June 2005 By Philip Berk
2004 was a busy year for Nicole Kidman.
Working non stop she completed The Interpreter with Sean Penn and Bewitched with Will Ferrell and was signed to do Mel Brooks’s The Producers and Eucalyptus with Russell Crowe in early 2005.
On screen she was seen in Lars von Trier’s Dogville, Frank Oz’s Stepford Wives, and Birth.
I remembered thinking at the time, this woman could use a vacation!
But then in 2005, suddenly, everything came crashing to a halt.
She dropped out of The Producers and was replaced by Uma Thurman
Eucalyptus was shelved when Russell Crowe felt “there’s no reason to make bad movies.”
The Interpreter didn’t translate into big boxoffice
And Bewitched bothered and bewildered critics and audiences alike.
So what’s next for Nicole?
A year ago, inspired by her role in Birth, she expressed a desire to have a baby.
“I would like to have a baby. Not that I’m pregnant, but I would love to. That’s kind of the thing I would hope happens at some time before I get too old.”
And how would she accomplish that? I asked her.
“I don’t know,” she laughed,”but I would love to be married again. I think there’s something lovely about raising a child together. I don’t know how I would be about doing it on my own, consciously making the decision to do it on my own. I don’t know if I have the wherewithal for that, but it would be nice to be able to have another child with somebody where you raise the child together, and it’s a lovely union.”
At the time she was romantically linked to a New Zealand millionaire.
Is he the one?
“He’s a friend of a friend and he’s definitely not my…”
She also talked about taking a break, finding solace on an Australian farm, which is just what she had done when she showed up at The Interpreter junket last April looking rested, refreshed, and ravishingly beautiful.
“I’ve just come back from Australia where I get in the ocean every day. My grandmother does the same. She’s 89, going on 90. It’s worked for her. She has all her teeth and she doesn’t wear glasses. She’s very proud of that. The doctor keeps telling her she’s not well, but I say, ‘You’re going to live to a hundred.’ And she smokes a pack of cigarettes a day!”
She didn’t have much to say about working with Sean Penn, but she seemed surprisingly upbeat about Bewitched,
The nose wiggle, will that be in the film? I asked her.
“I do it a lot. You’ll all be sick of it. But I’m glad I made that movie because the films I’ve made recently have been about important things, whereas Bewitched is just about believing in love and falling in love. So it was really really fun for me. And I’d have to say I haven’t had that much fun on a set in a long time. Instead of saying to people, ‘Don’t come on the set, you wouldn’t understand,’ it was like, ‘Come by the set. Come and watch.’ It was just lovely being introduced to comedy through Nora (Ephron) and Will (Ferrel), a pretty good group of people to be teaching you that.”
If she had Samantha’s powers, what would she change in her personal life?
“If I could snap my fingers I’d like to be anywhere I wanted to be in a second. Rather than taking huge planes, I’d wish I could be next to the people I want to be next to very quickly.”
Three months later the film has opened to decidedly negative reviews, but judging from her high spirits at the junket in New York, you’d never know it.
The character she plays is someone who has to suppress her powers to find her place in life.
Has she ever felt the need to do that in Hollywood?
“No, I just always try to be me. I mean, when people meet me they always think “Oh, she needs a lot of attention or she needs all the luxuries of life . But I’m happiest at the back of a motorbike or walking in the Australian bush and being able to just sort of get my hands dirty, my feet dirty, go for a swim in the ocean. I mean, those sort of things. I don’t need anything more than. And in fact I think I am now at a stage where the simplest things are the things that make me happiest and that make me feel that I’m powerful in the world and that I’m going to live to be an old, old woman with a sense of dignity and happiness.”
So she doesn’t think of herself as powerful?
“There was a stage where people were saying to me, ‘Well, how do you feel now that you can get films green-lit ,and that is wonderful because then is you can support directors who don’t necessarily have that sort of power yet, because they make offbeat things. I mean, I’m working with Steve Shainberg now who did the film Secretary. It took a long time to get the financing. It would never have gotten made they said if I didn’t sign on to do it, and that is glorious. I mean, that makes me very, very proud, and that’s where I think I do my best work anyway.”
