UK actress Olivia Cooke knew when she took on the role of Pixie in Paramount’s upcoming Irish action flick of the same name, alongside Hollywood stars including Alec Baldwin and Colm Meaney, she would need her wits about her if she was going to do this character right.
It can’t be denied that from her name to her red leather jacket, to her impossibly stylish yet unruly curled hair and fringe, Pixie’s titular character is a fairly obvious version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope that's come to be loved and reviled in equal measure in modern times.
So, does Pixie undermine the stock character, or perpetuate it?
Olivia, who is best known for her work as Art3mis in Ready Player One and Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair, and is set to appear in the highly anticipated Game of Thrones prequel, House of the Dragon, hopes it’s the former.
“It was always a wink-wink, nudge-nudge with her being called Pixie and playing on that Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope,” the British star tells Yahoo Lifestyle from her home in London, where she has been seeing out the UK’s strict lockdown in ‘varying degrees of mania’.
If you don’t know, Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a term that was coined by film critic Nathan Rabin in 2005 in reaction to Kirsten Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown to describe a stock character of a quirky, attractive and largely one-dimensional female who, in his words, “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures."
Pixie takes the idea, shakes it up, and takes it out for a spin, attempting to undermine the trope by putting Pixie up front and centre, something Olivia says she and writer Preston Thompson worked hard to achieve.
“It was always my plan and the writer’s plan, Preston, for her to have agency,” she explains. “For her to be so knowing about her mystique and using that to her advantage especially with these gullible guys that she brings along for the ride, and I do feel that she’s got her own autonomy.”
Not that bringing Pixie to life with depth and complexity in a male-dominated industry was a walk in the park, something the actor doesn’t shy away from, reflecting on the normalcy of working on almost exclusively male sets with remarkable candour.
“I think what makes people think that it's just another Manic Pixie Dream Girl is because a man wrote her,” Olivia admits. “And I mean there are barely any women in the film which is another story really so yeah… I tried.”
That is two other women with speaking roles to be exact, both minor characters in a Western-style gangster heist film that sees Olivia’s character Pixie drag two unwitting young men Frank (Ben Hardy) and Harland (Daryl McCormack) on a cross country chase through a stunning Irish landscape on a mission to avenge the death of her mother, and get away with a fair bit of coin in the process.
‘It is up to me to speak out and say something’
Olivia makes no secrets of the fact that she would love to see more women in front of the camera and behind it.
“Obviously in an ideal world it would be 50/50 [men and women],” she says, adding: “There’s only so much I can say in order for that to happen if I’m just an actor on the film.”
She describes grappling with her duty to speak out and knowing her place on a film set, and coming to terms with her right, and even duty, to speak out when that doesn’t happen.
“I would love to work with more women in film, absolutely and I think going forward that's a precedent that everyone’s aware of and if it's not completely transparent then it is up to me to speak out and say something,” she says. “I think I've always had the ability to say something and just felt like it's not really my place.”
‘I was chasing a good time’
The film might be short on women, but Olivia’s character fills up enough space for it not to feel obvious.
She brings Pixie to life with a complexity and depth that defies the action gangsters and guns setting, to needle a little deeper into what it means to be a woman in a fiercely male world.
Not that the film loses its sense of fun in the process, with a combination of road trip high jinx, gangster priests, and a cast including heavyweights like Baldwin, Meaney and Dylan Moran. the production was, according to Olivia, as rollicking a good time as you’d expect.
“I had a sneaking suspicion that I’d have a lot of fun on the job and I think I was chasing a time in which I could have loads of fun, selfishly,” she says. “And also, to play this character Pixie who is so manipulative, so self-centred and conniving and naughty but you still love her.”
She admits the chance to be bad, even just as Pixie for a few months, was impossibly tempting.
“To live vicariously through that character for a while really spoke to me,” she admits. “It was so much fun to play her and it's just juicy. You can do all these sh*tty things and you’re not really hurting anyone and it's you know, there are stakes but it's all within this comedic realm.”
In other words, it’s the perfect film to escape what’s been a hard beginning to 2021 for many of us, and a road trip you’ll want to tag along on, even just for a little while.
Pixie hits cinemas on January 28.
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