‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ Stars Lily Gladstone + Jillian Dion on Sisterhood, Solidarity + Self-Care

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Photo Source: Courtesy Apple TV+

The following on-camera interview is brought to you by Apple Original Pictures.

The grandeur of Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” goes beyond its monumental 10 Oscar and three SAG Award nominations. It’s also a deep character study that explores existential terror on an epic scale. 

The film tells the true story of the Osage Indian murders of the 1920s, when white settlers in Oklahoma systematically killed untold members of the Indigenous population. Based on David Grann’s 2017 nonfiction book of the same name, “Killers” recounts the historical events through the lens of the romance between Mollie Kyle (Lily Gladstone), a local Osage woman, and her husband, Ernest Burkhart (Leonardo DiCaprio). 

The ensemble also includes Robert De Niro as crime boss William Hill; Tantoo Cardinal as Mollie’s mother, Lizzie Q; and Jesse Plemons as Bureau of Investigation agent Tom White. But the emotional core of the film is the relationship between the four Kyle sisters—Mollie, Minnie (Jillian Dion), Anna (Cara Jade Myers), and Reta (Janae Collins)—who remain resilient even as they experience the devastating impact of the murders. 

In this panel, Gladstone and Dion talk about portraying complex characters within a devastating historical narrative and how offscreen dynamics helped shape their performances.

Here are a few highlights from the discussion.

Collaboration on set

Lily Gladstone: “In some ways, [it] just happened really naturally; but then there was also a great amount of intention with it. The four of us got together in Jillian’s living room and rewrote the scene of the four sisters kind of gossiping about these men in [their] language. And a lot of that had come from just one line that Mollie had that was really difficult for our language teachers to translate; it was a concept that didn’t really translate cleanly. 

So we sat down together, and we really all just embraced this opportunity to show more of who these women are…. We all crafted the [lines] that we speak in that scene; we all came up with that scene together. Getting to form our own character then also talk and display who we thought [those characters] would be with each other—kind of talking through our dynamics. 

Tantoo [Cardinal] asked us some cool questions on set, like, ‘What do you think the four of you were like when you were little girls? What could you have been like when you were kids?’ I think we all kind of collectively agreed that, because we were all the big sisters and Minnie was the baby, we were all trying to be the mom to her. 

We were probably getting a little bit tangled up with each other and [the sisters’] rivalry over who gets to hold the baby, who gets to be with the baby. I think that punched it up for all of us when we shot that scene, because Minnie is the first one that we lose. She’s the first expression of grief that we all have.”

Indigenous representation

LG: “It’s just such a joy to see talented native women where they belong. We had an impeccable pair of casting directors who just saw who would work in the dynamics that the script outlined, and [how] the Osage birth order dictates personalities. Everybody really got that moment to shine and display what they can do.”

Embracing laughter

JD: “We’re doing the scene where [De Niro as Hale] is coming and looming over me. And it was a very serious scene, and I was ready to submerge myself in what it meant to be that character at that moment…. And he comes up to me…puts his hand on my shoulder, and looks me dead in the eye. And he’s like, ‘What if I did a little dance right now?’ And I burst out laughing…. So I have to jump into this very emotional scene, but he cracked this joke beforehand, which I think [gives the scene] substance in some way; and it’s a nice reminder to have…that what we’re doing is very serious, and the subject matter is important and accurate and truthful. But you can’t get lost in that whole thing, for [the sake of] your soul and for your spirit.”

The importance of self-care for actors

LG: “Take care of yourself. If you have to play sick, try and be healthy—it’s gonna cost way more energy than you think it will…. And especially if you’re dealing with trauma of other people who are living people, you’re picking at the wound for a whole community. I don’t want to find catharsis in their trauma; I don’t want to live in that performance longer than I need to…. The most tangible piece of advice I’ve gotten from an actor [during] this entire campaign circuit was from Cate Blanchett, who told me to take adaptogenic mushrooms.”