Nicole Kidman for “The Hours”

There is nothing in Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of tragic novelist and essayist Virginia Woolf in The Hours that suggests that there is anything ?idmanesque’ about it. The tall beautiful actress who radiated sensuality and beauty in last year’s Moulin Rouge has evaporated in her latest film. In her place is a stark reminder of how serious Kidman works.

But on The Hours, which she consistently turned down at first because of a real fear that she couldn’t pull it off, the 35-year old Aussie Oscar nominee admits that she never worked as hard as on this character which included a detailed physical transformation as well as delving into the psyche of Woolf’s character. In talking about her preparation, Kidman says that “it is so hard to describe how to do a role, because I think each film requires something different, as does each director.”

On The Hours, Kidman felt that it was vital to live the character and adopt what is commonly referred to as ?he method’ “where you would just go into this other safe beacon and that’s what I did,” Kidman explains with a slight laugh. “So I kept a journal, read a lot, and it was a place in my life that I was in and then I was able to absorb HER,” she explains.

Frequently asked how she came up with Woolf’s physical characteristics, such as her very specific walk or the now infamous nose, the actress says that she can’t quite remember how it all came together. “All I know is that I would go to work every morning start to smoke roll your own cigarettes and then I would try and exist within her. “It is a hard thing to explain and people think you are crazy and then maybe you are but you do it because you believe PASSIONATELY in what you’re doing.” And it was clearly all worth the trouble. “You’re given such wonderful opportunities as an actor when you’re given a role like this that you have to be willing to go the distance.”

No wonder, as she did go through the distance, Kidman found herself falling in love with Virginia Woolf on so many levels. “I thought, ?his woman is such a magnificent person.’ I call her a creature, a magnificent creature, because she really was. The way in which she had this enormous intellect and then this extraordinary fragility and to combine the two creates almost a kind of chemistry and you put it together and it just bubbles. I’m fascinated by her – and I think everyone is.”

One can only wonder that given her detailed process, the difficulties she faced leaving Virginia Woolf behind at the end of the day. “It was difficult, especially given the shortness of my involvement. It became increasingly hard to say goodbye to Virginia and at the same time saying: I really wanted to do her justice. In setting out to try and explain certain things in her life, I went out my way to protect that, in a way, so I was able to walk away from it. However, in terms of just her impact, her literature is so powerful, as was her mind, perceptions and ideas, and they all resonate.”

Kidman adds that Woolf’s ideas and themes “still remain relevant. Her work doesn’t date and therefore her impact on MY life is pretty profound,” Kidman admits. In defining Woolf as an emotional, artistic and vulnerable woman, there seems to be some parallels between the author and the actress who plays her. Kidman doesn’t disagree. “I think the lines are very blurred now,” she said. “It’s strange. I try not to analyze it too much because just now I work primarily off my instinct, my choices. In some way the work and the opportunities of the work have been my saving grace. My children first and foremost kind of gave me day by day the desire to live and then, in terms of just being able to express yourself through different women who are extraordinarily rich.”

When Nicole is not working, a rare occurrence these days for the workaholic actress, her children, she says, are what keep her sane. This is ironic given the fact that while shooting The Hours and thus immersing herself into the character, one can only wonder how such a process would impact on her kids. “I’m actually lucky because my mum was able to take care of them for two weeks, so there was only a week where it crossed over and at that time Connor would look at me and go: You’re weird and I don’t like that nose. So it was a week of kind of him and me feeling a little strange and then we got through it. I know I’ll end up getting a lot of therapy about it later on”, she adds laughingly.

Nicole remains unconcerned and somehow unphased at her stardom and of course, recognition, believing that she should enjoy her moment in the sun while she can. “I know that it doesn’t last forever. I just have to learn to smell the roses a little bit — and once it’s not great, I won’t do it any more.” A Hollywood A-list player, she uses her power not to get a truckload of money but roles about which she remains passionate, such as the ensemble period drama Cold Mountain, which she recently wrapped in Romania, or her next project, Birth, directed by Sexy Beast’s Jonathan Glazer. “He’s amazing and I’m very excited about doing it. It’s a nice, 10-week shoot in New York.”

Since first interviewing Nicole nearly 20 years ago, what is striking about the actress is her ability to remain true to herself. Even now, with her recent star implanted on Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame Kidman continues to adopt a down to earth policy, and is clearly having the time of her life. “It’s funny, as I was getting the star I was looking around and thinking: Oh gosh, this is so amazing, but I also kind of felt out of it or that I’m really here experiencing this.” She adds that she’s happiest “when I’m with my children or when I’m making a movie. It’s just kind of lovely to be able to feel that excitement about being able to play a character and work for a new director whom you really believe in.”