthy World, at the BFI when I was like 16. It’s just his whole attitude, I think. It was something to do with seeing pictures of him and Divine making his early films. I liked the lo-fi-ness of it and his lack of pretension. The further I’m getting into this, I’m desperately endeavoring to keep my feet on the ground and not let myself take it all too seriously. He’s a cultural magpie, and I guess his ethos was something I found encouraging. I’m reading his novel Liarmouth. When they make that into a film, I’ll be the first in line.

What are you serving at this dinner party? 

I’ve learned from experience to just cook the simplest thing when you’ve got people coming around because too many times I’ve spent a whole day creating something elaborate and then you end up getting stressed and crying into the stove. I’d probably do roast chicken, and I do this baked rice. It’s an Ottolenghi thing. You slow-roast lots of cherry tomatoes and onions with cinnamon sticks and thyme, and then bake rice with it using foil on the top so it steams it. It always comes out perfectly.

Do you curate playlists or listen to music while working on a film?

On this one, my partner did it for me. He worked on the film as a music consultant, and he’s a musician. His name is Yigit Bülbül. I knew that Love Lies Bleeding needed a lot of music in it, and I kind of liked the idea of it all being made up of music from the era. But I’ve never loved ’80s music or fashion, and I had to find a way of filling it without the obvious needle drops. He came up with playlists for me and made playlists for Kristen and Katy with music we thought their characters might listen to.

All the commercial music we ended up getting cleared was stuff on Lou’s playlist. Even since then, I’ve been listening to a lot of those artists. We’ve got one or two of Patrick Cowley’s songs. He started off making music for gay porn films in the ’70s. The first sex scene between Katy and Kristen is a cool, sexy, synth-y Patrick Crowley track. And we used two tracks from this Japanese artist called Shiho Yabuki. She does ambient electronic music. It’s very twinkly, slightly sci-fi-sounding. She’s a magician as well. Also, Martin Rev and a band called Colourbox. Their song “The Moon Is Blue” is what Jackie does her bodybuilding routine to. Oh, and Throbbing Gristle — a very cool band we thought Lou might listen to. It felt like she was from some kind of nowhere town that doesn’t have many like-minded people. The idea of finding your bands and latching onto that as part of your identity seemed like an important thing. She’s wearing a Throbbing Gristle T-shirt in the film and has a record collection she takes pride in.

Is there an album or artist who’s particularly essential to your own identity?

Dolly Parton, Steely Dan, and Parliament.

What’s your favorite Dolly song?

Actually, there’s one I wanted to use as the end-credits music, but we couldn’t clear it. I think she’s notoriously difficult to get cleared for music. It’s called “Love Is Like a Butterfly.” I like her early music, like the album Just Because I’m a Woman.

Do you have a pre-filming ritual?

Mostly hyperventilating. Until a year or so ago, I was a fairly heavy smoker. I’ve now quit, unlike Lou in the film. So it used to involve chain-smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee — basically doing all the things you really shouldn’t do. I was just saying to someone that I need to develop some healthy rituals. Part of me feels like doing Love Lies Bleeding was just me, being a fairly feeble, unfit person who lacks motivation, fantasizing about what it would be like to be disciplined and strong like Jackie.

Do you have a comfort watch?

I don’t rewatch films that often, to be honest. When I want to be very cozy, I tend to listen to music or podcasts. I’m one of those true-crime nerds. Hearing people talk about grisly murders is my soothing way of getting to sleep. But I’ve been taking quite a lot of flights recently, and I do rewatch stuff. On my way over to Los Angeles, I was watching John Wick and Memento, which are both quite comforting to revisit.

Is there a horror or thriller recommendation that shaped you?

Rosemary’s Baby has always had a very high spot on my favorite films of all time. That’s the one where if anyone hasn’t seen it I get annoying and tell them off.

What about a book you read recently and couldn’t put down?

It’s very on-brand with Love Lies Bleeding, but I’ve been reading Stone Butch Blues, by Leslie Feinberg. It’s about growing up working class and lesbian in America and identifying as trans. It’s so moving. It feels specific to a time and place in their upbringing, but it’s been grounding. I started reading a book about AI called The Coming Wave, but I’d say that’s more stressful. And I’ve just been given a book of J. G. Ballard’s short stories. I’ve only read the first one, but that seems a lot more soothing. It’s set in a weird dystopian world where nobody seems to have to work. The reason for living is pleasure and creativity.

Do you have a favorite piece of art that you own?

I have a painting by Nancy Nightingale, a distant relative who passed away. It’s called The Moonbather. It’s quite strange. I never met her, but all her paintings were a bit weird. It’s got this semi-naked man lying in the streets in this weird, contorted way in the moonlight. And actually I do also have a prop from Love Lies Bleeding. There’s a bit in the film where there’s a huge portrait of Ed Harris’s character and his new wife, Lou’s stepmom, who’s played by a lovely actress called Hilary Fleming. We had to get Ed and her to pose for it as soon as he arrived in Albuquerque, and it’s completely ridiculous. I’m sure he was like, What on earth is happening? It’s gloriously tacky and huge, and it’s in this tacky gold frame. Production very kindly shipped it to England for me, and it’s in my living room.

Hanging on the wall?

Yes. I think I need to find a more discreet place for it. To me, it’s hilarious. But obviously most people haven’t seen the film, so without the context, someone would come over and say, “Oh, is that your parents?” As if I just have some huge oil painting of my parents in my living room.

And one of those parents happens to be Ed Harris with long hair.

His ponytail was originally behind his back, so you couldn’t see it in the painting. That was the only note I had for the artist: Make sure we see his ponytail. So now it’s draped over his shoulder. It’s fantastic. It’s so stupid.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Rose Glass Gets Down With Dolly Parton