Heat set the gold standard for L.A. bank robberies, and the creators of Destroyer know it. So when their film involved a bank robbery in Los Angeles, they weren’t trying to top Heat.
“I just always knew that it had to feel fast and gritty and chaotic because my understanding is that’s sort of how it happens,” director Karyn Kusama said. “I didn’t think of it so much as an action sequence per se. I thought of it as another charged event in which the stakes just got raised a little bit higher.”
Screenwriters Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi concurred that the bank robbery should be an action set piece.
“In our case, we were always, [with] our stunt coordinator, our weapons trainers, our LAPD consultant, always going back to trying to make it feel authentic to human experience,” Hay said. “It is not fun to be in a gunfight.”
Det. Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman) stalks the streets of L.A. looking for Silas (Toby Kebbell), a drug dealer who got away after she went undercover with him. Her case takes her to some corners of the L.A. underworld not frequently shown on film.
“We were shooting in Frogtown, in Chinatown, in Inglewood, south of the airport,” Kusama said. “We were really in funny, to me, areas of the city that I haven’t seen on film quite as much. So I feel like we certainly got to see another side of L.A.”
For the writers, familiar places like BA Self Storage had to be part of Erin’s journey.
“It’s so uniquely positioned and so L.A. to us that it was emblematic of just those kind of things that are dotted all around L.A.,” Manfredi said. “They’re sort of weird little pockets.”
Hay added, “Because that’s our L.A., the L.A. that is not just the off the rack version that you see in many other movies. Those of us who live here know how fascinatingly weird, complex, layered this place is. It’s an L.A. movie is the bottom line and we wanted it to feel that way.”
That was fine with Kusama because BA Self Storage doesn’t charge as much as the Hollywood sign.
“We just couldn’t afford the stuff that would make it recognizably L.A.,” Kusama said. “The irony is I think L.A. is so recognizable in its own strange way that you can have this sort of industrial blight matched with towering palm trees and these sort of chemical sunsets. It can feel like this collisions of beauty and ugliness which I think in some ways is part of what the movie was attempting to explore.”
One location was a miracle even to the L.A. filmmakers. Location manager Robert Foulkes found a spot they only dreamed up in the script.
“We wrote a scene that’s revealed that behind one character is downtown L.A. and behind the other character is Dodger Stadium,” Hay said. “[There was] this place called Victory Grove, this very disused park and he found it.”
In the scene, there is a game going on while Bell is talking to her contact. That was a bit of movie magic.
“We happened to be prepping during the playoffs,” Kusama said. “So I was able to get a plate of the full Dodger Stadium parking lot completely full. It was so great. It made it feel like a real L.A. event which it is.”
Fans of the TV show 24 always joke about how quickly Jack Bauer got around town in “real time.” Destroyer is compressed to two hours, but they still paid attention to the distances Bell traveled.
“One of the things that makes me very happy to hear is when an Angeleno tells us the locations made sense,” Hay said. “Because the movie is an odyssey, Karyn wanted the distances to feel right and the relationship of the locations to one another to feel right.”
So take a visit to the seedy side of L.A. in Destroyer, now in theaters.
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