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1995 Look Back: The Breakout Year of Nicole Kidman

TFE will be taking several trips back to 1995 for the next two weeks, our "year of the month". Here's abstew on the one and only... - Editor

Although she had been acting in Australia since she was 16 years old, most American audiences at the start of 1995 only knew Nicole Kidman for one thing: being Mrs. Tom Cruise. Despite earning strong notices earlier for 1989's Dead Calm (and catching the attention of superstar Cruise), the Hollywood productions that followed did little to showcase the promising talent that had been hinted at. Appearing alongside Cruise in glossy modest hits (Days of Thunder and Far and Away) or playing thankless wife roles that hardly challenged her as an actress (MaliceMy Life), Kidman was in danger of becoming arm candy for her famous husband. But thanks to a new pair of roles, 1995 would become the year that she finally emerged from the shadow of Cruise to start the march to her own inevitable super-stardom.

One of the ways Hollywood measures the worth of a star is by their box office. Warner Bros had been disappointed with the profits of Tim Burton's Batman Returns and decided to go in a different direction for the next franchise installment. Because of the changes, former star Michael Keaton decided not to return as the cape crusader and when Val Kilmer came onboard, it was deemed that Rene Russo (who had already been cast as the romantic lead) was too old to appear opposite the new Bruce Wayne. More...

The part of psychologist Dr. Chase Meridian was then initially offered to Robin Wright, but leery of big-budget blockbusters, she turned it down. (Just as she had previously with the offer to play the role that went to Laura Dern in Jurrasic Park.) The part went to Kidman. At the time it had the biggest opening weekend gross of all time and would remain Kidman's most profitable film for over a decade.

Although having a film like Batman attached to her name certainly helped elevate her status in Hollywood, no one was attributing the success to Kidman. It was another girlfriend role requiring her to look very beautiful. Which she more than delivered, debuting a new straightened hair look that announced her intentions of stardom. Gone were the wild, frizzy curls of the Aussie tomboy, here was the cascading hair of '40s goddesses Rita Hayworth and Lauren Bacall; Kidman was letting everyone know that she intended to take her place among the great screen sirens. But Kidman needed more than just a damsel in distress role if she was ever going to be taken seriously in Hollywood. And the role that would bring her critical success, elevating her to the next level, just happened to be released that same year.

It's not that Kidman hadn't been trying to find more challenging roles once she made the move to Hollywood. She had worked to obtain leads in Thelma and Louise, Silence of the Lambs, Mary Reilly, and Ghost but lost out to American actresses that were more established than she was. And her role as Suzanne Stone in Gus Van Sant's To Die For, almost didn't happen for Kidman either. It was originally offered to Meg Ryan who eventually passed, allowing Kidman to step in to a project worthy of her talents and revealing just what she was capable of.

The film, adapted from Joyce Maynard's novel, was loosely based on real-life events involving Pamela Smart, a media coordinator in New Hampshire, that conspired with her teenage lover to kill her husband. But the screenplay from Buck Henry (the Oscar-nominated writer of The Graduate) became a pitch-black satire on fame, celebrity, and ambition. Pre-dating television's obsession with reality TV, where everyone can cash in on their 15 minutes of fame, the film skewers our culture's obsession with fame. 

You're not anyone in America unless you're on TV."

And not that Kidman is necessarily like the narcissistic Suzanne, but there is certainly some pleasure in deriving parallels from her own life. Illeana Douglas' character at one point in the film describes Suzanne as a four letter word that starts with "C": cold. That description has often been used to describe Kidman's own perceived icy demeanor. (She attributes it to her shyness.) Suzanne thaws that cool exterior when using her sexuality to get what she wants, and Kidman proved that she was capable of melting her own chilly public persona with humor and a newfound scorching sensuality. (Particularly with a memorable dance in the rain, caught in the headlights of a car.) And just like her character, the actress certainly had her own ambitions to excel in her field (associations with her husband aside) though I doubt Kidman thought of going the same route to enter the spotlight!

Speaking directly to the camera, Kidman had never been more at ease on film. It was as if the film's biting humor freed her to become more playful. Flirting with the audience, she seduces us to come around to her side. You can see how Joaquin Phoenix's Jimmy would kill for her. Kidman received year-end awards attention and even won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for playing Suzanne. For a moment it looked like she would score her first Oscar nomination but rumors that older Academy members walked out in the middle of screenings probably didn't help her. In the end she missed out on the nomination in a very competitive year, by how much we'll never know. Oscar could wait but 1995 was the year that changed Nicole Kidman's career. She entered the realm of A-list movie stars with a bona fide commercial hit and a revelatory artistic achievement all at once. And it's safe to say that no one has ever thought of her as "Tom Cruise's wife" ever since.

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Reader Comments (22)

Can we talk about how 1995 was all about The Hours just seven years earlier. We had Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Julianne Moore give probably their career best performances and all should have been Oscar nominated (of course Streep was the only one nominated). Kidman is spectacular in To Die For and while I preferred Moore's work in Safe it is really close between the two who are so great.

July 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

Streep was the only one NOT nominated for The Hours. This post makes me realize how Nicole Kidman was so vibrant in the 1990's up to 2002, but unfortunately she lost all of her vitality after she won the Oscar in 2003. She was nominated for Rabbit Hole (2005), but it was a downer and barely anyone saw it. Her recent output over the past 10 years has uniformly been awful. That means that she has been around for a very long time, but has not really been appealing for years. I blame Scientology which taught her and Tammy to be excessively calculated but not human, and the excessive p_ s_ that we all now associate with her.

July 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJono

Jono - Rabbit Hole was released in 2010 (not 2005). Kidman was fantastic in it. She was also amazing in Birth (2005), Paperboy (2012) or Paddington (2014). Can't wait to see her in Strangerland.

