Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Interview May 01 - Nicole Kidman

The Moulin Rouge. So much comes to mind--bohemian Paris, artistic expression, freedom, drama, passion . . . and now the most anticipated film of the season. Baz Luhrmann's lush, trippy modern musical starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor is seemingly the perfect project for the rule-breaking director, whose impressive knowledge of music, art and history is at once on display. Moulin Rouge, Luhrmann and Kidman reveal, is about extraordinary parallels between art and life; that its release coincides with a big change in the star's personal life is striking. Here, the film's taboo-breaking director interviews his star, friend and fellow Aussie as only he can. BAZ LUHRMANN: [into the tape recorder] Baz Luhrmann here, at the Twentieth Century Fox lot. We're outside the William Fox Theater, and we're gonna go inside and surprise Nicole Kidman. She has absolutely no idea that we're about to expose the truth behind the Kidman story.

[to Kidman] Hello, Nicole. I'm doing a hard-hitting interview for Interview magazine. So, what's it like . . . [laughs, addressing her dog) Well, shih tzu, how is it?

NICOLE KIDMAN: That's Moulin! That's Moulin, and now we need a Rouge.

BL: Thank goodness we weren't doing a film with a long name in it!

NK: So, don't you like my dog?

BL: Absolutely. Gorgeous. Cute.

NK: Very sweet. And passive. Just like me.

BL: Give it time. OK, I'm trying to do my hard-hitting interview here, right?

NK: Can you hear me from over here?

BL: Don't worry--I'll come over there. I'm a professional, and this is my hard-hitting interview for Interview magazine. So, I think it's important we don't talk about me at all.

NK: But I'd prefer to talk about you.

BL: So, when did you first work with me? [both laugh) And what was it like?

NK: [laughs. Feigning Luhrmann's voice] "And how do you feel about Baz Luhrmann?" [laughs]

BL: Let's talk about the first time we met.

NK: The first time was on a photo shoot, right?

BL: We were guest-editing a magazine.

NK: An Australian magazine.

BL: Right. I don't think I'd ever spoken to you before, but I remember distinctly being very aware of you, right, and always fascinated with what you were doing. So I met you at the Four Seasons Hotel, and I remember my first impression of you was how Australian you were, and you had this really, really loud hacking laugh.

NK: Oh, that's charming! I thought you were going to say something really flattering. And instead . . . [laughs]

BL: And actually, I think that's what's in the film. I really do. I think that my first image of you, which was so not what I expected, is in the film. 'Cause you have such a refined, such a very . . . iconic imagery--that's just the way it is. God put that one on your shoulders and you can't shake it off. But when I met you, you were like so many of the girls I knew growing up. So crazy, so noisy. I say noisy because I remember you were eating along and suddenly "Yahh!"--you let out a big scream. We made quite a bit of a noise in that restaurant. I can't remember if they threw us out, but I think they wanted to.

NK: And then we did the photo shoot. It was so much fun. And I remember thinking, Oh God, I'd love to work with him, but he'll never wanna work with me.

BL: No, no, no. I can remember doing that shoot and thinking. There's a whole side to you that the world has absolutely no idea about--that you are funny. Remember the Lucille Ball stuff we did?

NK: Yeah, we did the dancing with the dummy.

BL: That's right, and it was also-

NK: And you were dancing around too, off camera.

BL: I was not!

NK: [laughs] Yes, you were!

BL: I'm very serious when I work. [laughs) Very serious and very focused. I was demonstrating the dance move, if I remember.

NK: [feigning Luhrmann's voice] "And more, and more, and bigger, and big!" [laughs] That was great fun. But my other vivid memory of you was the audition process for this film.

BL: Yeah? Tell me about that.

NK: The first thing you said to me was that after the Australian magazine thing came out, I never called you about it.

BL: Well, actually, you didn't! It's my interview, and I'm not having that bullshit in my interview, right?

NK: I did! I'm very shy, though.

BL: Bullshit! Strike that from the, interview!

NK: It's true! It's why I couldn't call. I'm too shy!

BL: But you did do something else. I think I got a Christmas card from you. So I understood that you were--

NK: Did everybody else call?

BL: It doesn't matter; it didn't concern me at all.

NK: [laughs] It obviously did!

