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For acclaimed filmmaker and St. Louis native, love of film ‘started at the Tivoli Theatre’

Director and St. Louis native Karyn Kusama (at left) talking to actress Nicole Kidman.
Publicity photo
Director and St. Louis native Karyn Kusama (at left) talking to actress Nicole Kidman.

Before filmmaker Karyn Kusama attended film school at New York University and accrued recognition for directing films such as “Jennifer’s Body” and “Girlfight,” she was a movie-loving St. Louis teenager attending regular matinees at the Tivoli Theatre in University City.

“I just really escaped into movies, and the Tivoli was a huge part of that for me,” Kusama told host Don Marsh on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air. “That’s really where I got the bug, I think … That’s where I learned about cinema.”

Her latest film, “Destroyer,” premiered at the Tivoli as part of the 2018 St. Louis International Film Festival in November. The film is slated for widespread release in January 2019.

“Destroyer” follows a disgraced Los Angeles detective – played by Nicole Kidman – as she attempts to reunite with members of a gang in which she was placed undercover at the beginning of her career. Kidman’s portrayal is gaining extensive critical praise, including award-show buzz.

Kusama commended Kidman’s work, remarking, “I didn’t quite understand going in how thoughtful and sensitive she is as an actor. She really plumbed the depths of this character.”

Kidman defies both her own ingénue typecasting and broader gender norms in the film by playing a renegade detective. But Kusama believes that Kidman is doing something truly unique, gender notwithstanding, saying, “I don’t think we’ve seen many actors – male or female – do what she’s doing in this role.”

Though many might be intimidated by Kidman’s celebrity status, Kusama explained that working with the A-list actor was all about developing a relationship. “The most important thing is to just connect personally and creatively with that person and forge an emotional bond,” she said.

Throughout her career as a director, Kusama has striven towards female representation, both onscreen and behind the scenes. She suggested that progress for women in the film industry is only possible through collaboration, saying, “I don’t think we can have progress if we’re more competitive with one another … The only way forward is to support each other’s work.”

Still, in a field that continues to be dominated by men, Kusama finds that “I can definitely say I hold my own.”

She also believes progress is possible, and in some instances, already happening. She said, “I think at the very least we’re starting to ask the question about representation. More than just talking about wanting to hire more women, I think there are some areas of the business that actually are.”

Kusama expressed feeling a sense of open-mindedness about what is on the horizon for her, professionally and creatively. But she hopes her work can find a more uplifting tone in the future.

“I really feel a sense of openness about what the future brings … There’s a lot of stuff I wanna try; there’s a lot of stuff I’m interested in,” she noted. “But I find I’ve been attracted to very dark subject matter. And while I think we live in difficult and dark times, and in some respects I am reflecting the reality I feel around me, I’m also looking to explore some more hopeful pockets of my own interests.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara Hamdan and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Xandra Ellin is so psyched to join the St. Louis on the Air team as this fall’s production intern! Xandra graduated from Wesleyan University this spring with a degree in Psychology and American Studies. She found ways to incorporate a passion for radio into her academic pursuits, with an honors thesis that dealt with the psychological and sociocultural phenomena that have historically made localized radio a viable mechanism for social change in American communities. Xandra’s career in public radio began at her college radio station, WESU, where she was the Public Affairs Director by day and a music DJ by night. She has also had two production internships prior to this one: one at WYPR in her home city of Baltimore, MD in 2017 and another at WNPR in Hartford, CT in 2018. When she's not at KWMU, Xandra spends her time going for runs, watching bad reality television, and serving up some quality local artisan brews through her side hustle at the Craft Beer Cellar in Clayton.