Filmmaker Nicol Paone's (Friendsgiving) dark comedic crime-thriller (in theaters Friday) follows the unlikely trio of hitman known as the Bag Man (Joe Manganiello), his crime boss Gordon Davis (Jackson), and a struggling art dealer named Patrice (Thurman) who join forces for a money laundering scheme that accidentally turns the hired gun into an overnight avant garde sensation in the art world. The movie is the first onscreen reunion of Thurman and Jackson since 1994's Pulp Fiction and 2004's Kill Bill: Vol. 2, and Paone reveals that fate played a big part in making it happen.
It started with Thurman. "I sent [the script] to Uma Thurman's manager, who was a friend of mine — I didn't realize she represented Uma," Paone tells EW. "She has brilliant clients and if she read this, I knew we could find our cast. While I was on a walk with my fiancee, she's like, 'Who is your ultimate Patrice?' I didn't think about it. I just said, 'Uma Thurman.'" A week after that conversation with her fiancee, Paone got a call from Thurman's manager with the response she was hoping to hear. "That was kismet, and the rest is, as they say, history, because Uma signed on as a producer and actress, and then she brought her friend Samuel L. Jackson to the table," she says.
Paone is now a little terrified of her own ability to manifest her wildest dreams. "I am so careful now about what I say," she remarks with a laugh.
Paone had never seen the actress behind Quentin Tarantino's Mia Wallace and Beatrix Kiddo do full comedy. "I wanted to see her in something fun," the director says of the Adderall-addicted art dealer role in the satirical sendup of the high-end art community. "I didn't really want to make a wild comedy since my first movie was a wild comedy," she clarifies. "This had more subtleties to it." Even with Thurman attached to play Patrice, Paone never imagined that Jackson would join the project, too... especially since his crime boss role was initially very different in the script.
"The Gordon role was actually Herschel, a 72-year-old Jewish man," Paone says. "And then when Uma texted me, 'Is Sam Jackson an option?' I'm like, 'Of course Sam Jackson is an option. Uma, you can't do that to me!'" Paone was in Dallas with her now-fiancee's family on the Friday before the Christmas break that preceded Hollywood's shutdown. "I walk in their house, say hello to them, and then I'm like, 'I have to go rewrite the script for Sam Jackson,'" Paone remembers. "They all went out and did Christmas things while I sat on my fiancee's bed the entire day rewriting the script with the writer Jonathan Jacobson to make the character into 'the Black Dreidel' who speaks Yiddish."
Paone laughs as she remembers thinking, "'Her family is going to hate me.' I'm some Hollywood person coming in, saying hello, lording all over a bedroom, but you have to do what you have to do. And now they understand!"
Shout! Studios Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman star in 'The Kill Room'
The director will always remember that Christmas, noting, "I've never typed so frantically in my life than when I did knowing that Sam was going to read it. There were a lot of nerves there." The nerves returned during the months of preparation leading up to filming. It was one thing to present something to Thurman and Jackson. It was another to direct them. But at the very first rehearsal, the two actors played a prank on her that helped alleviate any fear or doubt she had. "I remember we get in there, we say hello, and as Uma's shutting the door, she locks it. She turns and says, 'Let's get her, Sam,'" Paone recalls. "Any nerves that you have just went away." Thurman and Jackson had decades of experience together that made their time on The Kill Room more fun than Paone could ever imagine. She says, "They were really playful with each other. Whatever I needed as a director, they were game for."
The Kill Room is also a family affair, as Thurman stars opposite her daughter Maya Hawke for the first time. While Paone initially thought of Hawke for the role of young emerging artist Grace, she didn't want to pitch it to Thurman and ultimately gave up on the idea. "I kind of figured Uma probably gets asked that all the time," Paone notes. It was Thurman who brought up the idea over the phone during the casting phase. "I told her, 'I figured if you thought it would be great, then you would say it,' so I'm glad she did."
Paone was impressed with the Stranger Things and Asteroid City actress immediately. "Maya is wise beyond her years, but she's also like a mini Uma — the way she broke down the character of Grace was very similar to what Uma had said about Patrice at one point," Paone remembers. "I had a smile from ear to ear watching them together. It's not a precious mother-and-daughter role. They're kind of going at each other. There was one point where we were filming and they were both holding their hand the same way, and it just made me laugh."
While their characters are at odds with each other on screen, off screen and on set was like a party. Paone remembers Thurman and Hawke would pull up to set blasting Cardi B from their car. "They were having fun," she says. "I wish I could have driven away with them, too. There was so much to do on set, but I wanted to be in that car."
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