Nicole Kidman is a striking sight in her new movie Destroyer, and it’s not just her look glaring directly into the camera. She plays Det. Erin Bell grizzled from decades of undercover work on the streets of L.A.
Kidman delivers a powerhouse performance, but is it okay if we say we’re not surprised? Of course she can play Det. Erin Bell. She’s Nicole Kidman!
Destroyer director Karyn Kusama certainly hopes that fans of Nicole Kidman, even if they mean well, do not harp on her physical appearance in the film. There is a lot more to Destroyer than that and Monsters and Critics is here to help.
“I feel like we’re particularly over attuned to women and their appearance as actors,” Kusama said. “We’re so critical of women when it comes to their appearance. I feel like part of what Nicole really wanted to do was disappear into that role. She succeeded.”
Glamorous actresses are often called brave when they play a harrowing physical role. The subtext of “brave” is that she’s brave for not being pretty, which begs the question, why isn’t grizzled Nicole Kidman as attractive as glamorous red carpet Nicole Kidman?
“That’s a really great point there too because for me, I always find Nicole compelling but I think she’s so charismatic in this role and so potent and powerful,” Kusama said.
I really feel like I want to watch her, even though what she says and does sometimes makes me want to look away.”
It’s okay, you can like both versions of Nicole Kidman. That’s why she plays all kinds of roles as an actor.
“I just feel like to have created a character that charismatic is, in my opinion, shows another kind of beauty,” Kusama said. “In many respects, we idealize particularly women in movies so much that we forget that from a lot of people she just looks like a real person.”
In the screenplay, writers Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi did not describe Erin Bell’s physical appearance as much as her behavior.
“I think in the script it was more about physicality and expression as opposed to saying her hair is cut short, or anything like that,” Manfredi said. “To me, her performance is, in terms of her appearance, to me it’s all about the physicality: her walk, her voice, the way she holds her shoulders.”
Through flashbacks to an undercover mission in which she and her partner Chris (Sebastian Stan) infiltrated Silas (Toby Kebbell)’s gang, and modern day scenes in which she interrogates suspects, Erin Bell takes a beating but won’t stop coming after the bad guys.
“Nicole and Karyn both talk about how this is a person who’s visibly carrying their internal damage on their body,” Hay said. “They’re carrying their feelings and also their neglect.
“This is a character who’s very neglectful of herself. She doesn’t take care of herself and carries herself in a specific way to protect herself and protect what’s inside her.
Hay added that he and Manfredi are aware of tropes about female characters, so they want to be careful not to write reductive descriptions of their characters.
“What you’re hoping to do as a write is you’re hoping to create a character that a truly great actor wants to play,” Hay said. “There’s no greater actor than Nicole.”
This will probably not be a quick fix for Hollywood. It hasn’t changed since Charlize Theron played Aileen Wournos in Monster, but we hope by talking about it we can steer the focus towards Kidman’s vast accomplishments.
“We’re not calling Christian Bale brave for putting on 50 pounds and a ton of prosthetic makeup to look like Dick Cheney,” Kusama said. “We’re just saying he’s doing his job. I question for his personal health and sanity, the wisdom of continuing to put on 60 pounds for certain roles and then having to take it all off.”
Makeup designer Bill Corso helped give Kidman the tools she felt she needed to portray Erin Bell.
“We succeeded in helping her get to that place I think on that level where she could really disappear into that role,” Kusama said. “I think she’s very proud of the fact that she could lose herself and let this character emerge and speak from and move from and think and feel from this character because that’s why she does what she does.”
See what Nicole Kidman does in Destroyer, now in theaters.