Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
I don’t think it’s a negative thing to call somebody a “badass.” In terms of who Luv is, she takes whatever it takes with a sense of humor, satire – all the fun things women not always get to play.
From the moment actress Sylvia Hoeks makes her first appearance in director Denis Villeneuve’s BLADE RUNNER 2049, audiences will instantly see her character Luv as a forceful, magnetic and graceful presence. She plays the second-in-command at the Wallace corporation, executing the bidding of idealistic blind billionaire Niander Wallace (Jared Leto). She’s fashioned to be a sort of “Audrey Hepburn on acid” – think Sabrina clad in Theory clothing, cloaked with an intimidating edge. Her unwaver devotion to her boss makes her stop at nothing and puts her in conflict with others – but also with herself.
At the recent Los Angeles press day, I spoke with the affable actress about how freeing her creative process was and what it took to bring Luv to life. And don’t worry about spoilers as both she and I were very keen on protecting the film’s integrity.
Where do you find room to create your character in such a highly stylized film where lots of things are already decided for you?
Denis gave me his blessing. The way he respected us was very much, “Go do your thing. I trust you.” He gave me so many options – so many possibilities. You can go high and low with her. She can take you everywhere. I thought reading the script there were definitely moments I could go all out.
As an actor, that’s so much fun, especially when you’re preparing for the role when nothing’s on film yet. It was so fun to think about that. It’s one of the things I love most about acting is the preparing, looking for a sort of frame where you can be free to fill that space with different emotions and possibilities. To write your own history of your character, to think about what was her own past, how did she grow up, I think that’s so lovely. I felt very, very much respected by Denis in doing so.
Your mastery of the single tear is incomparable. Can we talk about the motivations behind what she wants as Wallace’s second-in-command and, in a certain sense, a surrogate daughter? It seems like your insides are conflicted at times.
Yeah. I thought of Luv as a child looking for approval of her father. In a sense it’s the inspiration Rutger Hauer gave to me in the first film. She has pain. I almost saw it as a nosebleed – it happens and you don’t realize. Like there’s blackouts – there’s something going off in her head. It’s like a nosebleed where tears suddenly come out of her eyes, but it’s from a pain in the core of her somehow starts leaking. Like her heart is flooding and she doesn’t realize that it’s happening.
It happened in the moment. We didn’t talk about her having to cry or anything. It happened because Denis and I felt there was so much more to this character than just a badass. There was longing for approval, longing to be loved and seen – and not having those things and empathy for her own soul almost. There was so much trust with Denis that he just let me go wild.
There’s been a recent pushback against the term “badass,” though I think it’s due to misuse. For me, this term refers to female characters who are the full package: smart, sexy, innovative and strong. I’m wondering what your take is on this – is it okay if I call you a badass?
Oh definitely! I think that’s a wonderful word for Luv actually.
She’s the full deal.
Yeah. The full deal. I tend myself, being taught by my parents, to never label people. I haven’t grown up in an environment that tries to label people or put people into boxes. I don’t think it’s a negative thing to call somebody a “badass.” In terms of who Luv is, she has her goals and she’s unafraid. She goes to get what she needs and takes whatever it takes with a sense of humor, satire – all the fun things women not always get to play. I thought it was very fun to be a badass.
Did the environment impact how you were able to do stunts?
In the film, the sets and the elements were very real. It was cold. We were shooting nights a couple of the weeks. They put us in hot tubs in between, so it was very warm. It was a lot of fun to be in a hot tub with Harrison Ford, I can tell ya’ that. [laughs]. The elements were very helpful. I really am grateful for Denis having that strong belief that sets should be real, visible – that you can touch them, you can feel them, your senses get influenced and react in a certain way. There’s so much that you don’t have to do yourself.
There’s also a physicality you brought to your character. She speaks in a thoughtful manner. I know you mentioned Rutger, but were there other tonal inspirations you pulled from to create Luv?
The way people speak in the film is very poetic. There’s a certain cadence to it – the poetry of Luv – that we tried to hold onto and protect. She speaks in puzzles like Niander Wallace speaks in puzzles. For Niander and Luv, that was very important. Their heaven, their paradise, is something where people speak in poetry, because it’s all very mysterious. We really felt responsibility to respect what the writers have written – to create that mystery. I do see Luv as an angel – Niander Wallace’s angel – trying to reach the doors of heaven.
Do you have a favorite memory during shooting?
My first day on set was very special. That was the day I had the scene with Robin Wright, that’s in the trailer, with the breaking glass.
What a first day!
Yeah [laughs]. It was pretty full on the first day. It was so much fun. Denis calls the first day of shooting, “the birth of the character.” We were laughing. After that day, he says, [imitates Denis Villeneuve spot-on], “What a birth of a character!” To finally breathe the character and have her come out. I’d been working at the physical transformation for three months. I had gained those 15 pounds of muscle. I went through that pain through the whole marital arts choreography and learned so much – that I really met Luv during that training. It was so nice to finally breathe her and let her come on out – to let her take her stage as an angel.
BLADE RUNNER 2049 opens on October 6. You can read our spoiler-free review here.