In Rian Johnson’s Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, Kate Hudson plays the eccentric, over-the-top fashion entrepreneur Birdie Jay, who, at the beginning of the film, seems supremely flawed in every way possible. But just like a true whodunit murder mystery, there is more to Birdie than meets the eye — she’s just someone who has “a desperate need to be loved,” Hudson tells THR.
The second installment in the Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) murder mystery series, Glass Onion also stars Janelle Monáe, Dave Bautista, Leslie Odom Jr., Kathryn Hahn and Edward Norton, with the latter playing tech billionaire Miles Bron. Set in the early months of the pandemic, the film begins when Bron invites a group of friends (whom he calls “the disrupters”) to his private island for a murder-mystery party, which naturally devolves into an actual mystery when one member of the group suddenly drops dead.
Hudson talks to THR about what drew her to the project, Birdie’s amazing costumes (including, yes, that rainbow-colored dress) and what she hopes audiences will take away about Birdie at the end of the film. Spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk.
What made you want to be a part of the project?
Rian Johnson, who’s just an incredible writer and wrote an amazing script. And obviously, being a fan of the first one, just the idea that there was a part that I would have been and could have been good for in the second Knives Out was enough. Even before I read the script, it’s like, “Please! I would love to!” I’m such a big Rian Johnson fan, so much so that one of my favorite things he’s actually done is the Fly episode in Breaking Bad. Such a great piece of cinema.
What spoke to you about your character, Birdie Jay, specifically?
You just don’t read characters like that very often, that truly pop off the page and then are supported by such a nuanced writer. She’s not a one-note flamboyant character — she is layered and has purpose and motivation and all the things that you need to give to characters for a good whodunit. It gave me something to play with, and it gave me a way to ground how big she is.
The film has a massive ensemble cast where everyone is a principal character. How did you all build a rapport at a time when COVID prohibited gatherings in public places?
Our producer, in order to keep us more contained and allow us to let off steam, would rent out the upper roof bar at the hotel we were staying at, to coerce us to not go out. It worked! Rian would invite us to these murder-mystery games that I have been playing forever. I love them, and we got to play Mafia with the cast and some friends and crew. It was really a blast. I think that says a lot about the people that Rian puts together in a film — the personality and the professionalism of everyone on this set. That was a huge part of casting this movie, that we would all enjoy each other, knowing that it’s COVID and we’re going to be spending a lot of time together.
Your character wears the most amazing costumes — designer Jenny Eagan told me she was inspired by your mom’s character in Overboard.
Oh, that’s fun! We never talked about that. You know, any character that is over-the-top and gets to wear hats and has fabulous costumes is so much fun to play as an actor. It’s a throwback to old movies and Old Hollywood, but still modern, and that’s something that Rian was able to do in the whodunit genre. Birdie just epitomizes that, as does Benoit. His costumes in this, too, were so great.
Everyone’s costumes speak so much to their characters, down to the face masks on the dock.
When I first saw us all on the dock when we were shooting, it was that every mask just completely represented the person. We all knew those people. Kathryn with the chin strap, talking over it. Leslie’s character is wearing double masks. Dave, of course, is wearing no mask. It’s an accessory for [Birdie]. She’s not even thinking about any repercussions. It so represents everybody, and I thought that was a fun Rian-ism.
Did you and Jenny collaborate on Birdie’s costumes?
I think with any costume designer, you’re always collaborating. At the end of the day, Jenny and I feel like we got to play the most. The [finale] dress was really important to Rian, so we had to test that dress a couple of times. There were two options, and Jenny and I both loved the [shimmering rainbow dress] that I ended up wearing.
What was your most challenging scene to shoot?
Birdie was always a challenge because you’re walking that tightrope — how big do you go, or how big do you not go, where do you push, where do you pull back, what is the motivation of her insanity? The most exciting scene was the scene at the pool because I had to play so many beats in that one setup. It hit all of Birdie’s nuances, and so that was a really fun scene to play because I had all of Birdie’s roller coaster in one prolonged scene.
Birdie is, in a way, the character that changes everything for Miles at the end. He thinks he’s gotten away with something again, but Birdie raises her hand to say she saw the napkin. What spoke to you about that scene, and what did you hope would resonate with viewers after that?
I think she feels very tethered to Miles in a way where she would prefer not to be. What I worked with for her was her desperate need to be loved. Her narcissism isn’t necessarily the evil kind of narcissism. She just needs to feel like people really love her, and she’ll do anything to do that. When that moment happens at the end — spoiler alert — I think that she would love nothing more than to be on the right side of things, deep down. She kind of plays this part and she doesn’t really know how she got there. And it has a little bit to do with her lack of intelligence, as well as her desperate need to feel relevant and seen and heard. I think, deep down, her ignorance isn’t coming from a malicious place. It’s coming more from a needy place. I think that’s why she’s the first to raise her hand. It’s like freedom to her. It’s funny when you talk about a character, because the whole goal is obviously to make things feel and look effortless. But there’s a lot of work that goes into that, and a lot of contemplating and trying to get a character in your body, especially when you have such good writing like what Rian gives you as an actor. It’s few and far between that you really get the opportunities to play such well-written characters that you don’t need to touch up, to change anything — you don’t need to fix it.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the Jan. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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