"Killers of the Flower Moon" star Lily Gladstone has shared details about how the project evolved from a film about a mass-murder investigation to a film focused more on the Native American community decimated by those homicides.
The "Certain Women" and "Billions" actor said in an interview with Vulture published Wednesday that she was skeptical at first of how the filmmakers intended to frame the true story of the killings of Osage Nation members by non-Natives in the 1920s.
Still, Gladstone said she couldn't refuse the offer to star in a Martin Scorsese movie, which initially centered on an FBI agent investigating the violent crimes committed against the Osage and ignored by local law enforcement. The screenplay was based on David Grann's nonfiction book, "Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI."
Leonardo DiCaprio was originally attached to play the investigator, Tom White — until the screenplay underwent what Gladstone called a "great rewrite." That shifted the historical drama's focus from White's investigation to the Osage and the circumstances that led to them being systematically killed with no consequences.
"It’s not a white-savior story,” Gladstone said of the final cut. “It’s the Osage saying, ‘Do something. Here’s money. Come help us.’”
Though the White character (portrayed by Jesse Plemons) still plays a supporting role in "Killers of the Flower Moon," DiCaprio now stars in the film opposite Gladstone as her onscreen husband. The period piece tells the story of Mollie (Gladstone), an Osage woman whose family becomes wealthy after oil is discovered on Osage land; and Ernest (DiCaprio), a white man who conspires to marry Mollie while helping bring about the deaths of her loved ones in an effort to steal her family fortune.
Gladstone, whose father is Blackfeet and Nez Perce, told Vulture that Scorsese consulted her and members of the Osage Nation — who invited the director to dinner in 2019 — while making "Killers of the Flower Moon." As a non-Osage performer playing an Osage character, Gladstone also made it a priority to form connections with and learn from the Osage during the production process.
"It was clear that I wasn’t just going to be given space to collaborate," Gladstone said. "I was expected to bring a lot to the table.
“That’s what being equitable is — not just opening the door. It’s pulling a seat out next to you at the table.”
Since "Killers of the Flower Moon" was announced, people have expressed concerns about the film and its potential to veer into white-savior territory — like so many Hollywood projects before it. In production notes distributed to reporters, DiCaprio echoed those worries.
“You would read the book and realize it works beautifully, but we ran the risk of telling yet another white-savior story about an FBI agent who comes in and saves the day," DiCaprio said.
"It could have fallen into that really easily. David Grann was always very forthright in saying, ‘Look, if you’re going to do a movie about this, it’s important to understand the Osage role in all of this.’"
Gladstone also acknowledged in her interview with Vulture the history of non-Indigenous filmmakers inserting themselves into Indigenous communities and then not doing right by them.
“There’s that double-edged sword," she said. "You want to have more Natives writing Native stories; you also want the masters to pay attention to what’s going on. American history is not history without Native history.”
On Wednesday, Variety reported that "Killers of the Flower Moon" will no longer get an Oct. 6 limited release. Instead, Paramount Pictures will distribute the title in wide release on Oct. 20, followed by a streaming release on Apple TV+.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.