Awards Daily talks to Olivia Cooke about her role as Lou, heavy metal singer and supportive partner to Riz Ahmed’s Ruben in Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal.
After that reflective final shot in Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal, the viewer walks away having gone on a journey with heavy metal drummer Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed). Over the course of two hours, we watch Ruben go from a musical nomad living from gig to gig to someone who makes great sacrifices in the name of adjusting to his new life with hearing loss.
And yet there’s another character who has a major arc in this film, even though it’s off-screen: Olivia Cooke’s Lou, Ruben’s girlfriend and the lead singer of their metal group. Ruben’s discovery that he’s lost his hearing is the catalyst that sets off changes in both their lives, with Ahmed and Cooke acting apart for much of the film before coming back together for the final act.
I was lucky enough to chat with Olivia Cooke about Lou, the fascinating counterpart to Riz’s Ruben, and we chatted about what happened to her character when she wasn’t with Ruben, what it was like learning how to properly metal scream, and the decision to dye her eyebrows white.
Awards Daily: How did this role come about for you? It’s different from other things that you’ve done.
Olivia Cooke: My agent sent me the script, and I was traveling from LA to New York and read it on the plane. My agent said, “If you like it, we want you to meet Darius.” I read the script and was just so flabbergasted. The story was just so raw and full of emotion. I love Riz as an actor, and I was just like, God, I’d do anything—run and get people coffee on this job. This script is so beautiful. It felt visceral. And then I met Darius, and I cried within the first three minutes of meeting him, just talking about how much I loved this script. It’s so hard to describe and put into words. When I have a reaction to a story, it’s so all-encompassing. I can’t really quite be eloquent about it. (Laughs)
AD: I wanted to ask you about your white eyebrows in the film. How did that look form for your character, from a metal punk to whom we meet at the end?
OC: I was discussing things with Darius, and I think we wanted her to seem quite androgynous and sexless in a way. It’s a really interesting visual because my eyes are so big, just to make that the main feature of my face; I think it gave me this alien quality, which I think really works especially for her on stage. And that was it really. My hair at the time was wild and had grown out and hadn’t had it cut for about a year. It had all different sorts of dyes from different jobs, and so it made this brassy, orange look. I thought, Oh, this would be really cool to keep this, white-out the eyebrows. When you see me at the end, we just chopped that all off and it’s a different look, a more refined look.
AD: There’s kind of a reveal about Lou toward the end of the film that threw me! Did her upbringing inform your performance when we see her leading a metal band in the beginning? Did you shoot scenes in order? Did you have that reveal in your back pocket?
OC: We shot it all in order. Riz and I in the Airstream first and then I literally got on a plane and went to Europe, while Riz shot the middle of the film. And then Riz and I didn’t see each other until we were shooting the end of the film, and that was, like, a month and a half later. There was this wonderful, estranged quality to us that bled into the performance. It all really really worked. Darius wanted to keep everything as separate as possible. But really you did shoot three movies in one.
AD: What do you think she has been doing in the time that Ruben as been adapting to his new life?
OC: I think she probably really embedded herself in the alt-music scene in Paris. Maybe she had a shoe in with her dad in introducing the right people. And then from there I think she really found her confidence and realized she didn’t have to be so codependent and that the impulse and motivation was inside her as well; it didn’t come out just from being a duo. I think she probably had a really wonderful, rich time where she was good with herself, her personality, her independence, what she wants to be. Cause you do that sometimes. Sometimes you are very blinded by relationships, and I think she found this whole other self by being in Paris and reconnecting with her father.
AD: She takes it just as hard when they’re separated. What do you think her life was like BEFORE she met Ruben? How did she become a lead singer of a metal band?
OC: Well, Darius had a backstory for Lou. She had a traumatic childhood, and her father had left when she was younger. She had looked after her mother who had a lot of mental health issues and who then killed herself. Lou ended up in rehab where she met Ruben, and that’s who they became lovers but also care-ers and this musical duo as well.
AD: Did you listen to a lot of metal? Learn the guitar in preparation?
OC: Yeah. I worked with this wonderful musician called Margaret Chardiet of Pharmakon, and she taught me the guitar. We wrote the song together. She taught me how to loop, she taught me how to scream, [laughs] which basically is just screaming and then giving your voice a rest and not talking to anyone. Riz was learning the drums separately and then we got brought in to rehearse with each other about two months before we started shooting. Then we had this live performance in front of a live crowd. Usually you do performances before and you’re just miming the whole thing, but Darius wanted it to be completely real.
AD: Was that nerve-wracking? How did you feel about that?
OC: It was horrible. I was sick as a dog. It was so, so traumatic. And then we had a bit of a high afterwards and were in a catatonic state.
AD: What a rush!
OC: Yeah, it was a rush.
AD: The last final scene with you and Riz is really amazing, very heartfelt and real. What was it like filming that?
OC: We knew how important this scene was, and this was the scene that when I read the film, it feathered my heart a little bit. I think we were all feeling emotional and fatigued and felt the pressure, but it was a wonderfully strange moment to come to terms with, the fact that we could draw from our own experiences from relationships that haven’t worked, even though we have love and respect for each other and a gratefulness as well. But the line where he says, “You saved my life,” and she says, “You saved my life,” it got to me. Those words alone. When you say it, it doesn’t take much for emotion to pour out of you.
AD: Do you think she had fallen out of love with the band and him before he came to visit? Or do you think seeing him made her realize that her life like that is over?
OC: I think probably something in them both had awakened when they had been apart from each other. They had been co-dependent of each other. I think there’s a whole lot of love there for each other, but it was more of a brother and sister relationship, one that was very tender. They were both very careful of each other. But the romance and sexuality was kind of volleyed in the relationship and also the identity. Finding that again away from each other, you really struggle to go back to something after you make that discovery.
Megan McLachlan is a freelance writer that lives in Pittsburgh, PA. Her work has appeared in Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, The Cut, Paste, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Thrillist, and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter at @heydudemeg.