July 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterLouis1981

Jono, Rabbit Hole was in 2010 and if you think her work in Dogville, Birth, Margot at the Wedding and The Paperboy is awful, your loss.

July 15, 2015 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

Superb stuff

July 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

Oh, 1995! To Die For has proven to be an integral movie for me, coming out while I was old enough to start figuring out what I liked but young enough to be completely floored by any new esthetic. I love this movie - so perfectly ironic without being so sincerely 90s IRONIC.
And Nicole Kidman is perfect in it, but that goes without saying.

July 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Nicole Kidman has always done interesting work since 1995. Sure she's made some stinkers but who hasn't. I can't agree with saying she hasn't done anything interesting since 2002 because if you've seen films like Dogville, Birth, Margot at the Wedding, Rabbit Hole, The Paperboy and Paddington prove she is still one of the best out there. While she doesn't play the roles like Suzanne and Satine anymore that's to be expected because she's grown up and by doing these other roles she has shown she's able to mature and pick these interesting projects where she can fully throw herself in to give great performances. With some upcoming projects and I feel Kidman can hit it good again because she deserves better then then crappy comedies and dramas which feel incomplete.

July 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

"Jono, Rabbit Hole was in 2010 and if you think her work in Dogville, Birth, Margot at the Wedding and The Paperboy is awful, your loss."

Agreed 100%. Every few years, and sometimes more frequently, she delivers a performance that completely revitalizes her stature as an artist.

July 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJD

I literally have no idea what Jono is on about. Who's Tammy? Scientology? Nicole's not a Scientologist, darling.

Anyway, even though Best Actress was super stacked in '95, Nicole's snub is one that still really stings for me. She was obviously 6th with the Globe win, BFCA win, multiple critics wins and BAFTA nom (she only missed SAG) and still came up short. I know Sharon Stone's work in Casino has its supporters, and she also won the Globe (yet was also snubbed by SAG), but, ugh. Why.

I understand Stone was at the height of her powers then but I've never understood the praise for her work there (which is histrionic at best, not to mention borderline supporting) especially in comparison to Kidman's turn, whose impact is still felt today (Charlize Theron and Rosamund Pike have stated that they were influenced by her performance in To Die For for Young Adult and Gone Girl, respectively).

It was just a case of a character and film that was too much for the elderly steak eaters, I suppose. Another reason she faced a similar snub for The Paperboy, I'd imagine.

July 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJackson

Paddington proves that she is one of the best out there? Oh my sides.

July 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJono

I just saw Kidman in "Strangerland" (with the rare opportunity of her using her own accent) yesterday. It's a good film but not too many will see it. That made me think about most of her recent films, which are challenging dramas made for grown-folks, that failed to find a large audience. It's a sad situation today where unless the movie has some flying super-hero in it, nobody is interested.

July 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony

Well done, Robin Wright.

July 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

thanks, BrianZ!

Peggy Sue - haha!!! she certainly marched to her own career path that robin wright, but love her even more for it.

re-watching nicole in to die for again just makes me so confused as to how she missed out on a nom! (charlize in young adult too, while we're at it.) she's sooooo amazing!! we should do a post on the best actress performances NOT nominated for an oscar...

July 15, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterabstew

More and more, Nicole reminds me of a washed up TV actress. To Die For was from the 1990's! All of her projects now are duds, and it is only delusion and ego that keeps her continually trying to reconnect with film audiences.

July 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterSarah T.

1995 was a great year for actresses....so many good performances!!! I agreed Nicole was probably a close 6th place to the 5 nom actresses...She had won the Globes & was nom by all the award bodies (SAG, BFA, etc) except the academy. I rem being so taken by her perf (proving she's more than a damsel in distress) & was shocked when she wasn't nom..

While we are at Stone, I agreed her Ginger is probably the weakest of the 5 nom & was enraged that she won the Globes over Sarandon!!! Even Shue or Streep are betta than her!! Poor Sarandon, still Globe-less after numerous nom!! but hey at least the academy did rite by giving best actress to her

July 15, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

abstew -- in both cases though those are unlikeable morally detestable characters and men can get away with that far easier than women when it comes to awards kudos

July 15, 2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Kidman is great in this (but truly bad in Batman). She was so hot (still is but in her prime she was perfection). Although I'd like to say your last statement is true that didn't really happen until she became a bonafide movie star of her own with the Moulin Rouge and The Others double punch.

July 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

Stone has some supporters but also a lot of haters...I'm fine with her globe winning and her nomination...imo Stone, Shue or Streep could be a winner at Sarandon's place but I imagine that after four losses it was time for her to get the Golden Boy! Kidman could have filled Thompson's spot but in 1995 members of the Academy were such great fans!

July 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMirko

This undoubtedly is the moment where Nicole stepped out of the shadows and marched right in and simply claimed her stardom. What a performance.

July 16, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I'm sorry but there are great actresses like Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Annette Bening for example and there are OK actresses like Nicole Kidman.

July 17, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEytan

I have such a soft spot for her performance in "Batman Forever". I remember when it came out and even though the movie hasn't aged as well as the previous two Batman films before it, I love the way they did the opening credits, with the five stars' names so boldly displayed in that 3D-like font. One of those first shots of her in the film, from overhead as she looks up as Batman with her hair blowing in the wind, is absolutely stunning. The film doesn't let her do much more than damsel-in-distress, save for a few good lines ("Do I need skin-tight vinyl and a whip?"), but I think she does a lot with the little she's offered.

July 17, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterjakey

Great post! Kidman is such a talent. I loved her in To Die For..

July 19, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney

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