BL: It was only that we worked nonstop, you know, making the best possible images. You think I was hurt? No, no, not at all.

NK: [laughs] That's awful! I can't believe that I didn't call. Let's talk about you and your opera.

BL: No--I want to tell you something. For years you were doing very serious roles, like The Portrait of a Lady [1996]. And I remember thinking, God, one day someone's gotta release that incredible vitality and that crazy comic energy of yours into a film.

NK: I was begging for it! I was so sick of playing the serious sort of roles. But now I feel I can go back to them. Though once you're hooked, you're hooked.

BL: [speaking into mike) Not too quickly, folks. Right?

NH: [laughs]

BL: Let's just get some logical storytelling here for the interview. Now I set out to do Moulin Rouge, originally, with young kids in the lead roles of Satine and Christian, and ... well, Christian was always young.

NK: Oh, thanks Baz.

BL: [laughs) I meant--

NK: Cut to the chase! You ended up casting me, the old pauper. [laughs]

BL: I wanted people in their thirties. Young people. Then I realized, one of the great old dames of the theater could play Satine. And lo and behold, you were on Broadway!

NK: [gasps] You're cruel! I'll never forget, on the set you used to say, "Come on, you old hoofer!"

BL: No I didn't, that is not true.

NK: I swear to God! You said, "Come on, you old hoofer! Show us what you're made of!" [laughs]

BL: I never said that! Well, I did call you an old hoofer, but you really manifest the same characteristics as one of the old hoofers.

NH: [laughs] Fantastic!

BL: There is a bit of that old Hollywood showbiz quality about you. To me you embody a lot of those classical, iconic Hollywood movie stars of the '40s and '50s. Now that was a crucial element in making this film because we wanted to reference that. We made the decision that Satine should have the iconic maturity of a Lady Di. That she was a woman at her absolute sexual prime. Or like Madonna. She was one of these really iconic characters.

NK: Right.

BL: Someone at the peak of her powers, and she fell in love with, if you like, a virginal young man, a young man who was very new to the act of love. And she was trying to get back to, you know, virginal pure love. But that was the whole rebirth of the story, of her character's journey.

NK: That's what I liked. The arc. You have him becoming worldly, and her learning to love again.

BL: Do you remember how I made contact with you? You were on Broadway in The Blue Room [1999], and I couldn't get in the stage door for the thronging crowds--this is a fact, folks: there were maybe 200 people at the stage door.

NK: Oh, they were so good to me, the audiences there. But you came back and saw a preview.

BL: That's right.

NK: Not cool to see a preview, I must say.

BL: It was remarkable.

NK: Yeah, but you don't come to the previews! [laughs] You sent me red roses the next day, backstage. Which was really lovely. And the note said, "Loved the performance, loved the play, blah, blah, blah."

BL: It didn't say that at all!

NK: No, no, no, you wrote, "I have a role. She sings, she dances, dot-dot-dot, and she dies."

BL: Well, how could you refuse?!

NK: But that was really confusing, 'cause it was like, "Oh gosh, does that mean he's offering me the role? Or does that mean now I have to go on 25 auditions?" It was the latterl [laughs]

BL: Let me explain that.

NK: Next time you write a note like that, make sure to put, "And I'd like you to audition for it."

BL: Oh, that's right! Wring out the dirty laundry! When I think how absolutely supportive I was during the whole process! Well, we had to investigate the issue of singing, and it's not like an actor would pickup the phone saying, "I am such an incredible singer, give me the role!" Actually, there were a few who did, but we won't go into that.

NK: And I dare say, I did not sell myself as a singer. I kept saying, "Oh, Baz, I don't know about the singing..."

BL: The important issue was that it was about actors who could sing.

NK: That's right, you kept saying, "I want an actor who can sing." And I'd say, "Look, I'm not Whitney."

BL: Yes, but certain people were chasing you to do Chicago, the film. Which certain people were chasing me for as well, but we won't go into that, either.

NK: That was after the play, too.

BL: That's right, and there was a time when I thought I might lose you to Chicago.

NK: Yeah. And Madonna was gonna do it [Chicago] as well. That was exactly the same time as Moulin Rouge.

BL: And you chose Moulin Rouge. The gig, at least. But what the people should understand is that we had to explore your singing, but the other thing was finding a Christian. I was aware of Ewan [McGregor], but Ewan was doing a play in the West End.

