Olivia thirlby sits in front of the mirror tousling her newly-chopped locks, swiping at the lipstick congregation in the corners of her mouth, and sweetly fingering away the burrowed eyeliner. Minutes later, in front of the photographer, Thirlby pops her hip and arches her head to reveal the beauty spot on her exaggerated mouth. Her petite frame is poised, still for 30 seconds. Click. One shot and it’s perfect. A week or two later, over tea and boiled eggs at Cafe Stella in Silver Lake, Thirlby holds up an iPhone snap of that same look proudly. “Pretty cute, I do have to say,” she chuckles with the excitement of someone who’s slightly new to the glamour game.
And to be fair, Thirlby is a bit of a born-again virgin to the magazine shoot. While she’s been acting professionally since 2003, the New York native has yet to be thrust fully into the limelight—for the duration of her short career, she’s chosen films that speak to her heart, and not her prospective “trajectory.” Thirlby grew up studying Shakespearean theatre and craves her next role in a play, but she moved to Los Angeles three months ago in response to her increased silver screen presence.
Thus, the mag attention is pretty warranted; Thirlby has three films soon to be released, as well as an animated TV show, Good Vibes, directed by David Gordon Green—whom Thirlby previously worked with on Snow Angels. “I like to think of [acting] as an art form, as a tool for creative expression,” she remarks on the work flurry. “There’s not much creative expression happening when you’re running away from aliens, but, that being said, sometimes you have to play the game.” The aliens in question refer to her turn across Emile Hirsch in The Darkest Hour—Thirlby’s first big-budgeted action film—a 3D seat-filler in which extra-terrestrials attack Moscow. Following The Darkest Hour’s Christmas Day release, Thirlby will star in Dredd, the South African-filmed, 3D version of John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra’s revered sci-fi comic (originally slaughtered by Sylvester Stallone and company in 1995).
Outfooting aliens and being a sci-fi judicial system takes a certain skill set, but Thirlby has also managed to be sure-footed alongside heavy weights Robert De Niro and Julianne Moore in the indie flick Being Flynn, out next year. “It was exactly what I needed after doing two 3D action sci-fi movies,” she says. Thirlby shares that she “creeped out” Moore on set with a giddy recollection of having seen the star, her idol, collect her children from the very same hallways Thirlby frequented as a school student.
This admiration for acting’s finest lends to Thirlby’s creative balance—what is right for her health and spirit, the main goal at this point in her life. “Creative expression and changing the world,” she illumines, “and not doing things the way everybody else does them. I feel like every day is just a series of choices and decisions—what’s harmonious and what’s discordant. And with all of it, I think the biggest challenge is to be compassionate towards yourself; I think that’s the hardest thing to do. And if you can achieve a state of that—of a consistent compassion towards yourself—it’s really easy to make harmonious decisions.”
Thirlby’s “spiritual balance” is substantiated by those around her. “I have a serious case of friend love,” she jokes. “I’m in love with all my friends.” This statement is well-supported by her halting mid-conversation to text a friend about a “misunderstanding,” leaving said interviewer to stare at the table cursing her own decision to leave her cell in the car as a pair of eBay Miu Miu heels was nearing auction expiration.
What’s refreshing about Thirlby, or at least to be expected—and delightfully so—is her youthful confidence, a harmless stubbornness she’s perhaps only minimally aware of. For example she’s been “getting [her] kicks off this one thing that happened to [her] recently.” Her team and her parents advised her to invest her money. She met with a financial adviser, then decided to just “let [my] money waste away,” as she’d been told not to do.
It sounds a bit flippant, but this passion for pursuing a contrarian point of view is uniform in Thirlby, as demonstrated in her charity work: she’s volunteering at a local hospital that works to establish self-esteem in disfigured mothers and daughters; she’s also considering taking a few college classes in philosophy; and for fun she holds nail polish parties (she has a friend who can set printed words in nail varnish). She has the space in her Silver Lake house, and the room, to grow.
That growth may mean fiscal conservatism, or piling high the acting challenges, but Thirlby’s zero tolerance for the non-compassionate is likely to stay resolute, as evidenced in our closing topic of gay rights. “Humans are humans are humans,” she says passionately. “I feel like we’re back in the fucking ’50s, with, like, racial tensions. You gotta support the gays, and the bis, and the ‘grays,’ as they call them. And all the other beautiful, beautiful humans.” She smiles at the sappiness of the statement, but doesn’t speak further, doesn’t back-peddle, knowing damn well that it’s beauty and honesty, after all, that might stop people in their tracks, that might inspire and create change.