UNICEF held a screening of Lion this past week in Manhattan with stars Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel and Sunny Pawar (who share the protagonist role of Saroo). I finally had the pleasure of getting some face time with Nicole at the party afterwards. The Monkey Bar's main room has restaurant tables and chairs circling the a big slightly lower open area where the stars enter and are then typically bombarded by press, photographers, and industry wellwishers.
The crowd gave adorable little Sunny plenty of space, looking so tiny and a bit overwhelmed while taking press photos, before he headed to a private table. Dev Patel worked the room shaking hands at tables. Nicole, at least from my vantage point, stayed in the center; you came to her. As it should be.
The statuesque star towered over me (she's only 1" taller, but, add heels)...
Her manner, though, is anything but intimidating. You can frequently hear her familiar daggy laugh and she knows how to take a compliment. She's had so much practice with the latter. I reminded her that we'd spoken on the phone for her rather jawdropping turn in The Paperboy.
"You're my favorite," I mock-whispered in the loud bar, hand half covering my mouth in case other screen goddesses were lurking. "I'm not supposed to say that. Must. be. objective."
"Someone just asked me who my favorite designer is," she replied. "I'm not allowed to say that either!'"
What she was there to talk about was Sue Brierley who she plays so beautifully in Lion. And talk she did, later in the evening to the whole crowd about her experience meeting Sue. But for now, I was getting a sneak peek.
"Sue's life is so complex but it's also so warm. I love the maternal force of her which is complicated in the sense of what she's trying to maintain -- it spans years! We only get little grabs of her life [in the movie]. Trying to layer all that in is the work."
After telling her that she'd wowed yet again, delivering a fully complex woman in a place that many of us hadn't quite expected it ("mom" roles sometimes being missing two of the full three dimensions). I wondered aloud if she thinks of her occasional supporting characters as imaginary leads while playing them.
"I always say whatever the size of the role, you have to do all the work. If you don't...," her voice trailed off, perhaps imagining the kind of nightmare scenario we're never likely to see in which she phones one in. "It's a lot of work to prepare to give it the complexity. Hopefully the role warrants it but I love doing the homework and the research. This was primarily learning all about Sue's life and asborbing her and starting to have her cadence. I naturally have some of that, being Australian. I've worked with women like her and I know her on a deep level. She felt the same thing"
Later in the evening Nicole would detail more of that mother-to-mother bond to the Academy heavy crowd, but at this moment it was just her and I (tightly squeezed in a big crowded room but you get the point). I wasn't yet drinking, despite the cocktail in hand; her brief presence was intoxicating enough. I wished her luck with Lion.
"It's so different than Paperboy, let's put it that way, right?" she said, laughing again, as the publicist turned her attention to the next supplicant. "Polar opposite!"