'The Kill Room': Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson turn a hit man into an art phenomenon

"I think the story of The Kill Room could very well happen," director Nicol Paone said

Boasting an impressive cast that includes Pulp Fiction stars Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson, alongside Thurman's daughter Maya Hawke, and Joe Manganiello, Nicol Paone's dark comedy The Kill Room (in theatres Sept. 29) is the story of a hit man who turns into a highly coveted artist.

The movie, with the script written by Jonathan Jacobson, introduces us to Patrice (Thurman), a struggling New York gallery owner, and Gordon (Jackson), the boss of hit man Reggie (Manganiello) who needs to come up with a new way to launder money.

Through a chance introduction via Patrice's drug dealer, the mob meets the art world.

The plan is that Reggie will create paintings that Patrice will then "sell" to Reggie’s clients. But things get complicated when these paintings, thought to be created by an artist named "The Bagman," become incredibly sought after, and the mysterious artist somehow becomes a cultural phenomenon in the art world.

What The Kill Room is really able to tap into is satire of the art industry. For instance, a banana duct-taped to the wall was sold for US$120,000 at Art Basel in 2019, something that was heavily reported on and criticized while the script for this movie was being developed.

"I am not saying that is not art, but I would never pay $120,000 for a banana taped to a wall, and God bless the person who did," Paone told Yahoo Canada. "But as we were making this story, it became truer and truer in what we were reading."

"So the lines blurred and I think the story of The Kill Room could very well happen."

With Paone having previously written and directed the 2020 film Friendsgiving, starring Malin Akerman, Kat Dennings, Aisha Tyler, Chelsea Peretti and Wanda Sykes, what really attracted the filmmaker to The Kill Room initially was Jacobson's script.

“I loved the script, I loved the line it walked between the art world and some of the funnier elements of the art world that maybe needed to be sent up a little bit,” Paone explained. “Really it was the humour of the film that drew me to it.”

“I felt like the characters were all written in 3D and yes, a lot of them are serving the story, but not in a blatant way. You could argue that each character in this film has their own wants, needs and goals, and that's what I thought was so rich about the script.”

Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman reunite in The Kill Room (Shout! Studios)
Samuel L. Jackson and Uma Thurman reunite in The Kill Room (Shout! Studios)

Uma Thurman and Samuel L. Jackson on-screen reunion

When it comes to the characters in The Kill Room, the immense talent of this star-studded cast can't be underestimated.

"They bring such an array of performance on every take," Paone said. "You're in the editing room and you're able to build such a wide palette of emotion or tense moments, or funny moments."

"We didn't have the luxury of having a ton of time. So having this cast really helped me to walk that line."

While it's expected that many people will be excited about seeing a sort of Pulp Fiction reunion between Jackson and Thurman, for Paone, she had to put that element of casting both of these actors in The Kill Room aside.

"I just tried not to listen to that and there were times when Uma would go, 'Oh yeah, I used to do that for Quentin,' and I was just trying to put earmuffs on and just create, and be in the moment," Paone said.

"They are two of the greatest actors of our time, but I refused to think of them in that way. Sam is playing Gordon and Uma is playing Patrice, and when the door was shut for our first rehearsal, as that door was closing, Uma was like, 'Let's get her Sam.' ... She was basically saying to me, if there's any nervousness, let it all go. In that moment it's about the work, so it was an honour and a pleasure to work with them."

Uma Thurman introduces The Bagman in The Kill Room (Shout! Studios)
Uma Thurman introduces The Bagman in The Kill Room (Shout! Studios)

Another headline-making aspect of this casting is that Thurman and her daughter are in the film together.

"I got the most adorable picture of them just hanging out and talking," Paone said. "Maya is such an astute, wise beyond her age actress. She's such a brilliant human being."

"It was so cool to see them collaborate together and work together, because it wasn't this precious mommy-daughter relationship in the film. It was acerbic artist, and gallerist kind of having to maybe be honest with her that there aren't many people here to see the work."

What's particularly interesting about the character of Patrice is that she's a character who is very much at a point of desperation in her life. She needs to make money, and quick, to sustain her livelihood.

"Those are defining moments for people in their life, and how do they decide to get out of them," Paone said. "What's really interesting is the character of Patrice really has an instinctual, guttural, visceral knowledge of art, and what makes something viable in the art world."

"She creatively got herself out of this mess and I will argue and say that any issues ... we have in this world can be solved with a little creativity, and not so much black and white thinking. So the way Patrice gets out of it is by being incredibly creative and brilliant within her own world. I thought that was just a really interesting, fun turn for Uma."

The Kill Room director Nicol Paone
The Kill Room director Nicol Paone

'They don't make movies like this anymore'

Reflecting back on The Kill Room and what made this story a particularly attractive project for Paone, she says the emphasis on the characters really stood out to her.

"They don't make movies like this anymore," Paone said. "To me it's a character piece, it's a fun character piece."

"Were there attempts to make it more of a thriller, ... or to fit into a genre, absolutely. So the film walks that line. ... It was an exciting leap for me. Friendsgiving was shot in one house and ... I improvised some of the ancillary characters, and this was more methodical and planned, and developed over years and years and years, to get to this point. The challenge was a fun one for me."