David Sims: I know Destroyer was written by your collaborators, but what drew you to the project?
Karyn Kusama: Well, Phil [Hay] and Matt [Manfredi], whom I’ve worked with three times now, had started talking about this story around the same time they were talking about The Invitation. They were talking about a circular story—a structure that was going to somewhat aggressively be living between the present and the past, and it was all anchored by this incredibly complicated, damaged woman. And I would say the emotional heart of the film lived in her relationship to her daughter. [The writers] brought me in at the outline phase, and we talked through, scene by scene, what they hoped to achieve, and I pointed out areas that I’d be open to emphasizing or amplifying, and then areas that felt more like the business of telling the story. They wrote it pretty quickly once we got through those years of dinner-table conversations.
Sims: Was the script what drew Nicole Kidman to the project?
Kusama: It was. She had been given the script by her agent and had reached out to me, saying, “I don’t know if you’ve considered me, but I’d like you to.” It was really interesting, because, truth be told, until that moment, I hadn’t. And the script had been written for somebody who was 39 instead of 49.
Sims: Someone you’re aging up rather than down.
Kusama: Exactly. And yet, as I was talking to [Kidman], she brought so much inquiry into the process of talking about the script. She was never saying, “I know exactly what to do.” She was always saying, “I actually don’t know what to do, and that feeling is obsessing me.” That kind of creative thirst from her made me think, She is the one.
Sims: Was there the appeal that she’d never tackled a role like this?
Kusama: I think that really excited her. It’s true that she hadn’t, and yet for me, in entertainment circles, movies that people talk about wanting to evoke [are often films that Kidman has been in]—To Die For, The Others, movies that we still don’t see high-quality versions of very often. When she told me that she’d hunted down [the director] Yorgos Lanthimos and said, “I’ll do anything you give me to do,” and that’s how she ended up in [The Killing of a Sacred Deer], I just think that takes some platinum ovaries to say, “I’m your girl, and I trust your artistry.” She was refreshingly unstrategic and so attuned to the idea that [the movie] just may not work. Being open about that is a rare thing to encounter in the business.
Sims: So when you’re breaking this story, what are the things you want to emphasize?
Kusama: I was really hoping we feel a totality of character by the end of the film. That the mission of the film could be to slowly draw the audience into a layered and complex tale of crime and crime gone wrong. And that by the end of the film, we actually feel like we have uncovered some degree of the mystery that drives humans. That there was this human we got to spend time with, whom we know a little bit better.