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Havana Rose Liu On Getting Into Her Character's Mindset For No Exit - Exclusive Interview

Darby (Havana Rose Liu) from Hulu's "No Exit" is probably the last person who should be in charge of saving a life, and yet, she finds herself in precisely that predicament. After escaping from rehab for her drug addiction, she drives in the dead of night so that she can get to her mother's hospital before she potentially passes away. Unfortunately, a snow storm has other plans, so she's forced to stay at a visitor center in the interim until it's safe to drive once more. However, as she ventures into the parking lot, she discovers that one of the people she's staying with has kidnapped a young girl, so she'll need to use every ounce of her wit and bravery to save her. 

Liu may not have an extensive filmography yet, but she proves she's more than capable of leading an ensemble piece in "No Exit." She holds her own against such veteran actors as Dennis Haysbert ("Lucifer") and Dale Dickey ("Hell or High Water"), and she recently spoke exclusively with Looper to discuss her role in the recently released film, including what she did to more accurately portray an addict.

On what attracted her to No Exit

What are some of your favorite movies of all time?

Oh my God. I'm actually horrible at answering this. I am really; I have so many things that impact me. This is the one question I hoped I would never be asked. I love you for asking, but I am so bad at answering it. I don't have favorites. I cannot choose babies. I can't love one more than the other. Every time I watch a film, it impacts me in a different way. If anything, they slowly made me appreciate filmmaking more. I really appreciate a film that allows me to see the smarts of what they're doing and the creativity behind the process, but also allows me to be immersed, so anything that falls in that category.

What drew you to sign on for "No Exit"?

The script, the character, and also really [director] Damien [Power]. I remember I actually asked my team because I think that they knew somebody. I asked my team what Damien was like as a person, because I couldn't understand somebody who would want to be immersed in this material for as long. I was worried that he was going to be scary and a weird person, but he actually is amazing and very gentle and compassionate and thoughtful and very communicative. I was tentative about joining the project because I was nervous, and then he made me feel totally safe and I felt capable of communicating to him all of my fears and all of the aspirations I had for the role. He was so collaborative and so thoughtful and really protective as well, which you need in this role and with this kind of material.

On portraying an addict

Your character is an addict in the film. Was there any special research you did to get into that mindset?

Yes, 180%. I have a number of close friends and family who do suffer from addiction. One of the biggest parts of really diving into this character was being able to have interview-based relationships with those people and also with a few others who very generously opened up their personal experiences and stories with me. 

That was absolutely essential in crafting the internal world of this character and understanding a lot of what her experiences are and what motivates her decisions, and also to understand the heart of Darby. Through that process, I've developed such a deep sense of compassion for really what people who have experiences with addiction either current, past, present are going through.

In many ways, the way we talk about it is entirely wrong. Any preconceived notion I had going in — I try to have very few in general — any preconceived notion I might have had going in was immediately blasted out of the water because of the fact that you realize that the way people talk about things or the stereotypes or stigma or popular quippy ways people can talk about these things are very limiting. Anyone can relate to a sense of low self-esteem and shame and a desire to run from trauma. That felt like at the heart of who Darby was.

Seeing as how the film is so serious, was there anything you and your castmates did to lighten the mood?

Yes, 100%. You have to when you're dealing with this heavy, gruesome, edge-of-your-seat, terrifying stuff. You end up with a whole bunch of jokesters who are able to find balance in the struggle. I really felt like all of us as cast members were so playful and able to really bring a lot of light into days that were really difficult. Honestly, that was a saving grace to have people who are so generous with their humor and time and space. Someone once told me that making another [person] laugh is the most generous thing you can do. We really had a lot of that on set.

Some of the challenges of filming No Exit

Were there any particularly challenging scenes to film?

Yeah. A number of them. What's tough about this role is that it's one extreme challenge after another. Anything that involved snow was so difficult. Oddly enough, it feels like such a menial aspect, but we had loads and loads of faux snow on the set. I remember in the first couple of days, we were shooting and we didn't factor in the fact that the big fans would also pick up the set dressing snow into the air. I was literally coughing up papier-mâché for a few days afterwards, so those felt especially difficult. Otherwise, basically everything else was emotionally taxing.

Is there an actor or director you'd love to work with at some point?

There's not a singular one. Part of what's so amazing about filmmaking is how collaborative and communal it is. I have a lot of people that I respect deeply and their work I respect deeply. How they bring themselves to the work is always telling of how exciting it is to work with somebody. This is another cop out answer, but I really don't have a specific one.

Do you have any projects coming up you can talk about?

Not that I can talk about, but I will say that February has been a very big month. "The Sky is Everywhere" just came out on the 11th, which is directed by Josephine Decker. That was an incredibly beautiful role where I play essentially the polar opposite to Darby, so it was very fun to have those come out in the same month.

"No Exit" is now streaming on Hulu.