And she’s never used her “witchcraft” for personal gain?
“I’m not sure I have that,” she laughs, “I do know I worry if I’ve hurt someone’s feelings. My feelings get hurt easily, so I’m always trying to be careful and respectful of people. I suppose the way I deal with the industry and people who need you for certain things — I just try to be straight and tell them the truth and that can be very, very hard at times because sometimes it’s not what people want to hear, but that’s just my nature. I can deal with anybody in any situation as long as I know what I’m dealing with. What I can’t stand is when people say things behind your back and pretend to be one thing and they’re not, and then I have no way of deciphering that because my mind doesn’t think that way.”
If she had the power to make the world a better place, what would she do?
‘Take away malice. I think malice in people is frightening. I think tolerance would be sort of the primary thing that I would give to people, tolerance for everything, religion, the way we deal with everybody in the world, be tolerant to each other. And of course I would eradicate cancer if I could. I’ve seen too many people die from that in my life .”
Sean Penn in his Vanity Fair profile talked about her “relationship with disappointment.” What did he mean by that?
“I think that’s so private. I mean, just in terms of my life probably, yeah, I’ve had things that have affected me on a really, really deep level that are not written about, that I never speak about. My own private burdens, that’s what I call them.We all have our burdens, don’t we, and they just are what they are, but I think that gets put into your work and occasionally you meet people that you become close to that understand certain things about your life and probably Sean is one of them. I think with Sean he was there at that particular time in my life; he came along and he was somebody who really understood me and was very generous and very, very gentle with me, which I appreciate, and so there were things that I was able to reveal to him that I probably wouldn’t reveal to many people.”
Few people realize she was born in Hawaii. Does she still have a connection to the island?
“I wish. I’d love to go back but I haven’t been there since I was four. I’ve stopped over at the airport, but I’ve never gone back there for a holiday. But I remember it vividly I’m very attached to the beach and oceans because of that. So much of my childhood there and in Australia was about the water.”
What does she do to relax?
“My favorite thing is lying around on my parents’ couch watching football. I wish i could say lying around reading Dostoevsky, but i really prefer just kicking back and watching the footy. It’s football, rugby league, AFL or rugby union. Bring it on,” she laughs.”
Not spending time with her kids?
Her son accompanied her recently to an awards ceremony.
What can she say about her kids?
“Yeah, they’re older than me now, “ she laughs. “That’s what it feels like. They’re very independent, really really well informed little people. I’m sort of stunned actually because I spent my twenties raising kids, and now it;s kind of like those kids are turning into little adult. Life goes on, doesn’t it. I think they’re embarrassed by me at the moment. I still smother my son with kisses. He’s like, ‘Get off me.’ At the moment they’re trying to be independent, But deep down we’re very good friends, which is lovely.”
Does she involve her children in her relationships?
“Well, they never meet anybody in terms of a person that I would be interested in until it’s serious, and then I always say to them if that person comes along it’ll be up to the three of us to decide. You got to get through three people,” she jokes.
How important is family?
“My mother always told us, no matter where you end up, there’s always someone there for you, that your parents are probably the only people that can offer you unconditional love in the world, that so you can always go back to them, and they’re always there, you’ve always got that incredible base of love that will envelop you if you want to come back to it, if you need it.”
Inconsistently she answers, “Probably the most important thing is the people that you have your friendships with and your intimacies and your connections. I think that’s what you’re left with –the people that are going to be there through your whole life that have shared all of the things with, Very close friendships are the most important things you’ll ever have and I’ve got friends that I’ve known since I was born and we look at each other and we go, ‘Can you believe we’re still here?’ I’m still very, very close to and my next door neighbor who I’ve known since I was three; she just did the press tour with me on The Interpreter, and my sister obviously is sort of my twin, my other half I call her, and then I have a number of girl friends. I mean, Naomi (Watts) and I are very, very good friends and have maintained that through so many things, which I think is really rare, particularly for actresses. I take a lot of pride in that. And then I also have Russell (Crowe) and people not in the acting business at all. A carpenter, a friend of mine who I’ve known since I was sixteen-years-old. I used to go surfing with him; he’s got three kids now. I mean just people that are really there in my life and present.”