NK: Mm-hmm.

BL: And then I found a way of getting to him. The interesting bit about that was that he was onstage in the West End doing one fantastic play, and you were onstage on Broadway doing another, so you were both, as far I was concerned, stage actors. So I was feeling very secure about these two people doing a musical.

NK: Right. And Ewan and I both came off the plays and came to your workshop in Australia each having finished this great creative experience.

BL: Talk about that, 'cause it was an extraordinarily long period of development.

NK: Your process--as an actor--it's the perfect process to work in. Because by the time--

BL: No, no, no, Nicole! I wrote here very clearly, "Yours is the greatest process I've ever worked with, and you are"--

NK: "The greatest director in the world." [laughs]

BL: Let's go back to the top. Pick it up from "You are the greatest."

NK: [laughs] Your process is shite! [laughs] No, really, your process is great because as an actor you come in and you're given a very distinct character. So you walk into it and suddenly you told us we're gonna spend two weeks doing a little singing, a little improvising, a little dancing. And everybody there is so excited--if only everybody worked like that.

BL: We did a lot of work, but we also had--

NK: Fun! Great fun. We had those incredible dinners, drinking wine and absinthe.

BL: Ah, the absinthe. What exactly happened? Mind you, this is not one of those namby-pamby interviews where we skirt around the point! So what happened with the absinthe? Do you remember at all?

NK: I remember flames, I remember lighting the absinthe, but I don't remember much else. No, wait--I remember dancing wildly at one stage. On the chair, on the table. And watching videos.

BL: That's right! You know, Nicole, the extraordinary thing is the parallel between the film and all of our lives. I mean to a harrowing extent. The profound amount of tragedy ... the characters in the film, their needs and their wants and their drives--

NK: I think that's because we spent so long doing what you cast us to do, and at the right time. I was so ready to do a love story, but then all those tragic elements that came in, in terms of dying and the layers--not that I died, but--in terms of just going through it all, the emotional weight of that, by the end, was just so powerful. I've never been so exhausted, yet so satiated at the same time. Creatively, I didn't want to make a movie again after I'd finished this one.

BL: The story as you know, is based on the Orpheus myth, and that myth is about ideal love. Christian looking for and finding what he believes is the ideal love. But, at the end he loses that love and he goes back up into the adult world, if you like. And I used to say this ad nauseum: People will die, time will pass, things will change and there are some loves that...

NK:... Could not be.

BL: Could not be. You and I are both on that level of experience. You know, my father died on the, first day of shooting, which--now--I'm very at peace with. But it was quite a moment, wasn't it? Dad was sick--and we knew he was going to die at some point, but I was having a sort of out-of-body experience setting up the very first shot. I'm not trying to draw attention to my own tragedy, but if you think of that, with yourself and your own relationship-

NK: I spoke to you directly after all the things that have happened in my life in the last few months, and you said, "It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."

BL: And that is the whole point of the film really, isn't it?

NK: Mm-hmm.

BL: Every one of us had some realization that no matter who, you are, no matter how many gifts you have, how lucky you are, there are things greater than yourself. And they change. Things will change, and there are some relationships that--

NK: For whatever reason will not be forever.

BL: And you take that with you, and what I hope you get out of this film, is that when you lose that naive, youthful idealism, you don't become gun-shy of romanticism or idealism. It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. It's an adult moment. Whereas when you're young, the Romeo and Juliet myth is that love will last forever, come what may, no matter what.

NK: Yeah. [pause] Wow.

BL: Our lives, and that film, have been so mythically linked!

NK: [whispers] I know! [pause] I've never had that. I've never had a film affect me so... And I've worked on pretty strange films [laughs]--Eyes Wide Shut [1999] and The Portrait of a Lady--but there was a purity attached to this. Everyone came into it with the belief--the young poets' belief.

BL: I think you're right. A dangerously naive commitment to risk. I remember Tom, when you showed him the first footage, he said, "My God, the ambition in this film."

NK: Yes. I remember.

BL: And what he was saying really clearly was, "The risk in this film." And you know, no one shied away from that.

NK: I never doubted it.

BL: I know what you mean. There are two themes that we pursued all our way through it. One is the Orpheus myth. The other one is "the show must go on."

