Comedian and actor Nicol Paone discusses bringing Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson back together in her latest directorial effort, The Kill Room.
- The Kill Room is a thrilling and humorous sendup of the art world, featuring a fantastic cast including Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson.
- Director Nicol Paone worked to strike a balance between thrills and humor, bringing out something new from the film’s A-list cast.
- The performances in the movie were brilliant, with Uma Thurman delivering a particularly impressive performance that allowed for improvisation.
All at once, The Kill Room is a winking thriller, a sendup of the art world, a long-awaited reunion, and more. The film was written by Jonathan Jacobson and stars Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, and Joe Manganiello, with Debi Mazar and Maya Hawke in standout supporting roles. The Kill Room’s trailer promised the onscreen reunion of Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson, and the pair’s chemistry is as fantastic as it was in Pulp Fiction.
The Kill Room was directed by Nicol Paone, an actor, comedian, and performer who was previously part of The Groundlings. It’s Paone’s second feature-length project as a director; her first was Friendsgiving, which was released in 2020 and stars Christine Taylor, Aisha Tyler, and Kat Dennings, among others. On The Kill Room, Paone worked to find the balance between thrills and humor while bringing something new out of the film’s A-list cast.
Related: The Kill Room: Release Date, Trailer & Everything We Know About Uma Thurman & Samuel L. Jackson’s New Movie
Nicol Paone spoke with Screen Rant about adapting the film’s tone throughout production, working with Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson, and more. Note: This interview was conducted during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, and the film covered here would not exist without the labor of the writers and actors in both unions. This interview has also been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Nicol Paone On The Kill Room
Screen Rant: The first thing I’m curious about is how you found this script in the first place, and at what point in reading it you knew you wanted to direct it.
Nicol Paone: I think it was the first scene, which we had to amend, of course, because we couldn’t get Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup painting. I knew we wouldn’t be able to, but the first scene had some fun to it, and I thought, “Oh, I really like where this guy is going. It’s not just a scene about some guy beating up some other guy.” There are so many thrillers out there, and there are so many run-and-gun, “We need the money. We have to do this to get it,” [movies]. There are a lot of them, and this had a bit of humor to it that I really liked.
I read another interview where you mentioned that it kind of shifted more toward being a thriller as it went along. Was there a lot of tonal change from what you were expecting as you were first putting it together?
Nicol Paone: Yeah. So, this is a business, and if producers tend to say [to] make thrillers, and that’s in their wheelhouse… there was a hearty creative battle [and] I think the movie kind of walks the line between thriller and—I don’t want to say comedy; let’s say dramedy. I was always making sort of an ironic, satirical, funny piece about the art world, these people who happen to be in this particular time and space and needing to get out of the mess that they’ve created. I was trying to have elements of a thriller, but it was less of a thriller to me and more of a fun sendup of the art world.
It’s in the trailers—I’m not giving anything away—but it’s such a thing that Reggie’s (Joe Manganiello’s character) art is kind of awful. Who made it?
Nicol Paone: So many people have that question. We had so many meetings about Reggie’s art, as you can imagine. It was so important for it not to be good, and for it to be primal, and [be full of] primary colors. I remember when I first started painting; it was a red and blue mess. It was like a child had done it, and I thought, “Okay.”
We had an artist, he was in Brooklyn, he was a brilliant gentleman, and it was five or six different passes at the art, because the first one he did was very refined. It was very good, and so we had to amend that. I just kept telling him, “Just be worse. Just staple a plastic bag to the canvas and then throw paint on it.” It was really just me trying to make this very classically skilled and trained artist be worse than he is. It was definitely counterintuitive for him, but better for the movie.
I saw you came up in The Groundlings and worked on things for Funny or Die. Because you’re a performer yourself, do you think you’re more specific about directing performances in general, even when you’re working with this incredible cast that you have?
Nicol Paone: Definitely not in terms of–for lack of a better word–directing performances and policing performances. I’m really about setting the stage for the set to be the best possible place that an actor could step onto. There’s always so much going on on set. For me, when I first started acting, it was always intimidating, [with], like, all the different conversations. You’re like, “Are they talking to me? Are they not?” As an actor, it’s next to impossible to remain in the character while a lot of this noise is going on.
My favorite thing as a director is to, as soon as the actors step onto set… I didn’t have to make Uma or Sam comfortable, they’re very comfortable in their skin, but it was important for me to set the stage to allow them to play in the best way that they know how. What they brought to every take was varied.
Uma Thurman’s performance in this movie, to me, is so brilliant because I was able to take certain lines of dialogue out of one take and put it in her mouth for another because she did it the same way rhythmically but different emotionally. That’s how brilliant Uma Thurman is. No one will ever know where we did that, but we did it. She’s just incredible at what she does, and so was the rest of the cast.
So, yes, performance is important to me. It’s the most important thing a director could do, is cast the best actors for the role. Ellen Lewis was my casting director. She cast Goodfellas, and she was a casting associate on Postcards from the Edge. This woman, she knows truth within actors, and that was the most important thing for me.
Not only do you have these veteran actors, but you have really fun—it seems–dynamics at play, with Maya Hawke acting with her mom for the first time, and Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson coming back together. Could you sense a level of comfort on this because people had relationships already?
Nicol Paone: Yes and no. Uma is a master, and she’s always trying to up her game, so the scenes between Uma and Sam… I was just watching the master, going, “I could just play the whole master.” The takes were so playful and so brilliant, and I could see both Uma and Sam ping-ponging back and forth in a way that was, like you mentioned, very playful. I just was sort of in awe watching them do it. I could have left it in the master and no one would have said… I’m sure people would have said something, but I think the true fans of them and their work would have eaten it all up.
Something I love about this is that you have these actors, and it feels like an opportunity for all of them to do something at least a little different. You have Samuel L. Jackson speaking Yiddish; props for that. Were there moments during shooting where you could just tell that they were particularly excited about anything they got to do?
Nicol Paone: Yes. When Joe was murdering people, I thought, “He’s a little too excited about this.” [Laughs]. Look, it wasn’t, say, Goodfellas, where they’re stabbing someone. He’s putting a bag over someone’s head, and when you do that–along with stabbing someone–you’re very close to them, and it’s a very personal thing. Yes, we are making a movie about the art world, that’s sending up the art world, that has some fun in it, but it was important to totally get that right.
Even [with] Maya, when she was talking about art, we would improvise before the scene when Joe and Uma come in, and I think I let her go for a minute. She was very excited to dive into that. [It was the] same with Sam and the baking of the bread. They come on to set, and it’s got to be of the world, because that has to inspire the actors. So, immediately when Sam picked up a wad of cash, it helped. You have to provide that, and thankfully, my production designer was brilliant and thought of every aspect of it. But by and large, I would say all the actors walked on set, and just dove right into the world. I think that’s a testament to the production designer, in that they create a world that is believable to the actors. Not just a facade.
About The Kill Room
The dark comedic thriller follows an art dealer who teams with a hitman and his boss for a money laundering scheme that accidentally turns the hitman into an Avant-Garde sensation, forcing the dealer to play the art world against the criminal underworld.
The Kill Room will be released in theaters on September 29th.
Source: Screen Rant Plus