Nathaniel, it's Nicole!"
After the briefest of pauses in which we both waited for my bewilderment to pass -- Nicole Kidman is calling me (?) -- she let out a hearty familiar laugh, instantly delighting and relaxed. She was, as it happened, a full hour early to our scheduled interview, having just finished a day's filming on Grace of Monaco.
Academy voters will be filling out their nomination ballots online for the first time this year -- they started voting this week and will continue through Thursday, January 3rd. One prays that this shake-up to their old school paper & pen system might also shake up their aesthetic palette. If it does, you'll hear Nicole Kidman's name read out for her genius star turn in The Paperboy. In this polarizing sweaty film, Nicole plays a tawdry beautician with a thing for violent inmates. This is not, as you have undoubtedly ascertained whilst reading about the film, the type of role which is usually nominated. This is, as you will undoubtedly discover while watching the film, the type of performance that deserves to be.
Early in our phone conversation, I shared with her my awe at her latest transformation. "You've gone from Charlotte Bless to Grace of Monaco? Talk about an about-face!". She didn't skip a beat in her quippy response:
I'm standing here in a tiara and a white beaded dress and Cartier jewels."
As well she should.
NATHANIEL R: You're an international sensation. Aren't you supposed to keep me waiting for hours?
NICOLE KIDMAN: [Laughter] I'll tell you. I'm in Brussels and we just finished shooting and they have these really great Christmas markets with all the stalls and the German beer and all that sort of stuff and I thought maybe I can do the interview early and go out to the Christmas market and get some shopping in.
NATHANIEL: But you're too famous to be early! You're supposed to keep us all waiting. What else would surprise us about you given your global fame?
NICOLE KIDMAN: Oh, I would hope many things -- many things! I'm very good at roughing it. People always think that actors need big trailers and this and that. I'm very used to having to hunker down with nothing and just survive.
So it wasn't as outlandish as it sounded then that Lee Daniels asked you to do your own makeup for The Paperboy?
That was a little confronting. It was like 'Oh gosh. How am i going to do this? ' Obviously I've done my own hair and makeup so that's no problem. But to get it accurate for the era? That's the thing I was frightened of. I kind of did it in the bathroom and sent him photos and he was like 'You're on it doll.' That's how he talks!
He actually said something a lot ruder but I'm not going to say it.
I talked to him during the Precious campaign. He was hilarious but kind of inappropriate. I was talking to Gabby Sidibe recently at a party and was telling her the story and I'm like 'was he drunk? was he flirting with me?' and she was like 'nope, that's just how he is!' [Laughter]
Yeah, that's how he is, exactly! You should hear him on the set. That was a good thing for me. So many times I've played very upper class and refined roles and just to do something like this was really just great for me. I don't usually get the chance to do stuff like this.
You've gone from Charlotte Bless to Grace of Monaco? Talk about an about-face!
Polar opposites. I was actually thinking that because I knew I was going to do this interview with you -- I'm standing here in a tiara and a white beaded dress and Cartier jewels. Compared to Charlotte!
But that's the great thing about being an actor when you're given the chance to play that broad spectrum. The thing that would drive me crazy would be having to play the same role over and over again.
You've definitely built a diverse character gallery. One thing I cherish about you -- and I know other cinephiles feel this too -- I think of you first and foremost as an Auteur's Muse. You totally adapt to them.
THANK YOU. I love that!
How would you describe that relationship? There are so many ways to think of it. A singing duet? A father figure to a daughter...
No, I describe it as a love affair.
For me it has that intensity and it has the devotion that's required and the obsession. I find the relationship between us -- even though it's platonic -- it's still kind of this intense love affair. That's what it is. That's probably the thing that keeps me coming back and back and back. When I was single that sort of became my relationship. Even though they weren't real relationships, they satisfied a need in me because they were so intense.
Now, they're just more... Olivier Dahan right now who I'm working with. You're just connected. You're always talking. You're looking into each other's eyes. You're showing each other parts of yourself that you'd never show usually. And you're asking the other person to treat that with care. The last thing I want is to be abused in that situation but at the same time I'm very willing to willing to give give give.