NK: Mm-hmm.

BL: And that led me to another parallel--the film is about a circus family. And what I mean by that is that when you make a story or perform or convey a myth to the public, you are a whole bunch of desperate people who are really highly strung and weird and strange and all of those things--but all of them have gifts. All these people are brought together, usually in a physical place we don't live in ...

NK: Huh?

BL: Well, we all lived out of vans, right?

NK: Right.

BL: And we'd go into a shed--a tent--to film, right? Where basically there's a guy in charge, a ringmaster, and there's a high-wire act, you know--a story that's created that's kinda higher than life.

NK: Yes! Yes, Baz!

BL: I guess I'm bringing up that image because one of my memories of the circus theme was that you lived in a van. You'd go there and the kids would be there and there you are, getting your wire act ready.

NK: Yeah, my dad said one of the best images he had was when he came to visit on the set and I'm in the van, cooking dinner for the kids in four-inch stilettos, a corset, fishnet stockings, long red hair and a top hat. And the kids didn't seem to think there was anything strange about it. And I didn't seem to think that there was anything strange about it either.

BL: That's it! How like a circus is that?

NK: Totally. But everybody just takes these very bizarre circumstances as the norm.

BL: 'Cause' they are the norm.

NK: The norm for us.

BL: Describe your day shooting Moulin.

NK: I got up at five and did a little yoga, and then a 20-minute 'dance warm up. Then, at about six, I'd go into the makeup chair for an hour and a half, then the hair chair for another hour and a half. So you're looking at three hours before you've even got to the set. Then you go into the trailer and get harnessed into this corset, which takes 20 minutes. And then you gotta go act, do the work. I suppose to some people that doesn't sound all that difficult but the work that it takes to do a musical, I mean, it's phenomenal.

BL: It's why people don't do them.

NK: Thank you for telling me now. [laughs]

BL: But, here's my question--you know, I watched an episode of Oprah the other day, just bone up for this interview--

NK: I saw Bill Maher the other night and he said that Oprah has made the whole world revolve around making women nod.

BL: What do you think of that?

NK: Sexist comment, but interesting. Everything has to be moving, so women applaud then nod.

BL: Mm-hmm. Can I nod?

NK: Yeah. [laughs]

BL: Anyway, my Oprah question was this: What you haven't mentioned in your day's work, are all of your other careers. That's what I mean by the circus thing.

NK: Like what?

BL: The kids, your life, you know, dealing with all of that--it's just ingrained. It's invisible to you. You didn't bring it up because it's invisible. They're there in the trailer; they're there on the set. It's just life.

NK: Yeah. I would go back in after doing takes to make sure the homework was being done. [laughs] Then suddenly I'd be doing grade one reading for 20 minutes, and then back on the set. And for their math lesson, they'd be out betting with the crew. Playing poker [laughs]--now that's how to do mathematics!

BL: That's reality--your circus reality.

NK: I remember finishing the film being more exhausted than I've ever been in my life. We were working really long hours to get the film made in the amount of time and with the amount of money that we had to do it. I was pushing myself beyond what I'd probably be willing to ever do again because it was so much fun and because we believed in it.

BL: Well, isn't that like what we were talking about earlier, about risk? It's a ridiculously scary, risky thing to ask an actor to go out there. And when I said that the film and our lives are the same, that they were a high-wire act, I didn't mention that you actually do a high-wire act in the film.

NK: Yeah. That's right. I remember becoming just so at ease up there.

BL: That's what I meant You're so blase. You didn't mention the fact that you were actually up on a trapeze, that you had to be trained by circus people to get up there.

NK: Oh, but I love that stuff.

BL: And I'm going, "No, I'll have the double" and you're like, "I don't think so."

NK: But I'm not frightened of heights. Anyway, we won't go there. So then what are you going to go into now?

BL: We're looking at doing a number on Broadway at the end of the year.

NK: Yeah!

BL: And you?

NK: I'm looking at a few things. You know what I love, though? I love working with directors that have a particular style. That's what's interesting--when you really work with directors who are known for a point of view. Like at the moment I'm exploring something with Lars von Trier, who also has his particular--

BL: Cinematic language.

NK: Yeah, I find that very stimulating. The more controversial it is, the better.