She must have been there for Russell recently?
“I actually phoned him, yeah, yeah. I mean, we’re about to do the film with Baz (Luhrmann) in Australia; so second time luck.You know, Russell and I have walked a parallel path in terms of careers and – and coming from Australia and trying to sort of forge our way and navigate through the world; we do it differently, but I’m always there for him. I mean, if you can’t, be there, then where s your substance? ”
How about Tom and all the attention he’s recently gotten. Does it bother her?
“I never answer those questions. I have two children with Tom Cruise. I never answer anything in relation to his life and our life as a family out of respect. “
Is she bothered by what the tabloids write about her?
“I get so sick of reading articles which people send me these articles oh, Nicole has to find love. I feel like pathetic to be talking about it; so I’ve kind of made a pledge to myself that I won’t keep talking about it .”
Tell us about her stay in Australia?
“I have a small property about five hours out of Sydney. I stayed there for almost a month. That is where I am so happy. And even when I was in Paris for Chanel, I walked in the woods around Versailles and nobody recognized me. In a weird way I love to be by myself or with a small group of friends or family and that’s when I’m at my happiest, even happier than when I am making a film.”
Any thoughts of retirement?
“Not so far. But maybe doing different things. My dad always says he’ll never retire and he’s like 65. He went from being a biochemist to now he’s a psychologist to writing books. He’s still doing the things he loves to do. It just sort of weaves in and out. I don’t think I would ever be someone doing absolutely nothing. I like doing something creative.”
Is marriage in her still an option?
“I believe in a great great love. I believe you can hold it in high regard. I will always hold my marriage in high, high regard. I have two children, and I have my memory of it. It’s a wonderful memory. That’s what I want to remember, and that’s how I hold it in my mind.“
Is she looking forward to working with Won Kar Wei, the Chinese director of In the Mood for Love?
“I’ll be working with him for a couple of weeks this year, and we’ll finish it next year. I’ve worked with directors from all over, but no one from Asia; so I’m excited to go work with him. I think his work is absolutely exquisite. It will be an honor to be in one of his films.”
He’s known for working four or five years on a project.
Is she prepared to devote that much time to it?
“I don’t think it will require that much time. Gong Li has already shot her part, and that took only five weeks. He’s doing this film in a different way.”
When did they first meet?
“I spent time with him in New York earlier in the year, and later we met again in Europe. I am excited about doing it. The atmosphere he creates is so powerful. In the mood for Love is one of my favorite films.”
How does it feel to be courted by the world’s greatest directors?
Is it a burden?
“I try not to think of it as such.The truth is I’m always surprised when I walk down the street and people know who I am. In almost every country I’m recognized. Eight years ago it wasn’t like that. It’s just in the last four years, and it still surprises me. I can be in Italy, and people know who I am. I can be in France. When I went to Versailles last summer, I was stunned when a waiter recognized me.”
Speaking of France, what is her commitment to Chanel?
“I am not the Chanel girl if that’s what you’re asking. Basically I did it with Baz (Luhrman) and Karl. After Moulin Rouge I wanted to do something with Baz again. We thought of it as a small film, and it was a lovely thing to do. It wasn’t so much about getting a contract or anything. It was a creative venture for us where we got to explore with this iconic image, the No.5 image. Of course Baz and his wife have a sort of understanding of fashion and style. So when they asked us to redefine Chanel #5 and come up with something different, we thought it would be an exciting thing to do.”
Does she choose the clothes she wears in a film?
