By Shana Naomi Krochmal
November 14, 2018 at 02:05 PM EST

Boy Erased

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Like many films scheduled to make splashy Los Angeles premieres this week as fires continued to burn and displace local residents, Destroyer opted to cancel its red carpet premiere Tuesday night at the AFI Fest presented by Audi. But the AFI’s “Evening with Nicole Kidman” still offered a Q&A with Kidman and director Karyn Kusama before screening the film, where Kidman talked about how her characters in Destroyer and Boy Erased are motivated by their maternal instincts.

“They’re both mothers on a path trying to heal what they’ve done to their children,” Kidman said, describing how she shot the two intense movies back to back last year, with a four-week break in between. “And then I collapsed,” she said. “There’s times when you go, I just don’t have anything left to give.”

In Destroyer, a dark crime thriller that unfolds both in the present and 17 years before, Kidman plays Erin Bell, an LAPD cop who relentlessly retraces an early undercover assignment that ended in tragedy — all while battling with her troubled 16-year-old daughter, who seems hell-bent on her own path of self-destruction.

That means Kidman — who in promotional images for the film has a brutal, hollow-eyed stare — is actually transformed twice, into the present-day haunted homicide detective, and into a much-younger version of herself, a still untested sheriff’s deputy paired up with an FBI agent (Sebastian Stan).

Kidman pushed back against the interest in her “unrecognizable” looks. “I don’t like focusing on the hair and makeup and all those things because I still believe in the mystery of the performance,” she said. “There’s such a desire now for people to tell you everything and dissect everything but — there’s magic involved. I love keeping that magic.”

Just don’t call Detective Bell’s violent, self-destructive and determined revenge quest “masculine.” While Kidman told EW previously that she was excited to take on the kind of character she grew up on watching Al Pacino films, on Tuesday she passionately described Destroyer’s motivations as distinctly female.

“She’s operating from a maternal force,” she said of Bell’s many morally questionable moves made ultimately in the name of protecting her daughter. “It leads her on this very destructive path.” (Kidman actually inadvertently spoiled a key reveal in the film many in the audience had yet to see — whoops! — by going into more detail of her character’s turning point.) “It may have been a maternal force that has made massive mistakes and has not been there and has not been what we’d call a good mother. [But] the basis for so many of her motivations and her drive is from that, and her shame, and her pain.”

Though she claimed “there was nothing in my past that suggested I could play this role,” Kidman credited her off-screen experiences with providing the fuel for so many dark, intense roles.

“You have to have a life to then be able to go and put it into your art. And I’ve had a crazy life,” she said, turning to the audience and laughing. “I’m a highly sensitive person. And I attach very strongly to people — and with that comes all the emotions that are attached to that, and that then gives me the world to draw from.”

Kidman continued to gush about the opportunities that she’s been given — especially at age 51 — and said, “That time between action and cut is still extraordinary to me.”

Boy Erased is in theaters now, while Destroyer opens on Christmas Day.

Credit: Annapurna Pictures; Focus Features

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