Let’s get physical

Jessica Rothe kicks ass in action-comedy thriller ‘Boy Kills World’

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Jessica Rothe in 'Boy Kills World,' in theaters now. Courtesy: Roadside Attractions / Lionsgate

It’s been nearly two decades since Jessica Rothe called the Front Range home, but the prolific screen actor says she’ll always be “a homegrown Colorado girl.”

Like her parents, Rothe was born and raised in Denver, where she caught the acting bug as a student at Cherry Creek High School. After graduating from Boston University, Rothe made New York and eventually Los Angeles her home, all in pursuit of a career on screen.

Rothe has done pretty well in that regard, leading both installments of the horror movie series Happy Death Day with additional roles in romantic films like All My Life and the musicals Forever My Girl and La La Land. 

Rothe’s most recent release is Boy Kills World, the feature directorial debut of emerging filmmaker Moritz Mohr. She plays a character by the name of June 27, an enforcer working for the Van Der Koy crime family. The action-comedy thriller revolves around Boy (Bill Skarsgård), who seeks revenge against the Van Der Koys after they kill his entire family. 

“I’d always wanted to do an action movie,” Rothe tells Boulder Weekly over the phone. Growing up, her favorite was Die Hard, while in recent years she’s become obsessed with Bruce Lee classics. “There’s just so much to be said about the physical language of action films. I love that recent action movies like John Wick do a lot more than explosions and guns. That was one thing that was so exciting about this project.”

A mysterious shaman trains an orphaned boy to become the ultimate killing machine in Boy Kills World. Courtesy: Roadside Attractions / Lionsgate

‘Exploring female rage’

After reading the “brash, funny, wild and heartfelt” script by Tyler Burton Smith and Arend Remmers, Rothe knew she had to be involved in Boy Kills World. But she also knew how much work she’d have to put into it. 

Her preparation included training in martial arts, which Rothe compares to learning a “beautifully choreographed dance.” She also found a new respect for stunt people and action actors due to their ability to create riveting scenes while keeping things safe. 

“Physically, I was training between two and eight hours a day,” she says. “I became extraordinarily strong. It was really cool to have an excuse to learn new physical things and get into great shape.”

Rothe says it was a great privilege to work on the physical aspects of the film, but she also connected with the character of June 27. That was especially true when it came to channeling the aggression inside her. 

“She has so much rage,” Rothe says. “I loved the opportunity and the experience to really dive into that. Because exploring female rage has become more acceptable. It’s something women don’t always get to tap into. It allowed me to dig deep into those visceral dark places, explore them and give them an outlet.” 

Rothe actually got a head start when it came to her Boy Kills World preparation in the way of ballet classes she took as an eight-year-old. 

“That certainly helped,” she says. “I definitely consider myself more of an actor who can move. But there were definitely moves in this [film] that reminded me of ballet.”

‘I can breathe in a different way’

The 36-year-old performer showcased a love of storytelling from a young age. Her mother often tells the story of Rothe watching live musicals as a child, her mouth hanging open with astonishment and delight. While she performed in school plays and sang with Colorado Children’s Chorale, it was kind words from her Cherry Creek High School drama teacher Jennifer Condreay that made Rothe take acting more seriously. 

“We had worked together in a production. She sat me down at one point and said, ‘I think you could really do this if you wanted to,’” Rothe recalls “She helped me apply for two acting programs at different colleges around the country.”

For a short time, Rothe considered other professions. But she soon realized that she was only interested in them because of how she’d seen these jobs depicted on film. 

“I played around with the idea of being an art historian who restores paintings. I wanted to be a teacher who traveled the world. Then I realized I just wanted to be that part in a movie,” she says. “I wanted to be in the Da Vinci Code, not an historian. It’s thanks to Jennifer and my parents, who were so supportive, that my dream of being an actor suddenly felt like it could happen.”

While she now lives in Los Angeles with her husband Eric Clem, Rothe is still as proud a Coloradan as anyone is likely to meet. 

“I’m incredibly biased, but I think Colorado is one of the most magical places in the world. All of my family is still there and every time I’m home I find it a haven,” she says. “The nature there is so special and important. I feel like I can breathe in a different way.”


ON SCREEN: Boy Kills World is currently in theaters at Cinemark Century Boulder, Regal Cinebarre Boulder and AMC Flatiron Crossing 14. 

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