In director Karyn Kusama’s “destroyer,” Nicole Kidman plays Erin Bell, a detective and tortured soul who has spent nearly 20 years punishing herself for her role in an undercover operation gone wrong.
Kidman delivers an intense, gripping performance, and a team of artisans were key in creating the highly distressed look that helped the Oscar-winning beauty convincingly inhabit a down-at-the-heels character who ages — from her mid-20s into her late 40s — in the film.
Makeup designer Bill Corso explains that he set out to make Kidman “look like a real woman who’s had a hard life. She’s a detective. She has let herself go. She smokes. She drinks.” All her bad choices had to show on her face, so Corso turned to photos of aging rock stars for inspiration.
The makeup designer gave Kidman bags under red-rimmed eyes, and he aged the skin on her face — as well as her neck and hands — and simulated sun damage. “It was quite a bit of actual makeup, painting and making her skin look a little weathered like most people in their 50s that haven’t taken care of themselves,” Corso says. “It was like doing a portrait painting every day that has to match the day before. It was very challenging.”
He also had to apply a small prosthetic piece to change the shape of Kidman’s nose so it would look as though it had been broken. Corso also had fake teeth made to cover Kidman’s movie-star teeth.
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For the younger version of Bell, Corso filled out Kidman’s face with fake cheeks, added freckles to her skin and worked on her eyes and eyebrows.
Corso says the actress doesn’t like to sit in a makeup chair for too long, so she asked him to do the makeup application process as quickly as possible. “We got it down to a little over 30 minutes, and that was with Barbara and I working on her simultaneously,” says Corso, referring to hair stylist Barbara Lorenz, who did the wigs for “Destroyer” and has worked with Kidman before.
In addition to Lorenz, Corso worked closely with costume designer Audrey Fisher. “Audrey and I spoke a lot in the beginning,” he says. “When I did my first makeup test on Nicole, Audrey did her first costume test on her.”
“We had our own little triad,” Fisher says of Corso and Lorenz. “It has to be a team in order to achieve the look. I’m always incredibly proactive about that.
Bill was totally responsive and excited, and it was the same with Barbara. We really had a wonderful way of sharing information and working together.”
For the flashback scenes, in which Bell is an undercover officer trying to fit in with a bank-robbing, drug-loving gang, Fisher outfitted Kidman in grungy T-shirts and jeans she picked up at thrift stores and flea markets and from vintage dealers.
Rocketing forward 18 years to the scenes of Bell in her 40s, Fisher notes that the character’s wardrobe hasn’t changed all that much. “She just has a pile of T-shirts and a pair of jeans,” Fisher says. “She puts on whatever is on the floor when she gets up in the morning.”
That said, Fisher wanted there to be some evidence of who Bell was before she lost all hope, so the costume designer chose to clothe the character in a leather jacket.
Fisher and Kusama had discussions about the leather jacket and what it signified. “We decided it was something that she bought maybe 10 or 12 years ago. Maybe she got a promotion and she went out and bought herself a nice leather jacket. She’s worn it almost every day, so it’s well worn. But at this point, it’s no longer fashionable. It’s just a jacket she wears all the time.”
Fisher hired Los Angeles-based leather designer Jonathan A. Hogan to make the garment, providing him with a dark bottle-green leather that was distressed and looks black most of the time onscreen.
Kidman became as attached to the leather jacket as her character was. “She never wanted to take it off on set,” Fisher says. “It’s what allowed her to enter into the physicality of this character.”