Lily Gladstone Is the MVP of ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’

killers of the flower moon lily gladstone
Lily Gladstone Is ‘Killers of the Flower Moon' MVPApple TV+/Getty Images
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IT DOESN'T TAKE a certified film scholar, a Criterion loyalist, or even just a regular movie buff to draw the simple conclusion that it takes a certain level of unmeasurable skill for any movie performer to hang neck-and-neck, in a film directed by Martin Scorsese, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. This description could actually be applied to a number of performers in Scorsese's towering, haunting crime epic Killers of the Flower Moon (including the exceptional Jesse Plemons), but no one wears it better than Lily Gladstone.

Flower Moon tells the story of the Osage people in 1920s Oklahoma; the Osage were the per-capita richest people in the country after striking oil on their land, and, eventually, were targeted by an epidemic of murders with the intent of stealing that wealth that went unsolved—and uninvestigated. The film marks the breakout role in a (so-far) decade-long career for Gladstone, who plays Mollie Burkhardt (eventual wife of DiCaprio's scheming, dim-witted, character Ernest Burkhardt) and who herself comes from a native background, having been raised by her father (of Blackfeet and Nimiipuu heritage) and mother on the Blackfeet reservation in Montana. In fact, when Gladstone won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama, she opened her speech by speaking in the Blackfeet language.“I just spoke a bit of Blackfeet language—the beautiful community, nation that raised me, that encouraged me to keep going, doing this,” she said. “I’m so grateful that I can speak even a little bit of my language, which I’m not fluent in, up here.”

In addition to her Golden Globes win, Gladstone, is also nominated for an Oscar for her role in the film; she and Emma Stone (for Poor Things), as of now, are considered the two leading contenders to come away with the award. She shines for a lot of reasons—her confidence combined with raw humanity become a major asset in her performance—but she also shares scenes throughout the film with numerous members of the film's impressive ensemble, and particularly shines when playing opposite DiCaprio's dishonest Ernest, or the seething, subtle evil of De Niro's "King" William Hale.

Even as the situation surrounding her gets worse and worse, Gladstone's Molly always keeps a level-head, despite the circumstances around her constantly changing (in horrifying ways) throughout the course of the film. By the time viewers have made it through 3+ hours with these characters, the final scene between Gladstone and DiCaprio is one that is perhaps the most emotionally cutting that Scorsese has ever put to film—and it's Gladstone who gets to deliver the most significant slashes.

Lily Gladstone has earned universal acclaim playing Mollie Burkhart in Martin Scorsese's Killers of the Flower Moon

lily gladstone martin scorsese killers of the flower moon
Apple

In a movie that's earned just about universal acclaim (it holds a 93% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes), Gladstone's performance as Mollie has somehow been the even more universal standout. She's been nominated for numerous precursory awards (including winning the Golden Globe for Best Actress, Drama), and has gotten her first Academy Award—and is a major contender to win.

If Gladstone were to win the Oscar, she would become the first Indigenous person to win for acting, and only the third to win overall (after Buffy Sainte-Marie—whose ancestry has actually come into question in the last year—won for Best Original Song for An Officer and a Gentleman, and Taika Waititi, who won for Best Adapted Screenplay with Jojo Rabbit).

Stream Killers of the Flower Moon Here

Prior to Flower Moon, she's also appeared across numerous independent films for the last decade

lily gladstone certain women
IFC Films

While Killers of the Flower Moon might be where most viewers saw Gladstone on the big screen for the first time, she's actually been steadily working in the world of independent film for more than a decade.

Her first film role was in 2012's Jimmy P: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian, which starred Benicio del Toro. She's also been notable for her collaborations with writer/director Kelly Reichardt, appearing in her films Certain Women (which also starred Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, and Kristen Stewart) and First Cow. It was Certain Women, in fact, that brought Gladstone to Scorsese's attention. “I saw her in Kelly Reichardt's picture Certain Women, and I couldn't take my eyes off of her,” he said in an e-mail to Variety. “Lily’s character was quiet, she spoke very little, but she commanded the screen with her presence, with every move, every gesture. There are very few actors around who know how to hold the screen like that, and it was perfect for the character of Mollie."

Stream Certain Women Here

Earlier in 2023, Gladstone also earned acclaim for her role in the independent film Fancy Dance.

TV fans may recognize her from recurring roles on shows like Billions and Reservation Dogs

lily gladstone reservation dogs
FX

In recent years, Gladstone has also had steady work on the small screen. She appeared in a pair of episodes of Mark and Jay Duplass' HBO anthology series Room 104, and also had a recurring role on Billions. She also provided her voice for an episode of the animated comedy Tuca and Bertie.

Her most notable TV role (to this point), though, comes in FX's acclaimed series Reservation Dogs, which follows the lives of Indigenous teenagers hanging out and committing low-level crimes in rural Oklahoma. Gladstone appeared in two episodes as Hokti, the incarcerated mother of Daniel—a friend of the main characters who died by suicide a year prior to the events of the show.

You'll see her next in a major Hulu limited series, Under the Bridge

lily gladstone riley keough
Getty Images

Where do Oscar-contending stars go after their awards season run finishes up? As Matthew McConaughey (in True Detective), Andrew Garfield (in Under the Banner of Heaven), Amy Adams (in Sharp Objects) and Brian Tyree Henry (in Class of '09) showed, the answer is often: a limited series investigating grisly crimes.

Gladstone is primed to add her name to that list. 2024 will likely see the release of Under the Bridge, a true-crime mystery about the murder of a teenage girl in British Columbia, based on the book of the same name. Riley Keough (Daisy Jones and the Six) is set to play the lead role of Rebecca Godfrey (who wrote the true crime book upon which the series is based), and Gladstone will play Cam Bentland, one of the local law enforcement officers investigating the murder.

The show will debut on FX and Hulu on April 17, and recently revealed first-look photos:

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