BL: The really simple view is that, and this is no judgment, but essentially, there are storytelling filmmakers--Scorsese, Lars--that no matter what the subject matter, they have a language. You know it's their work. And then there are shooters, these people who are amazing craftspeople who go out and tell very good stories amazingly well. But you can't tell that they've made that film, it's just a well-made film, you know? I think it's a bit like authorship to a certain degree.

NK: Yeah, it's true. Toni Morrison is one of my favorite writers because she has such a distinct voice--nobody else could write like her.

BL: [into the tape recorder] See how cleverly she's reflected it back on the need to avoid asking hard-hitting questions? [laughs) But seriously, I think one must evolve one's language. Not only what you say, but how you say it, has to evolve specific to the time and place you're in in your life.

NK: That brings us back to the theme of the movie, which is to evolve.

BL: That's right. That is the point of the film. You and I know, the one thing about the Orpheus myth is that once you've been around the world, stayed at the groovy hotels, done all those things, then what do you do? Do you just go and do them all again? And where is the next level? Where do you go? What about you, Nicole? Where you are now, and where, really, is the next level for you?

NK: That's something that plagues me. I'm constantly saying to myself, "All right, so this is my life now, but where is it going to lead me that's going to make me a more fully realized person?" Because you can settle into complacency and that terrifies me.

BL: Yeah, and I think you can settle more easily in our environment than in others.

NK: Yes. When you've reached a certain level you go, "I don't need to push myself, don't need to challenge myself." Success, I think, is something so corrupting to us all.

BL: Is it that it brings power?

NK: It brings power, it brings complacency. I think as an actor, as a director, as a writer, as an artist, there is no formula. It's about saying "OK, I'm willing to take a risk and I don't care if I loose everything, because what is all this worth if I don't have my integrity and free spirit?" I suppose it comes back to being free-spirited.

BL: What do you mean by that, Nicole?

NK: Well, it means not being controlled, not being confined by expectations of others. Or even your expectations of yourself. And it's hard--it's very easy to say and it's much harder to do.

BL: So how do you do it?

NK: I'm trying to find out. I think by always challenging yourself and not slipping into what is expected. And when you read something, not judging it based on your past experiences but really trying to accept it for what it is, here and now.

BL: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

NK: You can't say, "OK, here's a scene. Well, that's easy for me. I know exactly how to play it. I've got references from my past work; I'd play it this way because I'd seen that movie." No, you have to take it for what it is and try to make it as real and as instinctual as possible at this moment and time. That's how you get exciting work.

BL: You just get thrown into the moment. And without that free spirit, without the freeing of your spirit in acting you're dead, you know?

NH: Dead because you're playing what you already know, and what's interesting is what you don't know, and it's not necessarily what you expect, what you planned or what you hoped for.

BL: Yeah. We should nod our heads now.

NK: We're both nodding. The Oprah nod. [both laugh]

Another Spring 03 - Nicole Kidman

An uncommonly large crowd is patiently gathered in front of New York’s Paris Cinema. It isn’t easy to draw such a large crowd in this city, especially on a brisk December evening just before Christmas. But actress Nicole Kidman, the star of The Hours, that night’s film premiere, has done just that. Stephen Daldry’s The Hours is about incidents in the life of Virginia Woolf, the author of Mrs Dalloway and about two latter-day women, played by Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep, who are profoundly influenced by that novel. Outside, those waiting are rewarded when Nicole comes out and stops to sign autographs and pose with fans for pictures, on her way to the premiere party.

Tomorrow we will meet to talk before her trip to Los Angeles for the Hollywood premiere of The Hours. Then she’s looking forward to a month’s holiday with family and closest friends, finishing with two weeks in Sydney, her heart’s home. When she enters the Ritz Carlton tearoom the next day, the usually discreet patrons stare. I don’t know if it’s because they recognise her or simply because of her natural beauty - golden pre-Raphaelite ringlets framing her fair skin and delicate features - and her graceful carriage at almost 6ft. But Nicole is oblivious to their attention.

She considers a glass of wine, but decides that 3.30pm is too early in the day and orders a pot of jasmine tea. 'I’m in need of caffeine,' the overworked star confides. I put my tape recorder directly in front of her. 'I’m putting it close to you,' I say 'because we don’t care a bit what I say.' Nicole giggles. 'You’re funny. Good.'