“Strangely enough I never choose my costumes. I have very brief costume fittings. I’m like, ‘Dress me however you like.’ I might choose a piece off jewelry or something and formulate my character around one particular thing. But i work with the greatest costume designers in the world, and i would ever go and tell them how to do their job.”
Was she embarrassed by the Lauren Bacall incident at the Venice Film Festival last year? (Bacall took exception to the press referring to Nicole as a legend.)
“Lauren and I are incredibly….:
Again she doesn’t complete the thought .
“She’s my New York mother. That’s what she calls herself.”
Does she agree with her?
“Totally. I was like, please, I don’t want that. She’s the legend. I definitely am not.”
Ironically a year ago when she received a lifetime achievement award from the American Cinematheque I asked her if she was a little too young then!
“I was so embarrassed that night. I sat there watching the clips going, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t act’. There is something so mortifying about watching your work when you were a young girl all the way through to now. It was lovely to be honored, but my personality does not deal with that terribly well. I have a lot of trouble taking compliments.”
Again she didn’t answer the question!
Five Years Later
Watching Nicole Kidman play a bereaved mother in Rabbit Hole a second time I’m suddenly made aware. Of all the actresses currently on the screen nobody not even Meryl Streep projects the intensity that Nicole does, a scorching presence that recalls the great Hollywood stars of the 40s: Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Greer Garson.
When word reaches Nicole of this I am told she broke into tears. At the Golden Globes she thanks me at one of the after parties.
One of the perks of being president!
At her press conference weeks earlier I ask her about her commitment to the role, in which she completely inhabits the role of a mother who’s lost her four year old son.
How do you do it? I asked her
Somewhat at a loss for words she stumbles, “I’m able to just move in… and looking back I have to say it’s all a bit of a blur. There are certain pieces that required giving over of yourself for that period of time, and this film because what it’s about and because of where I’m at in my life right now, I was able to access the emotions and the intensity of it very quickly, but then I wasn’t able to let it go very quickly. There were times when I would go home and go to sleep, a number of times during the filming I woke up absolutely sobbing. You wake up out of a dream or a nightmare, and I was shaking to the bone. I’ve had that happen in my life over 43 years a few times, but I’ve never had it happen in such a succession, three or four times over a period of six weeks, and that’s when I went, ‘This is disturbing my subconscious in a way that I wasn’t even aware of.’ But I feel that’s what’s required of an actor to honor the emotions and the subject and the material.”
John Cameron Mitchell was an unusual choice as director. What did she, wearing a producer hat, see in him that suggested he would be the right choice for the difficult subject matter?
“I heard that John was interested, that he’d read the script. I thought Wow, the guy who directed Hedwig and Short Bus, is interested in this. That is very strange, and that’s when I went, ‘He must have some grasp on the material; so let’s give him the opportunity to show his talent in the same way that Gus Van Sant got to do Good Will Hunting after he had done Cowboys Get the Blues. John had never done a mainstream movie like that; I saw it similar to that, and then when I spoke to John on the phone, I just knew that he had an enormous amount of heart which is what was needed for this film because without that the film could be cold.”
In her role as producer, how did Rabbit Hole come to her?
“I read a review of the play in The New York Times. Because I live in Nashville, I was sitting in Starbucks drinking my coffee, and I went wow. The thing that captured me was not just the subject matter but that it was funny; yet you still absolutely bled for these people emotionally, and I thought this thing must be very, very good. I asked my producing partner if he could get on a plane and go see it because I was not in a position to leave everything and hop on a plane to New York. He saw the play, sent me the text, I read it, we went, let’s see if we can get the rights and by enormous chance the rights were available. Normally Scott Rudin has the rights, so we said to David. Can we do this, can we offer you the chance to write screenplay and protect your material, and he went yes. It was one of those confluence of events I look back with amazement.”
Did she ever see the Broadway production?
“Not the Broadway production but a production in Australia of all places but I’m glad I didn’t see the original because I think it might have been too intimidating. David was ready to open it up. It was effortless for him because within two or three drafts we had screenplay. He was able to put everything miraculously quickly into the script.”