So ...that's different from a singing duet, right? [Laughter]
Ha! But your answer makes me think of the psychic sex scene in The Paperboy. It's really out there. Such a high wire moment for you as an actress. Weren't you terrified?
I don't know. I think I was in some weird place mentally when I was playing the role. I was so removed from myself and now if I step into my own skin and sort of judge it I feel embarrassed. What was required to play Charlotte was such a removal of all my inhibitions. That was important for me. And Lee is very very forthright and at times really crass and tough. He has that street side to him that's really tough and I wanted to match him and not let him down.
And at the same time that scene in the prison felt completely logical to me. It did not feel outlandish. It did not feel anything other than completely real and logical. But I was totally in character. I never stepped out of the character. John Cusack and I never related as John & Nicole, ever, through the whole filming. We wouldn't have been able to -- I would have felt too shy. A lot of that stuff was improvised. It wasn't in the script.
Is that something you normally do, staying in character?
No. I mean, for certain roles it will bleed into me. There are different ways. For Rabbit Hole it was so present in me at that time because I had had my child and the biggest fear for me was that whole scenario. That was like stepping into the fire of your greatest fear. Emotionally every day it was accessible and there. I didn't have to do any work to prepare because it was so raw and there.
This [The Paperboy] I obviously worked on finding her and finding the psychology behind a woman who finds a man in prison to obsess on and give herself to. And then when he gets out, she doesn't want that. That was fascinating to me and I prepared in that regard. And also that era and that kind of damage -- the fragility that comes with damage -- and then the tough exterior, the barriers that are put up. All of that stuff I wanted to find and make real to me. And then I kind of just entered into her skin and that was it!
For The Hours... I just have a different thing for each. And a lot of times the tone is set by the director. So if you're working with Lars Von Trier it's very different, say, to Kubrick or Campion. Directly after Lee I worked with this Asian director Chan-wook Park who directed Oldboy. I don't know if you know him?
Yeah, I've seen his stuff.
That was very different because he didn't speak any English.
More psychic communication for you!
Yeah, well, we had a translator! Ha. It was interesting because he is very, very gentle and quiet and, you know, the complete opposite. But that's, I suppose, the thrilling part of what I do. My whole nature is curious.
I suppose I'm really reticent to step into any place of judgement on characters or their flaws. The human condition and humanity in these things is what fascinates me and what I try to access. I don't know why but since I was a child I've always had that.
I don't know why either but I'm so grateful, I just have to say.
You probably get tired of gushing compliments, I'm sorry.
No! I don't get them that much. [Laughter]
I'll tell you, usually this is much easier for me. When I was preparing... well, if someone has a smaller filmography or there work is not so magical to me it's easier to focus on one thing. But of the past ten years I literally -- and I've written this -- I think you're the most important actress of the past decade.
[Stunned] Oh god!
You go into things knowing that certain actors will deliver but, still, Charlotte was a shock to me. I'm wondering about your introductory scene. When you know it's the scene where the audience meets you. Do you think about that, give it extra 'here I am' emphasis?
I leave that up to the director but I do all the prep. We shot the last scene where Cusack comes to the apartment and we have that whole sort of weird sex scene. That was the first day of shooting so by the time you get to the first scene -- because you never shoot in sequence -- everything is present and kind of just flowing out of you. That's if the performance is working!
A lot of times I do many different takes. I rarely do the same thing in each take which can drive continuity people batty. Then they go 'Can you replicate that?' and I'm like 'I don't even remember what I did.' I never watch the monitor and I try to operate from a kind of a place where I feel slightly out of control. There are times where it has to be more controlled like Moulin Rouge! where we were doing dance routines or pre-recorded songs.
But there are certain times where you can really just abandon yourself and try so many different ways. There's no right or wrong and that's one of the greatest things when you work with people that understand that. There's no 'Okay, good girl, you did it right.' You know? Who knows where something interesting is going to come from that's really really real and coming from such a deep place. Then it's a magical moment. And then that can lead to something else. So, I rarely think in terms of scenes. I think more of the arc of the character and the reality of it.