Charlotte Chandler: We both went to see The Hours premiere last night

Nicole Kidman: It’s fun to be in a film with eight women. That’s the thing about it that made me think 'this is special'. And actually standing there with Julianne and particularly Meryl - because I grew up with her as an icon - it was an epoch in my life to be standing there knowing we made this film. And New York’s a big city and a tough kind of audience. Usually it’s uncomfortable watching a film you’re in with a whole bunch of people you don’t know, but because I’m only in a third of it I was able to sit back and watch Meryl and Julianne be so good. Wow! (Laughs) I really try to keep the wow factor. Like staying in a hotel like this or just walking the streets. It’s why I go over and shake people’s hands at the premiere. Just sitting there constantly reminding yourself that this is an unreal world, that you’re living, breathing at the moment and you’ve got to appreciate it.

CC: It’s actually fantasy become real.

NK: Kind of yeah, but it doesn’t feel real. It’s real but not really, because there’s the rest of the time. I go home and take all that stuff off and become a mother and a daughter and all the things that I exist as in my day-to-day life. The day-to-day life is very, very different to the walking around in a Dior suit and diamonds, like last night. I still look at that as something separate. I don’t’ know if Elizabeth Taylor looks at her life and says, 'That’s separate, and this is what’s my real life,' but for me, I have to. Because when I go home, and I meet my family, my mum and dad, I’m just their child. Or you’re a sister, or you’re a lover, or you’re whatever you are, but you’re not that someone on the screen. But for me, being an actor, you take on the soul of somebody else. Almost. It’s a very, very strange existence. And for me, the way I work for that period of time, it does infiltrate, it does seep into my consciousness, whether I like it or not. It just does, and it affects my moods and who I am, it affects what I want out of life. It affects the way I make bacon in the morning. Everything is affected by the characters I’m playing.

CC: You’re actually not recognisable from part to part, which I think is what characterises an actress as opposed to a star who plays her own personality. You are an actress who is also a star, more like in the theatre.

NK: In the theatre you’re allowed to get away with it more. That’s why I’m so glad Stephen Daldry just said, 'F**k it. I want you to do this to your face, I want to change the way you are.' Baz (Luhrmann) was the same with Moulin Rouge. I am very fortunate to have encountered bold directors.

CC: And with this range, Moulin Rogue, The Hours, and the other films, you’re actually able to be anybody.

NK: (Laughing) Oh, I don’t know. You always think you can do it, you know. I’m about to start a film next year, and I’m thinking 'I can’t act. I hope I don’t disappoint'. As Meryl said, 'The more you do, the more’s expected.' So that’s what’s kind of daunting. And I hate expectations. I’m not good with them. I go against them. (Laughing) Wilful, as my mother would say.

CC: Wilful is not so bad.

NK: (Laughing) No, I’m trying to raise a wilful daughter. I am. I want her to have a voice. I want her to have opinions and to have self-respect.

CC: Do you make many suggestions with your parts, and do the directors you work with like it when you do?

NK: Usually the directors I’m working with do. And they’ll use some of them. But, I mean, it’s 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s an obsession. It’s a life. It becomes my life. And so, that’s what I give. I don’t’ know any other way to do it. I have passion for the work, and that can seep into you. It’s almost as if you’re drawn to it. My mother said when I was a little girl I had it in me. It’s not even about the goal of fame. It’s got nothing to do with that. That’s the downside. Loneliness. Lack of privacy. What it’s got to do with is a passion for expressing yourself creatively, and having the opportunity to do it. And there are times when it just flows out of you. You can’t stop it, and you don’t know why. It’s just there, and there are other times when you are just wrestling to come up with anything. At the moment, this period of my life, it’s like it just comes out. And it’s got far greater control over me than I have over it. It’s weird. I don’t know how to explain it, but it’s a passionate sort of obsession.

CC: The terrible thing is when you have that desire and even the talent, but can’t put it together with the opportunity. Is there one of the parts, or more than one, next year that you are finding more daunting than another?

NK: I’m frightened of Stepford Wives because it’s a comedy. But I know that Birth will be a very important experience in my life. I just know that. I sat with the director (Jonathan Glazer) and within four hours, I knew this was going to have a very big effect on me. And that’s what I enjoy, that it’s not just a job, not just an acting experience or a film experience, but a life experience.

