Any fan of Nicole Kidman would have recognized the willowy, red-headed Australian actress as soon as she appeared on stage this weekend for the Annapurna presentation at Deadline’s The Contenders award-season event in Los Angeles. That wasn’t the case a few minutes later, however, when the DGA Theater’s screen showed scenes from Destroyer with a visage of Kidman that was startlingly unfamiliar.
In Destroyer Kidman portrays Erin Bell, who as a young police officer infiltrated a fearsome desert gang. That assignment led to wrenching tragedy. When the leader of that gang later eventually returns Bell goes back to finish the job — or to be finished by demons and choices that still haunt her.
Kidman’s face, bearing and eyes all reflect that history in Destroyer, which was directed by Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) and the cast also includes Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell,Tatiana Maslany and Bradley Whitford. On Saturday, when Deadline’s Pete Hammond asked Kidman about the grueling production, she said she was proud of her work but that the pleasure wasn’t in the moment.
“Is the artistic path enjoyable? Oh my gosh I’m so, so grateful to have the passion I have for what I do. But [there are] certain characters you’re going to play that you’re going to have to go and exist in a different space for. It’s almost like a different realm. And because there’s rage and shame and mistrust and pain and also, there’s a deeply sensitive person in there. That’s a very jarring place to exist for an extended period of time.”
Kusama said her work with the dedicated Kidman on the project was an amazing experience.
“I had never hd the opportunity to be so creatively linked and aligned with an actor. There were moments when Nicole and I would look at each other and I would start to say ‘Could we try…’ and she would say ‘I think we need to try…’ and it would be a fill-in-the-blank of what I actually had been thinking. I felt like there was this psychic thread between us which was a really deeply, deeply satisfying and exhilirating way to work.”
Destroyer premiered in late August at the Telluride Film Festival. Its domestic release is Christmas Day. Kusama explained that the film’s bleak world was born on the page with a noir story that screenwriters Phil Hay (the director’s husband) and Matt Manfredi had circled for years.
“They had brought this original screenplay to me and had been talking about the themes for years, the themes of personal responsibility and moral accountability embedded in a crime thriller with a really interesting woman and a complicated woman at the center of it,” Kusama said.