These days, Nicole Kidman is obviously pushing herself hard as an actress and moving into more challenging and complex projects and roles, such as HBO’s Big Little Lies and her latest movie, Destroyer. In the latter, she plays Erin Bell, a cop who had gone undercover to infiltrate a gang in the California desert but saw everything go south that possibly could have, the results proving tragic.

While Bell remains as an LAPD detective, she is still haunted by feelings of guilt. Making things even worse when the leader of that gang returns, resulting in her pure determination to take him down and bring him to justice.

Says producer Fred Berger of interesting Nicole, “We never thought of going after a big name actress in order to secure financing or a top movie star for the poster. We were looking for someone who would be a revelation in the role.”

A big part of the appeal for Nicole was the fact that Karyn Kusama — an independent filmmaker whose credits include Girlfight, Aeon Flux, and Jennifer’s Body — was directing. “I had already been following Karyn’s career and was really interested in the combination of her with the material,” she says. “I wanted to meet with her and understand her vision, and when I did, I felt her passion and commitment. I love being involved with a project when someone is completely uncompromising and passionate about their work.”

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(Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AFI)

For the director, there was a bit of a mutual admiration society: “For me, it was mind-blowing that an artist of Nicole’s caliber would be interested in our movie — it’s such a complete departure from the rest of the body of her work. It showed such a sense of daring and curiosity, which is why she’s the artist she is.”

Adds Fred, “Nicole is an actress who has never made safe or easy choices. Over the past few decades, she’s delivered some of the best film performances, and more recently TV performances like her shattering Emmy-winning work in the limited series Big Little Lies.”

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(Photo Credit: Annapurna Pictures)

Co-writer/producer Phil Hay notes that Nicole’s need was for people to not see her up on the screen; instead, she wanted them to see and experience Erin Bell. “And as she talked about the character,” he says, “we realized that she had a specific and visceral gut feeling for who this woman was.” With Karyn noting, “Nicole has never done this kind of role before. It felt so fresh and the idea that an actress with her range and depth was going to tackle all that animus and aggression really excited me.”

In describing her view of the character of Erin Bell, Nicole details, “She’s someone who was scared and damaged by her own choices and also by the cards she had been dealt. Her path during the film is painful, but it is also her way of finding salvation. The layers and complexities of her anger and her shame, her inability to express her emotions, and her shields and barriers were very powerful; so, too, was her inability to express how she felt about her daughter, while at the same time trying to forge a better life for her. I found her pathos touching.”

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(Photo by Paul Best/Getty Images)

To play the character, Nicole had to learn to handle guns and learn how to shoot, as well as get into the psychology of the character. “I had to learn to behave like someone who is both hunter and prey,” she says, “who watches the world through the lens of someone who is always under threat. This goes right to how she walks into or exits a room. Erin immediately knows how to protect and attack. That was new to me and I wanted it to be real and accurate. It took a while, but I began to walk differently, behave differently, even think differently while I was playing her.

“In certain roles,” she elaborates, “I’m playing someone so physically and emotionally different from who I am that I have to transport into a different place, to step out of what feels like ‘performing,’ which I’m not interested in. That’s what the limbo is. It’s uncomfortable and quite unpleasant to be in that space. I don’t enjoy it. But I’m also deeply committed to my artistic path, and that happens to be a big part of it. There can be joy in certain roles. Others are going to be uncomfortable and here we were telling a story about a character who is in a great deal of discomfort. Karyn and I had to test our psyches by being there with the character the whole way. We were bearing witness for women like Erin Bell whose lives are thorny, women who’ve had to make so many compromises.”

Destroyer begins playing in theaters Christmas Day.