CC: To take away something from each character.

NK: To take away something, to give something, to put something out into the world that maybe challenges people, you know. But I’ve always said that acting isn’t a choice. There’s no choice involved; it is just there, it’s a part of you. It must be like that for a painter. And I spent a decade of my life denying that, you know because I was giving my passion to the man I was with. And then, I have come out of it and thought, 'Well, where do I direct this.' And now I’m putting it into my work, and my children too. And I’m trying not to overwhelm them with it, you know, (laughs) because you’re trying to give children wings and not keep them for yourself.

CC: But a lot of it is in them, it’s all about encouragement.

NK: Yeah, encouragement. You want to just give them as much confidence and love as they can receive. Then, off they go, into the world, knowing that they have that secure base to always come back to, or to leave from (laughing) and they know that. I got that from my parents.

CC: Confidence is very important.

NK: Yeah, I mean, I’ve battled with confidence. I think all actors do, you know. I suppose, it’s a deep-seated sense of who I am and what I am, and what is my place in the world? I also love to be a participant in life rather than a voyeur.

CC: Tennessee Williams’ motto in life was, 'Make voyages'.

NK: (Her face lights up) That’s lovely. 'Make voyages'. And that’s what I like to do, want to do. It’s so much easier to run away from something unknown that it is to walk into it. So I try to walk into something rather than run away from it. (A harp starts playing behind us) They’re playing 'Memories' (laughing). I mean, I don’t want to sit in a hotel room all alone with the air conditioning on!

CC: No matter how nice it is it just gets to be like a hospital room after a while.

NK: A sterile environment.

CC: And the people parade in and out.

NK: Where do you live? Do you live around here?

CC: I live in the next block.

NK: I just bought an apartment down in the West Village. I’m very excited to live there.

CC: That is exciting. You’re going to be spending some time in New York, even when you’re not working?

NK: Yeah. New York suits me better than Los Angeles. It just feels right to me. I like to be able to walk out and get coffee, buy my newspaper. I like to feel I’m part of a community.

CC: Yes, it’s a perfect place for that. It’s a neighbourhood, but it’s New York City. New York is a lot of neighbourhoods with different personalities. I like areas like that, where you go to your regular places

NK: The interaction with people, and it’s a routine, and you know, you’re going to the same place you always go. I have that when I’m in Sydney, so I’d like to achieve that here. You can’t do that in Los Angeles. And also too much of my past life is related to that city, so it’s kind of like shedding an old skin and having to move forward into a new one.

CC: New York is a walking city, it’s different from a car city.

NK: Yeah, well my dad used to make us walk to school and not catch the bus. But that’s because he was a socialist and it was a private bus company (laughs) and he didn’t want us giving (laughing). Sorry. So he’d make us walk to school everyday, btu that’s given me a great love of walking. I go away on hikes in the country, I love it cause it’s time alone, and I love landscapes.

CC: Tell me a little bit about your drowning scene in The Hours, which you did yourself.

NK: Of course. It was very eerie to do.

CC: They don’t actually show much of you.

NK: But we shot a lot of drowning stuff in the tank, and then they cut it out. I don’t know why.

CC: After you had to go through all that

NK: Yeah. It’s always the way. You do that stuff and it’s cut out. It was very hard and I was so scared I was going to drown myself. I had visions of myself dying under the water, (laughing) and then them going, 'And she really did drown and we have it all on film.' Not the way I want to die. I don’t know if it’s true, but they say it’s one of the better ways to die. I would just like to die in my sleep. I don’t want to die with pain. How did we get on to death? So much of The Hours deals with death.

CC: It’s quite striking to show the end before the story really begins, to show how the life of Virginia Wolf ends. It assumes that more people know how the life of Virginia Woolf ends. It assumes that more people know how Virgnia Woolf died than may actually be the case.

NK: Do you think? Most people seem to know that she put stones in her pocket, though, and walked into a river, and that she was mad. When people talk about Virginia, that’s the way they tend to sum her up, which is slightly depressing, because there was so much more to her than that, but that sort of seems to be their memory of her. I fell in love with her, her character, her mind, just how she fits into the world, her struggle with madness and creativity, and relationships, and who she was, and what she wanted. I now look back at it and thin, 'I didn’t quite realise what I was taking on.' Thank God I didn’t. It’s better not to realise. Baz said that about directing Moulin Rouge. He didn’t realise what he was taking on, and if he and, he probably wouldn’t have done it. It’s good to be naïve. You want naivety.

