“Killers of the Flower Moon” Star Lily Gladstone Considered Quitting Acting Before Martin Scorsese Cast Her

Lily Gladstone was “registering for a data analytics course” when the ‘Killers of the Flower Moon’ director contacted her

<p>Melinda Sue Gordon / Apple TV+ </p> Lily Gladstone in "Killers of the Flower Moon"

Melinda Sue Gordon / Apple TV+

Lily Gladstone in "Killers of the Flower Moon"

Not long before she landed her Killers of the Flower Moon breakout role, Lily Gladstone was on her way to an altogether different career path.

“I had my credit card out, registering for a data analytics course,” she told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of the movie’s Cannes Film Festival premiere in May. An email notification about a meeting request from none other than Martin Scorsese interrupted her application for seasonal work at the Department of Agriculture.

Per the outlet, it was because of her award-winning performance in Kelly Reichardt’s 2016 film Certain Women that Scorsese contacted Gladstone, 37, about playing a lead character in Killers: Mollie Burkhart (née Kyle), the real-life target of serial killings of members of the Osage Nation in 1920s Oklahoma.

Related: Killers of the Flower Moon True Story: All About the Real Events That Inspired the Martin Scorsese Film

“You just wonder if it’s going to be sustainable,” the Native American star said of an acting career. Gladstone has also appeared on Reservation Dogs, Room 104 and Billions. Her performance in July’s indie The Unknown Country was nominated for a Gotham Award on Tuesday.

Instead of switching to data analysis and following a desire to study murder hornets as a self-professed “bee nerd” in 2020, as THR reported, Gladstone joined Scorsese, 80, in the writer-director’s sixth big-screen collaboration with Leonardo DiCaprio.

<p>Paramount Pictures</p> Lily Gladstone and Martin Scorsese filming "Killers of the Flower Moon"

Paramount Pictures

Lily Gladstone and Martin Scorsese filming "Killers of the Flower Moon"

In Killers, the Oscar-winning leading man plays Ernest Burkhart, who assisted in his uncle William King Hale’s conspiracy to acquire the Osage nation’s early-20th-century oil wealth — by any means necessary, including contract killing. 

The wealth generated on the tribal land — which made the Osage people the richest people per capita in the world in the 1920s — "immediately attracted white interlopers, who manipulated, extorted, and stole as much Osage money as they could before resorting to murder,” per the movie’s official synopsis.

Co-written by Eric Roth and based on author David Grann’s 2017 non-fiction book of the same name, the film stars Robert De Niro as Hale, as well as Jesse Plemons, Tantoo Cardinal, Cara Jade Myers, JaNae Collins, Jillian Dion, William Belleau, Louis Cancelmi, Tatanka Means, Michael Abbott Jr., Pat Healy, Scott Shepherd, Jason Isbell, John Lithgow, Brendan Fraser and Sturgill Simpson.

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<p>Victor Boyko/Getty</p> Lily Gladstone in May 2023

Victor Boyko/Getty

Lily Gladstone in May 2023

In a Kering Women in Motion conversation in Cannes, France in May, Gladstone said the Killers cast and crew were “nervous because we want to make sure we’re doing this story justice… It’s too important not to take it seriously.”

Of starring opposite Oscar-winning legends, she added, “There was no way I was going to let being starstruck get in the way of doing honest work.”

Gladstone admitted to THR that her hands trembled in the early days of filming opposite DiCaprio, who she said “was kind of poking my ribs about that for the first few days… But in a very sweet, self-aware, tongue-in-cheek way.”

The Titanic star, 48, said Gladstone “became a source of guidance for all of us, Scorsese included, in terms of how we told the story.” He added that she “spent months studying Mollie Burkhart and her family, working extensively to understand the intricacies of this woman, her relationship with Ernest and her legacy within the Osage community.”

Related: Martin Scorsese Says Leonardo DiCaprio Convinced Director to Let Him Play Villain Instead of Hero in Killers

Scorsese told THR that Gladstone’s Certain Women performance proved “that she trusted in simplicity. She understood her own onscreen presence as an expressive instrument that could speak for itself. That’s quite rare.”

He added of working with her on Killers that “her silences, as Mollie, were often more powerful than her words.”

Gladstone, who grew up on the Blackfeet Nation reservation in Browning, Montana, revealed that in her childhood she and her father watched Scorsese movies: “My first Scorsese movie was Kundun. My dad loved Kundun.”

She also described herself as “an energetic and performative kid who got made fun of a lot — just that chubby mixed girl on the rez who had a little bit too much creative energy and not enough outlets.”

Her father, she continued, “always said, ‘It’s OK, honey. They’ll all want to be your friend when you win your Oscar.’”

Killers of the Flower Moon is in theaters now. In his review for PEOPLE, Tom Gliatto called the film “the most sinister movie ever made about the West, and probably the most coldly pessimistic portrait of the American character since There Will Be Blood.”

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