Jade Pettyjohn in Destroyer

Interview: Destroyer’s Jade Pettyjohn on Nicole Kidman, Women in Cinema, and More

She may only be 18 years old, but Jade Pettyjohn is quite the impressive actress already.
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Jade Pettyjohn already has an impressive career at just eighteen years of age. With roles in School of RockThe Last Ship, and McKenna Shoots for the Stars, Pettyjohn is starting to mark a shift in her career with the role of Shelby in Destroyer. Starring alongside Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Tatiana Maslany, and Bradley Whitford, Pettyjohn is in a new league of actors, and her portrayal of Shelby proves that she’s one we should be looking out for.

We started with Pettyjohn talking about how she became involved in the project to begin with:

“When they were casting this particular role, I was working on another project in Atlanta. So, my agent sent me the script and I thought it was a really important script and I thought it was amazing that this was going to be played by Nicole Kidman and that it was a female playing this, sort of, very masculine character. I thought that was very intersting and I instantly fell in love with Shelby.”

Before I even had the chance, she brought up Karyn Kusama, a director that Pettyjohn has mentioned multiple times before as someone who inspires her and who she worked with on Destroyer:

“I think that she just has such an interesting outlook on life, and she’s just such a visionary.”

Pettyjohn has quite the expansive career herself, but was very clearly gushing over Nicole Kidman and getting to work with her:

“She’s such a force and I think everyone realizes that just by watching her films and seeing how diverse and what a crazy variety she has but, I mean, working with her was a completely different experience. She’s just such a force and she’s so passionate about everything and seeing her telling those stories live and being able to contribute to that and play with her in telling the story was just so incredible.”

Talking about what it means for the future of female characters, Pettyjohn had very strong feelings about the rage represented in the film. Something we rarely get to see onscreen is women who embrace their anger. For years, we’ve had to watch as many of the female characters we looked up to were told that their anger and their rage needed to be contained. Kusama isn’t afraid to explore that rage in both Shelby and Erin, and to see these two interact together is incredible.

I brought it up to Pettyjohn in talking about how Shelby never comes off as a stereotype; her rage is justified and warranted, and Pettyjohn went on to talk about why that drew her to the character:

“That was such an important thing for me to capture because that was—when I first read the script, that was the first thing that made me fall in love with it, that this character had so much rage, so much animosity towards her mom, but it was not stereotyped.

And the writing was just so beautiful, and I wanted to capture that as much as possible. And it’s such an interesting thing because, for Shelby, there’s just a war going on in her mind with regards to her mom. Because, on one hand, she really truly hates her mom, or there’s just so much rage and heartbreak and upset that’s been bottled up and built up for such a long period time because her mother wasn’t there for her, wasn’t there for her in the way that normal moms should be.

You know, these tasks that a mom should do, Shelby did herself, but at the same time, Shelby really idolized her mom’s strength.”

It’s a beautiful thing to see onscreen, watching as Shelby and Erin try to figure out the dynamic between them and just want something more from the other. It’s one of the few movies out there that shows a mother/daughter relationship in a different light from what we normally see onscreen.

Finishing up, I asked Pettyjohn what she hoped we’d see in movies for female characters. She responded,

“You know, I just think that the most important part is the eradication of stereotypes. I think that this is important with human beings in general, but specifically with women because we haven’t seen enough of it onscreen, and there are so many contradictions and complexities.

We’re different. We’re angry; we’re happy and serene and broken and together at the same time, and there’s so much to explore, there’s so much variation, and I think that I want to see more female stories that show just the complexities of being a woman.

And that’s what I love so much about Destroyer. You understand all the women in this film—not just Shelby and Erin, but Tatiana’s character, Petra, as well. Every female character you understand and is very specific and you know that those kinds of women exist in the world.

So I think that I want films to mirror real women, and I think that people need to observe and to listen and to look at real women and represent those women, because that’s the power of making movies: representing truth and representing life.”

Jade Pettyjohn is incredible in Destroyer; she brings Shelby to life in a way that is understandable and her rage is justified. Everything about her performance breathes the promise of her future in movies, and I personally can’t wait to see what she does next!

You can read our full review of Destroyer here before heading to the theaters!

(image: Annapurna Pictures)

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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.