“I thought I was going to change the world, but the world changed me,” Lillie Rowe, a 20-year-old nurse from a prominent Philadelphia family, says in “The Ottoman Lieutenant,” a period drama, which takes place at the onset of World War I. It’s the kind of comment made by a romantic whose ideals have been snuffed out by life’s harsh realities.
Suffice it to say that Rowe, who leaves home to follow a doctor on his medical mission in a small town in Anatolia, in the Ottoman Empire, doesn’t stay young for very long.
“I loved her,” said Hera Hilmar of Rowe, the character she played in the film, which opens on March 10. “Those characters are the kind of strong women who are allowed to tell their stories. They say, ‘No I don’t want to do this, I want to do something else,’ and they go and do it.”
“Lieutenant,” which also stars Josh Hartnett, Sir Ben Kingsley and Michiel Huisman, explores World War I’s less-chronicled eastern front.
“It was a big deal for Lillie to leave because she knows she may not come back again,” Hilmar said. “It’s huge. In a way, we don’t fully understand the enormity of a decision like that now because we can can fly everywhere and Google something in a second.”
Rowe wants to be a doctor, which isn’t an option in her native Philadelphia. “At least at the clinic, she can work in an environment where they don’t differentiate between men and women,” Hilmar said. “There’s no bullshit about it. Everybody’s a person.”
Rowe is caught in a love triangle in “Lieutenant,” drawn to Dr. Jude Gresham (Hartnett) because she knows he’s good for her and “sometimes you have to go with the flow,” Hilmar said.
Rowe awakens feelings in mission founder Dr. Garrett Woodward (Kingsley), whose spirit was crushed by the strife in the region. Being strong-willed, Rowe naturally chooses the more difficult relationship with Turkish army officer Ismael Veli (Hiusman).
“Someone else takes her heart in a way she didn’t predict. He’s Muslim and she’s Christian. It’s important to tell these stories because this is a huge issue in politics in America,” Hilmar said, referring to President Trump’s proposed anti-immigration policies. “Right now, it feels like there’s so much fear and fear-mongering. We need to be aware and remind ourselves that behind our differences, we’re all people and we can love each other.”
The 28-year-old Hilmar, who appeared in the miniseries, “The World Without End,” and Starz’s “Da Vinci’s Demons,” is also featured in Peter Jackson’s “Mortal Engines,” which will be released next year.
Raised in Iceland, Hilmar can relate to Lillie Rowe’s desire to leave home and gain independence. After working on films in her native country, Hilmar decided to attend the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. “My dad is a film director and my mom is an actress,” she said. “Moving meant making my own way. I was too close to home.”
Hilmar discovered an exotic Turkey when she toured the country after getting the role. “The landscape is breathtaking in Cappadocia, in the middle of Turkey, where we were filming,” she said. “I wanted to learn a lot. To be honest, I didn’t know about what happened in Turkey. I felt I had to understand in the same ways that Lillie would have. She was learning a lot while she was going through the film.”