What films of yours do you hold particularly dear? If someone had never seen your work -- they'd have to be an alien but go with it -- which three films would you want people to see of your work?
Wow. [Pause] Probably Moulin Rouge! and The Others and The Hours. And it's so weird because I did all of them back to back.
That was your ascendance, though!
Yeah. But then recently probably Rabbit Hole because that says so much about grief. That seems to be something that I've circled around -- I try to circle around subjects and for some reason loss and grief I circle around it in many different forms. I also loved working with Jonathan Glazer in Birth. Whether the film actually works as a whole, I don't know, but I think there are some really great moments in that film and I think he's got greatness in him.
That film. I assume you're aware it has a huge following among critics and cinephiles.
Does it? I didn't know, no!
It's turning. People are starting to call it a masterpiece.
This is embarrasing to say directly to you but because I'm such a superfan a lot of my readers happen to be Kidman fans and that movie always comes up among people's favorite work of yours.
Oh, that's good! Yeah, I think because there was the shock of that bathtub scene with the child it kind of just dominated the film. That was upsetting to me because I never saw it as that, you know? This is not about the human form, really. It's about the way people when they're in that place -- and it can be ten years on -- it's like an open wound of grief and therefore they're willing to let anything in and believe anything. Whether it's a psychic, whether it's sombody telling you they're able to guide you through, whether it's a child coming and saying 'I'm actually your dead husband.' All of those things. You're so impressionable because you're so vulnerable. That's what that film, for me, was about. It's heartbreaking, I think. And Harris Savides shot it so... it's so crazy beautiful the way he shot it. It's just weird how some things click with a mass audience and some things don't.
That's the same with The Paperboy. No matter what people feel about the film, in terms of performances it was so refreshing to be able to just go 'Let's just, like, really play and try to make something Southern Noir.' People jumped on the peeing scene and that defined the film and I was like, 'Gosh, that's such a pity.' It gets immediately defined by one moment that then gets written about. And people read it and think ' Well I'm not going to see that because I don't want to see someone peeing on someone else!'
It's true. When I've tried to explain the film to people, people are like "WHAT are you talking about?!" It's easier to experience rather than explain.
[Laughter] Yeah, yeah. I suppose i'm lucky enough that now my sensitivity in terms of needing mass approval is so diminished. I'm able to go 'Hey, this is what i want to do' and that's a great place, as an actor, to be in. I've tried to live by that motto 'Don't try to please the masses. Sometimes that will happen. Sometimes it won't.' Just be very very true to your own instincts and voice. And that's probably why I support filmmakers who have a really strong voice and that may make people uncomfortable at times.
NATHANIEL R: Pleasing people all the time is completely different than your work lasting and you don't have to worry about your work lasting. Legacy is a beautiful thing.
NICOLE KIDMAN: [Amazed] You are so lovely to talk to! I'm going to the Christmas market and you've made my night.
[As we wrapped up our conversation, Nicole unexpectedly brought her husband Keith Urban up and we ended up on a brief tangent about music before we hung up. We laughed about her much blogged about Katy Perry moment at the Grammys.
NICOLE KIDMAN: I didn't realize i was being filmed but I LOVE "Teenage Dream"
NATHANIEL R: The internet was so fond of that moment. It occurred to me right after seeing it that I had never wondered what kind of music you love.
NICOLE: Eclectic. I grew up on opera and jazz. My parents loved opera and jazz. I suppose I sort of had my rock moment when I was going to AC/DC concerts. I lined up for David Bowie for five hours when I was a teenager. And then of course, you know, Michael Hutchence from INXS that was the pop band I used to go listen to play in pubs which was amazing. Now, I know a lot of country I have to say.
I just watched that Katy Perry documentary on the plane. l like her! I love "Wide Awake". That single is amazing. Have you heard of Icona Pop? They are a new swedish duo who are very pop. They're really cool.
I will look that up.
I'm so eclectic and I use it in my work all the time.
What I used a lot with Lee on The Paperboy was Al Green. Lee has never listened to anything past 1970! [Laughter]
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