How does she personally handle deep loss and inner pain? How does she deal with it?
“Different things. Sometimes it’s been professional help, sometimes it’s been my parents, sometimes it’s just sheer will, and sometimes it’s been faith, so an amalgamation of things.”
Where is she in her life these days?
“I’ve got my husband and I’ve got two grown children and then I’ve got a baby; so I’ve got a lot going. I have a really nice life down in Tennessee.”
There were so many deep moments in the film, one when she is sitting with the teenage boy (responsible for her son’s death) and says, “In a parallel universe I’d be happy now.” Does she have moments where she wished for a parallel universe?
“I have no desire for an alternate reality. I’m trying to live the one I have very fully, stay in a place of humility. That’s probably where I’m at right now. The reason I could do this performance is I haven’t had this happen to me, I haven’t suffered through something like this, but I understand that feeling of being so remote and so far from happiness that you look at other people. You can be driving in a car and you look into the other car and see somebody laughing and smiling and you think, Will I ever, ever know that again. Will that ever be part of me? What I felt was so extraordinary was how David was able to do that. In the scene when I’m walking out of the bookstore before I bump into Miles (the boy behind the wheel) for the first time and I look at the mother reading to her child and exactly at that moment, that was me. ‘I’ll never have that again.’ That isolation, that loneliness is so profound, and he (the writer) really grabs that. He somehow masterfully achieves parallel universes through the film. I absolutely can relate, to huge portions of this movie and I can relate to the stoicism of the character because it’s probably how I was raised which is pull yourself together, present to the world that you’re okay. That I find it very touching because I know what’s underneath that.”
“It was an organic motivation because people would send books and material. They’d say, you can help produce this, and I’d be, What does that mean? I wouldn’t know how to do that, and I am not sure how many years ago (her producing partner) Per and I met, formed this small company, because I wanted to get things made that were going to be hard to get made. I was frustrated that I didn’t have an outlet for certain things that were being sent to me, but we were being so careful because there’s only two of us, and we don’t want to be spreading ourselves too thin. We have another film Monte Carlo coming out in summer which I am not in. It’s a romantic comedy. For us it’s more than just trying to protect material and film-makers, we want to give certain types of films the chance to be made. That would be my wish for the company.”
Even though it’s everybody’s nightmare to lose a child, sometimes when someone is completely consumed by grief there is a beauty to them that is not often understood. Only the boy understood that side of her character. Does she agree?
“Absolutely. Becca (her character) is in so much pain; she has to have so many barriers and protection defenses because it’s a huge chasm of anguish. When she sees the boy going to the prom, she’s unable in some ways to even want to live, but has to live the way in which she’s operating right now, which is to say if you come anywhere near this pain, I will completely fall apart; you have to stay away because it’s enough to just get through the day. And if you notice she never sleeps. You never see a shot of her sleeping. She’s reading, she’s sitting, and she’s in that terrible rabbit hole; the boy is so confusing to her that’s why she’s seeking him out. At the same time, there’s some quality to him that says he understands. In some weird way he can touch it because he’s been there, he was there. For some weird moment they fused through the most terrible tragedy. She’s almost compelled to seek him, and that’s what I find so extraordinary about the film is there aren’t answers, there’s also no judgment. When I read it for the first time, I was asking, Why does she go to this boy? Why isn’t she reaching out to her husband? They’re both in so much pain? But they can’t heal each other, can’t help each other right. I love the final scene where she says, ‘What do we do now?’ And that’s her one little step forward, that final moment where they’re holding hands. It’s that timeless moment that for me is a beautiful image for the end of the film.”
Does it bother her that’s she’s become identified with the use of Botox?
Yeah, I’ve tried Botox. I didn’t like the way my face looked with it so now obviously I don’t use it, and I think it’s much better for my performances. I’m of that generation where you’ve tried stuff; so I’ve become a scapegoat for it I suppose, but I’m glad not have it now. I can move my forehead now,” she jokes.