Nicol Paone Talks the Art World & Uma Thurman

September 28, 2023 - Movies

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with The Kill Room director Nicol Paone about the upcoming dark comedy. Paone discussed the art world, working with Uma Thurman and Maya Hawke, and more. The film releases exclusively in theaters in Friday, September 29.

“It centers around a hitman, Reggie, his boss, an art dealer, and their money laundering scheme that accidentally turns the hitman into an overnight avant-garde sensation, forcing her to play the art world against the underworld,” reads the film‘s synopsis.

Tyler Treese: What I really liked about the movie is you really go all out on the high art world. What did you find most funny about taking digs at that environment? They’re certainly up their own ass to an extent.

Nicol Paone: I think the funniest part, to me, is the old couple making love under the bags. We just had a lot of fun with that. The script was written because … the writer, his wife owns a gallery and she’s on the board at Art Basel, and at one point, I believe while he was there, this woman got stabbed and she was walking around Art Basel bleeding and people thought it was an art exhibit. So that, to me, is a brilliant way to start a movie or to begin a project. We tried to have fun with it without being too harsh.

There’s some great dark comedy in this and your background as a comedian really shines through here. Can you speak to going that dark? How dark is too dark, or is there a “too dark?”

I think when there is a little bit of levity to something … I hesitate to say, “There’s no dark that’s too dark,” but I think for this, we walked a nice balance of … I think this could happen. It certainly could happen that someone is in the art world and they blow up and everybody has to have it, and it was sort of like a happy accident, right? I’m sure that’s happened. It’s happened at art festivals. Somebody took a picture of something on the floor and people thought it was art. So I think that 100% could happen — someone becomes famous because of a happy accident.

As far as the dark nature of it, yeah. I mean, we certainly go there, but I think we were sort of going for like Viennese Actionism, you know? I think if you look at any of those pieces, certainly in the earlier part of the movement, that stuff’s really dark and just to be dark for dark’s sake. This movie, I think, toes the line, but with a little bit of levity. I think it’s cool.

The levity definitely helps. It’s so exciting to see the all-star cast and, in particular, to see Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman reunited. How exciting was that for you to get these two great stars that have a history together and play off each other so well?

It was incredible. I’m not going to lie, I wanted to shoot them from behind when they were on that bench. At the end, we’ve seen them in the movie for x amount of minutes and they’re so iconic. Just seeing their two heads together from behind, it’s like I could have played the whole scene from behind, because you know who they are and they’re so brilliant together. They play off of each other and they would kind of up the game for each other. If somebody laid out something new in take two, then Uma would take the ball and … they really were a cohesive unit and getting to watch them and be a part of that is, so far, one of the greatest thrills of my career.

This wound up being a family affair as well. Maya Hawke is in it, and I really loved the moments where she’s freaking out and screaming at her mom. Those scenes had to be so much fun to film.

So much fun. I’m sure Maya and Uma get approached all the time to do projects, and I think the thing that attracted us all to this pairing was, number one: Maya, in her own right, is an incredible actress. It wasn’t a precious onscreen mother-daughter relationship. It’s these two battling each other — an acerbic artist and a gallery owner who knows nobody was going to buy this art. She has to have these “Come to Jesus” moments with Grace’s character that, I imagine, would happen in the sequel. I just think there is such a world where those two characters can live in other than what we see on screen. I want more from them. I thought they worked together brilliantly.

A couple of times, they were both holding their hands in the same way at the same time, which was really funny to me. They’re both uniquely themselves, yet it’s obvious they’re mother and daughter, because they’re both very intelligent and the way they approach their characters is very similar. I can’t wait to watch and see what Maya does.

We see WWE Superstar Liv Morgan appear in the movie. You’re both from Jersey — how did this casting happen? Did you already know her or how’d that happen?

I didn’t know her. Liv is a friend of one of our producers and I had a meeting with her and she’s lovely. So we thought, “Let’s get her in there.”

Reggie is such a fun role for Joe Manganiello. He gets some really intense scenes and we get to see the softer side of the character that behind this art career. What stood out about working with Joe?

With Joe, it was wanting to see him in a role like this because he’s a classically trained actor and we haven’t seen him in something like this. I’ve always been a fan of his and I thought this would be really interesting. Meeting him and speaking with him, it was obvious to me that he just hadn’t had the opportunity to sink his teeth into something like this. I think what stood out for me about Joe’s work is not only his dedication to it, but the subtlety of his work. That scene with Joe and Sam when he’s saying, “When is enough enough?” Or, “When am I going to get out of this thing?”

I think it was very touching and I believe I shot the rehearsal because they came to set so amped and so pumped for that scene. I think I only did two or three takes and that’s all that that I needed because Joe was so brilliant in it, and he’s very open. Even in the scene when he says, “They got me and that’s how they got me, and now they got you too.” It’s such a softer side of the character and I think Joe can play all those levels brilliantly.

What were the biggest lessons you learned from Friendsgiving that you’re kind of able to apply here?

Trusting your instincts. Always. Always. I can see sometimes on screen when I didn’t trust my instinct and people may never notice it, but I do because those are the things that I think stick out to you as a filmmaker because you can see it on screen. Listen, art is art and it’s a process and I don’t know anyone who goes back and looks at their movies and wouldn’t change a couple of things, but I think always following your instincts is such a key component of evolving as an artist.

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