Nicole Kidman came to TIFF in two very different guises this year. Her small role as a feisty mother in Joel Edgerton’s Boy Erased inspired spontaneous applause at that film’s premiere on Tuesday, but it will be as jaded LAPD officer Erin Bell in Karyn Kusama’s dark thriller Destroyer that the actress will more likely strike a chord with Academy voters. Kidman was her usual smiling, upbeat self when she arrived at the Deadline studio to discuss the film, in which a policewoman finds herself haunted by the aftermath of a traumatic undercover operation from her past, but she is almost unrecognizable onscreen as the hard-nosed Bell.

Kusama, who is married to screenwriter Phil Hay, explained that she didn’t have to look too far for the script in the first place. “My husband and his writing partner, Matt Manfredi, had been talking about this script for a couple of years,” she recalled. “Several years, actually. We work together as kind of creative partners, and when I read the script I just felt like I hadn’t seen that character before, and I was really excited to kind of dive in with her.”

To prepare for the role, Kidman noted that she had a lot of work to do before shooting even started. “I did a lot of training for learning how to use semiautomatics and pistols and everything,” she said. “I needed to know how to fire them, I needed to know how to load them—I just needed to have them [around me] as though I’d lived with them my whole life. I live in Tennessee, so it was easy for me to be able to go to the range and work with the guns. And then there was a lot of research in terms of what it meant to be a cop. The way in which you enter the room, the way in which you’re always on guard, all of those things that are second nature to somebody who is working to protect themselves or working as a policeman or detective or policewoman.”

Shooting on location proved to be an important factor in creating the film’s atmosphere (“We were in some hot neighborhoods, I think is how you would put it,” said Kusama dryly). “We got shut down one night because there was a shooter,” said Kidman, “and that was great for the authenticity of what we were doing. I mean, we were [actually] in these locations. So many times now you’re green-screening things. I saw a side of LA I’d probably never seen.”

“We all did,” said Kusama. “We went all over the city. It’s such a huge, sprawling Pandora’s box of a city—and we opened it up and got into the corners.”

Click on the link above to hear more of the conversation.

Deadline Studio at TIFF 2018 presented by eOne. Special thanks to sponsor Watford Group, and partners Calii LoveLove Child Social, and Barocco Coffee.