Nicole Kidman retains a quiet elegance that has been her trademark for a decade. Delicately putting on her glasses [“I really can’t see without them”], Kidman is a tad shy, maybe a sign of exhaustion. Amidst the chaos and non-stop energy of the Toronto Film Festival, Kidman has not one but three films screening, including In the Cut, which she produced.
In between shooting The Stepford Wives, Kidman has become one of Hollywood’s busiest actors, with Cold Mountain still due to hit theatres later this year. Workaholic? Maybe, but the Oscar winner Australian doesn’t feel that she is driven to work as hard as she does. “I suppose it doesn’t really feel like work to me,” Kidman says, pausing slightly. “It doesn’t feel like a drive, but more like I’ve had these opportunities. It’s odd, because I made Dogville at the beginning of last year, which was a five-week shoot, and Human Stain was a short shoot for me before I made Cold Mountain. But everyone seems to talk about film making as work, but I don’t see it as work”, she says with a slight laugh.
Rather, she insists, she sees it as something she “loves to do that’s an artistic expression, that’s more about the joy of being asked to play these roles, with extraordinary directors. Acting, for me, is not a business, but trying to make pieces of art that I believe in, that I feel proud of and the journey. There’s no drive behind it but an acceptance of what my life is.” That life, she says, is that of an actress “and somebody who ABSOLUTELY loves what they do and would it whether you’d pay me or not, because I’m dedicated to it.”
Kidman’s dedication is apparent in the films in which she stars, Dogville and The Human Stain. It’s the latter that has caused much discussion, in which a sometimes nude and seductive Kidman falls for a 70-year old former professor, played by Anthony Hopkins. Eyebrows may indeed be raised at the sight of the 36-year old beauty lusting after the much older Hopkins, but Kidman shrugs off the criticism, admitting that age doesn’t really matter. “The reason people are drawn together, the reason people choose each other, we never know.”
Kidman even admits that without all the exterior forces working against them, the relationship of the two characters in The Human Stain definitely could have worked, even though both people were so emotionally damaged. “The different people that enter into your life at different times, they enter into it, because you allow them, they enter because of timing, they enter because of a connection between two people, not the way in which their bodies look.”
She says people who operate on strictly physical level probably have very superficial relationships that don’t stand a chance. “A 70-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman, a 25-year-old man and a 70-year-old woman, bring it on! It doesn’t matter,” she exclaims, laughing loudly in the process.
She also dismissed questions about whether she can be believable as a janitor and a farmhand, which is what her strangely mysterious character does in The Human Stain. “I cleaned toilets when I was an usherette in Sydney and my hands got very dirty. Whether you believe me or not, I tried to do the best I could to honour her as a woman.”
Human Stain is but one of three intense dramas that Kidman has done. Apart from her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in The Hours, there is Lars von Triers’ complex and experimental Dogville. Though much has been reported about the so-called rift between Kidman and the strange Danish director, the actress speaks genuinely passionately about the film and its director. “With Lars, you don’t feel like you’re making a movie, but rather entering into a world, particularly because the way in which we did it.” She recalls working in Sweden, “working in a small town and we all worked together, and in a way, you become part of Lars’ psyche, in a way. You go to sleep, you have dinner and breakfast with him, you go to work you eat lunch together and so you’re almost joined at the hip.” Kidman admits that while such a work environment is exciting, “it’s also a very confronting experience, resulting in the different films that he makes. So when I arrived in Sweden, I knew that I’d be working with somebody who “already had a complicated relationship with Bjork, but I arrived there going: I’m here, I’m open and I’m raw, ready to work and ready to be part of your life.” There were no sets to speak of, Kidman recalls, “but I was prepared to work through it. He’s so unconventional, he operates the camera himself, he’ll reach out and hold your hand and talk to you and move you around. It’s just a very different format”, Kidman explains. “It’s not about trying to achieve a performance, it’s more about him trying to get inside your head.” Kidman promised to do the rest of the director’s trilogy but suddenly backed out of the second one, maintaining a need to spend “some time with my kids early next year.”
Next to her ever-flourishing career, it’s her children that remain a priority for Nicole, insisting that neither she nor Tom Cruise “ever discussed the custody in terms of the children. It’s important for me that my kids are a part of my life. That means they come to the film set, they’re aware of what I’m doing and they get to give their opinion in terms of the different characters,” says Kidman. “But they have a complicated life and it’s something you feel guilty for, and something you apologise for, and it’s something you say: Well, they’re going to get an education out of this that will be slightly different and that’s going to be very artistic. I just think that anything you can do to stimulate a child artistically is important. So who knows how it will all turn out in the end but I’m trying to incorporate them and keep them so their memories will be very vivid in relation to the work.”
And the work has been very intense of latte, which means she has to shift gears. Kidman next film is finally a comedy, a light-hearted remake of the 1970s horror movie The Stepford Wives. “It’s tough being funny!” she says with that hearty laugh of hers. And, by the way, reports of her playing the Elizabeth Montgomery part in a film version of the old TV sitcom Bewitched are premature. She says she hasn’t yet committed to it and if she did, Samantha’s famous magical nose-twitch “would probably be CGI”, she adds, laughingly.
Kidman also concedes that she still suffers from bouts of stage fright, not only before doing theatrical roles, but when she first commits to choosing a film, and sometimes she has to back out. She says Meryl Streep – with whom she co-starred in The Hours – often has the same fear. “I’m actually desperate to do a play again within the next 18 months because if I don’t do it I’ll never go back onstage. And I want to do it and throw myself in that arena again and want to do it bravely with something that’s kind of unusual and bold.”
She says although she served as a producer, because of that fear of not being in the proper emotional state at the time, she had to bow out of the leading role that Meg Ryan took in Jane Campion’s upcoming psychological thriller In the Cut. “It was a very painful thing to give up,” she admits. “But at the same time I was very glad for Meg Ryan.” Had Kidman starred in the film, eyebrows would have been raised again, as Ryan plays a lonely academic who becomes sexually awakened by an aggressive cop on the hunt for a serial killer. Sex is back, and a common theme at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, and Kidman is certain as to why films dealing with sexual relationships are suddenly back in vogue. “Because it’s important and it’s a part of our life because I think the denial of it isn’t going to help any of us. I also think there is a group of people going: Let’s deal with sexual issues, let’s deal with things that are confronting, and hopefully stimulate people into conversation and ideas.”
As for life after Oscar, Kidman says it didn’t sink in until she saw for herself what a global event the Academy Awards were. “I’ve realized just from my travels, the awareness of it is worldwide.”
She says, too, she is especially glad to have won for playing Virginia Woolf, “because she gave me so much and then on top of it, she gave me an Oscar, and I’m glad to have had that through her. I have a strange relationship with Miss Woolf.”