Director Karyn Kusama’s excellent new crime drama, Destroyer, tells the story of Erin Bell (Nicole Kidman), an LAPD officer and mother who endured a traumatic experience working undercover inside a dangerous California gang operating in a desolate desert community. The film covers two different eras in Bell’s life: time spent with the gang, shown via flashback, and her bleak present days.
The years haven’t been kind to the latter-day Bell, leaving her looking hollow and battered by the sun, in desperate need of sleep and hydration. Of course, the radiant Nicole Kidman is quite different-looking from the character she inhabits in the film. To achieve a believable transformation from Hollywood star to hard-boiled cop, Kusama and Kidman collaborated with Oscar-winning makeup designer Bill Corso (Foxcatcher, Deadpool).
“A lot of real people don’t wear sunscreen,” Kusama pointed out to Yahoo Entertainment when asked what informed the look of Bell. “They just don’t bother. They don’t wear hats, they don’t wear sunglasses. Frankly, I don’t.”
“I do,” interjected Kidman.
“But you do. But Nicole does. … We were talking about the reality of people who live in the desert and have wind blowing in their face all day, people who went through a period where maybe they weren’t a full-blown drug addict but they would party with meth now and then,” Kusama continued. “Those kind of choices; where they drink excessively, where they don’t sleep enough, where they don’t drink enough water. Those choices affect you from the inside out. Those were some of the choices that were informing Erin’s look.”
“So it’s not that extreme,” Kidman added. “We don’t see it as that extreme.”
“It’s extremely different from how you look now,” Kusama pointed out.
Kidman explained that it’s “my job as an actor, to not be attached to my own physical form and to be absolutely a blank canvas,” which is how she embraced the character.
Kusama said that the script influenced Bell’s appearance. “Almost every character she deals with says, ‘Jesus you look old,’ ‘Man, you look terrible,'” the director said. “There’s a lot of commentary that we had to earn.”
“And she doesn’t care,” Kidman added. “It’s a woman who says, and this is a line in the film, ‘I don’t care what happens to me.’ And she means it. That person looks a particular way and behaves a particular way.”
Watch how a real-life Arkansas mom from Boy Erased lobbied for Nicole Kidman to play her (and was successful):
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