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Interview: The 100‘s Eliza Taylor Trades Genre for Contemporary Grit in New Film Thumper

image: The Orchard Eliza Taylor in a scene from Jordan Ross' "Thumper"

One of the things that makes The CW’s The 100 so awesome is the nuanced and finely-calibrated central performance by Eliza Taylor, who plays our favorite bisexual dystopian leader, Clarke Griffin. In the new movie Thumper, Taylor brings that talent to a realistic, contemporary story about the American meth epidemic from the point of view of the underprivileged youth most likely to buy and deal.

Thumper, written and directed by Jordan Ross, is about teens in a low-income neighborhood who are lured into working for a violent and dangerous drug dealer. When a new girl harboring a dark secret arrives in town, their relationship jeopardizes everything. Taylor plays that girl, Kat Carter, who forms a bond with a guy known as Beaver (played by fellow Aussie actor, Daniel Webber), as they are both lured into a life neither is entirely comfortable with, but that they go along with for reasons outside themselves.

When I had the chance to speak with Taylor on the phone, she revealed that Thumper basically came together because she and Ross became better friends the more they talked about it, encouraging her to maintain her interest.

However, the script on its own lured her to the project initially because she knew that drug epidemics weren’t exclusive to the United States. “In Australia, even where I grew up,” she says. “the drug culture with kids getting involved with the wrong people was very prominent when I was 17, 18.” That, and the truthful way in which those kids were written in this script, were what drew her to the film.

“Being in talks with Jordan a couple of years ago, when I was new on the scene, we became really good friends, so I just wanted to do it more,” Taylor explains. “And then eventually, I thought it had kind of gone away, and I was shooting Season Three, I think, of The 100, and I get a call from Jordan and he’s like We’re doing it! So, here we are.”

I asked her if anything surprised her about the extent of the meth problem here in the States versus where she grew up, and she said, “The only surprise to me was that, I know if you look at the stats in Australia, they’ve gone way up, especially when it comes to methamphetamines. I think it either is or was the meth capital of the world. And I used to work in bars when I was a teenager … and [meth] had become socially acceptable. And it terrified me, especially having a younger brother grow up and going out in a world where that’s okay. That terrified me. So, I was surprised that it was just as bad in the U.S.”

One of the themes of the film is that it’s underprivileged kids who are being taken advantage of, and often bear the brunt of all the punishment when it comes to law enforcement. Meth cooks take advantage of the fact that these kids are desperate, and then let them take the fall when things go south.

“Which is so frustrating!” Taylor exclaims. “I’ve seen the film three times now, and that whole aspect of it still gets me. And I’ve talked to police officers who’ve gone CI [confidential informant], and they do get so frustrated having to bust the dealers. These kids who don’t know any better, who are trying to earn money for their families.”

Thumper is also surprisingly feminist, which I wasn’t necessarily expecting from a film of its type. And yet, there’s a lot of examination of Kat’s life choices in a very feminist way. There’s also one scene in particular that surprised me, in which the meth cook, played by Pablo Schreiber, is approached by a teen girl named Gina, who is a meth addict. She needs a hit, and is willing to do whatever he wants to get it. Yet just when you think he’s going to accept her offer, he sends her home and says, “You’re better than this.”

“That scene in particular,” Taylor says. “I was kind of waiting for him to be like C’mon, get in. But he doesn’t. He has kids, he has a good side, even though he’s really messed up, you kinda see his side of the story.”

When I asked her how she and Ross approached her character, and whether there were conversations about the other female characters from a feminist perspective, she replied, “We pretty much talked about every single aspect over the years. I think that Jordan has such a knack for real storytelling, and every character in this film is someone he’s come across. And so, these women, they exist in the world, and he just wanted to tell their story, which is really fucking cool.”

One of those female characters, Kat’s boss, is played by Game of Thrones’ Cersei herself, Lena Headey. Taylor joked that she definitely was taking notes and asking Headey for tips from working on Game of Thrones to help her with her work on The 100.

“She is a force to be reckoned with,” Taylor said. “[Lena] is one of the sweetest, funniest women I’ve ever met, but she’s also incredibly terrifying when she’s in a performance. I’d forget my lines just because I was watching her and being blown away by her performance. She’s fantastic. I’d love to work with her again.”

I wondered if a gritty, contemporary, realistic film like this was a nice change of pace from the dystopian world she’s used to inhabiting, and she gave an enthusiastic yes:

“And it’s challenging,” she explains. “On The 100, we have a script, and we stick to it, because every story point is so very important to every other one. It’s like, you really have to get every line of dialogue right and really know the story. With this, Jordan gave us a lot of freedom to mess around with our words and go with the flow, which I thought was brilliant, but when it came down to it, it was really challenging. I kind of felt like I didn’t have my safety net. I was freefalling. But it the end, it was amazing, and so rewarding, and I actually got to play someone who’s not trying to save the world. She’s actually just trying to save herself in a way.”

I couldn’t help but make the parallel between Taylor’s character in the film and her real-life profession as an actor with a prominent profile, as both require a bit of a double life. Taylor had made the comparison, too.

“It definitely affects your relationships,” she says. “And it upsets the people around you, having to drop everything and go where the work is. Having to jump from job to job. Risking your privacy. It’s hard. You always identify a little bit with every character you play, but that was a comparison that was easy to make…” She laughs before qualifying, “Even though I’m not exactly going out and risking my life.”

When I asked her what she does to ease that process for herself, or how she compartmentalizes to protect her personal relationships from the bright spotlight of her career, she paused before replying, “I’m still trying to figure that out.”

Thumper is in theaters now as well as VOD.

(image: The Orchard)

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Teresa Jusino (she/her) is a native New Yorker and a proud Puerto Rican, Jewish, bisexual woman with ADHD. She's been writing professionally since 2010 and was a former TMS assistant editor from 2015-18. Now, she's back as a contributing writer. When not writing about pop culture, she's writing screenplays and is the creator of your future favorite genre show. Teresa lives in L.A. with her brilliant wife. Her other great loves include: Star Trek, The Last of Us, anything by Brian K. Vaughan, and her Level 5 android Paladin named Lal.