AMA: Katy O’Brian, Actor

The Indy native, IU grad, and former Carmel cop is now a Hollywood actor co-starring in Love Lies Bleeding with Kristen Stewart, as well as a sequel to the 1996 blockbuster Twister coming this summer.
Photo courtesy Daniel Prakopcyk

You were an officer with the Carmel Police Department for almost five years. How did you decide to try acting?
When I was a kid, I always wanted to act, but I never thought professional acting was possible for me. [I thought] I needed to have a stable job. So I worked as a police officer. But then I thought, While I’m somewhat young, I should at least attempt to do the thing I really want to do. If it didn’t work out, I figured I could always go to school or get into federal law enforcement. I did plays locally, took classes at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, and found Indy Actors Academy. It’s part of the Indiana Filmmakers Network, where I learned about local productions and how to get cast in local films. I started building up a demo reel featuring clips from the projects I worked on. With that, I was able to get an agent, and I left for Los Angeles.

You got pretty famous quickly, landing roles in The Walking Dead and Halt and Catch Fire, among others. It might seem like you just skipped over the entire starving actor phase.
Well, we all have struggles. There were definitely moments when I had no money and was in substantial debt. It’s a risk you take. I had multiple day jobs and drove all over the city to get to them. At one point, I thought maybe I would have to sleep in my car. The cool thing was that I had an uncle in LA who let me crash at his place for a while. If you’re going to make a huge move to a place like LA, I highly recommend knowing someone in the area.

What do your parents and three brothers think of all this?
My two older brothers just sort of smile about it. But my younger brother is a big nerd. He’s always excited about the projects I’m in because he’s read the comic books or is familiar with the lore. He’s a big Star Wars fan, and I got to bring him to the premiere of The Mandalorian. So he’s definitely really excited. I think my parents are actually a little relieved about my change of career because it’s a lot less dangerous than law enforcement. I’ve always had a supportive family, and that’s been huge for me. I think I would have had a little less courage to come out to LA if I didn’t have them in my corner cheering for me.

You’ve done a lot of sci fi and superhero work, including The Mandalorian, The Walking Dead, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Black Lightning, Westworld, and the movie Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Did you aim to break into these genres?
I grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons like X-Men and Spider-Man, so I’ve always had a place in my heart for superhero culture. But sci fi is not my thing. When characters go into space, I’m lost. I don’t know what’s going on! It might be a sort of typecasting because in sci fi they tend to veer toward an androgynous look or a tough, edgy look. But it wasn’t on purpose. It just happened by accident.

Is it tough to act opposite a puppet or in front of a giant green screen to which the special effects will be added later?
The Mandalorian was a gift because so many of the creatures aren’t digital but [are] actual physical puppets, so a lot of the time, I’m talking to something whose lips are moving, their eyes are blinking, and their body is shifting. It’s incredible what they’re able to do. But acting in front of a green screen, on the other hand, is really, really difficult. You’re looking out into the distance and pretending a bunch of spaceships are coming at you, and you’re supposed to be afraid. It’s a struggle for the director to make sure all the actors are looking in the same direction.

It sounds a bit like traditional theater, where you might have a table and chair onstage but have to pretend it’s the Las Vegas Hilton.
I think that’s kind of how you have to seeI’ve found that the big difference between theater and films is how much more preparation you get for a stage production. In something like the Ant-Man movie, we’d get maybe two run-throughs to practice a scene, and that’s our entire rehearsal, so in 20 minutes or so, we have to collectively decide where the monster’s coming from, how big it is, and how close it is. Whereas in the theater, you have a lot more time during rehearsals to decide such things. But I don’t want to say that film is more challenging. They’re just two different challenges.

Were you nervous about working on a big-budget project like Ant-Man?
I’d already done The Mandalorian, where the sets were pretty much just as big, and I’d worked with huge names like Pedro Pascal. Jon Favreau was on set every day, and Carl Weathers directed an episode I was in, so I got to meet all these incredible actors and work with amazing directors. I really did feel prepared, and I felt like they made
it as easy of a transition as they possibly could.

Where would you like to be in a decade?
I don’t necessarily always want to be in the eighth season of a successful show. I would love to be in something fresh and watch it grow from start to finish. I would love to delve into comedy or maybe even martial arts comedy to give it a twist.

Does that mean you do your own stunts?
Yes and no. I’ve worked with the same stuntperson for several years now. She gets the call if I have to jump out of a burning airplane. She’s ready for that! But if there’s a fight scene or something relatively simple, I’ll do it if I think I can pull it off without compromising the integrity of the film. If I can make it look good, and it’s safe, then I love to have that opportunity.

What’s your favorite type of project?
I enjoy doing action movies because fitness and martial arts have always been a part of my life. But I also love the challenge, and the emotional catharsis, and the beauty of acting in a film like Love Lies Bleeding. You get to create a human being. It’s a deep dive into exploring a character and figuring out how to link with them.

You auditioned six times for Love Lies Bleeding. Why, and how did that feel?
It was really weird. The first audition was a tape, and then I got an in-person callback, which is normal. Then I had a “chemistry read,” which completely makes sense in an intimate film like this to make sure you and the other actor have chemistry. So, all of that was expected. But then there was another one, and I was like, “What’s going on?” Then they had me work with an acting coach. And then another one, which was by Zoom. And I was like, “You can see what I can do. If it’s not working, you have to find someone else, and that’s totally fine.” Later, I got some behind-the-scenes information that they were trying to get someone else with a bigger name. There’s lots of things that go into getting a part. Actors beat themselves up too much about it because they don’t know that it’s more than just their performance.

Do you ever get back to Indianapolis?
I came back for Thanksgiving last year. My home base is now LA, but I’ve hardly ever filmed there or even get to spend much time there. Last year, over the course of three months, I went from New York, to New Zealand, to Rhode Island, then London, Indiana, and Oklahoma.

Anything you especially miss?
My family. The doughnuts at Long’s Bakery. And cheaper haircuts. In LA, it’s around $200. I don’t want to go, so my hair is rarely on point.