CC: You’ve just finished Cold Mountain?

NK: Yes! I loved doing it. I didn’t realise how much I needed to do Cold Mountain. I needed to work with Anthony Minghella, and I needed to do that film.

CC: He’s a great director.

NK: Yeah, he is. He is a poet and a human being who graces the earth with elegance. (Laughing) So, yeah.

CC: What have you been doing here in New York with any free time you’ve had?

NK: I go to Virgin and buy CDs at midnight (laughs). It’s one of the things I like to do in Times Square. I just walk down, you know, with my friends, and we go buy CDs. And then I go listen to jazz, go to jazz clubs, which is a great thing to do in New York, you know at 11, midnight, always packed. I love it. I go to the galleries, I go to dinner. And I tend to do a lot of lying around on my bed (laughs). I daydream a lot, and people ask 'what are you doing?' And I go 'um - lying around'. I don’t know, can you do that?

CC: Everyone needs lying-around time.

NK: I love it. I can lie around for hours on end, doing literally nothing but thinking. And I realise that people don’t do that a lot, cause every time they encounter me doing it, it’s like 'What are you doing? Aren’t you doing anything?' I’ve always been able to do it. And I think that’s what can be frustrating about me too, because I can just exist in my head quite easily and not have to talk. I can go a long time without talking.

CC: Is there anything you can reveal about what you’re daydreaming?

NK: So many things. So much, you know. It passes through so many fantasies. I see my daughter with it too now, a strong fantasy world. As a kid, I used to want to exist in my fantasy world rather than my own body. I was so tall and my hair was too curly. So I would come up with ways to exist in a different form, because I hated being me. Then, I’d write stories all the time.

CC: Are you still writing?

NK: It’s my therapy. I’ll burn it before I die though. I might write a screenplay or a novel one day, but I really don’t want this sort of stuff to be seen. It’s every thought, every feeling I’ve ever thought about. Anyway, it must be burned. It’s not going to exist in the world past me, past my life span.

CC: It’s difficult to imagine that you hated being you.

NK: I just hated the way I looked, I hated the way I sounded. I was always so shy that I couldn’t say what I felt or do what I wanted to do. So then you go, 'Well if only, if only, if only.'

CC: Now 'if only' became true for you.

NK: It finally came true. It’s why I started going to the theatre, to this little local drama school on the weekend, because then I could become the princess in Sweet Bird of Truth or I could became Blanche Dubois in Streetcar, or I could become Amanda in Glass Menagerie. Tennessee Williams played a big part in my childhood! (Laughs).

CC: He liked tall women too.

NK: (Enthusiastically) Did he?

CC: I’m pretty tall.

NK: Right.

CC: And he encouraged me to wear heels.

NK: Did he?

CC: Even though he wasn’t very tall, he liked to be seen with a tall woman.

NK: Oh wow! I knew I had a kind of kindred spirit there with him.

CC: Do you want to say something about Tom Cruise and the whole experience for Another Magazine.

NK: Well, you know, tell Another Magazine that we spent 11 years together, and eh was the biggest most defining factor in my life, besides my mother. I fell in love, and I just wanted to devote myself to him. Coming from a feminist background and influence (laughs), it was sort of an odd thing, but I went that way.

CC: More feminine than feminist.

NK: Yeah, right. Interesting, though, coming from a feminist mother, and then I went and acted in that particular way. Life is so unpredictable, isn’t it. You just don’t want to have your spirit broken, though. I think that comes from my mother. She really sort of created my spirit. She would always say, 'Don’t ever let anybody break it.' So I think somewhere deep down my free spirit is coming to the surface. I think that’s what it is. It’s wilful free spirit that won’t be tamed. (Laughs) It’s funny. Sometimes I wish it was, but I think it’s slightly untameable.

CC: It’s nice if the free spirit can survive and the other part can stil work too, but it’s difficult.

NK: Well, I was willing to give that up so I could have a - I don’t know. TO live to please someone else. Whatever. But I hate talking about that. What I know is a part of me says, 'I just want to be me.' It’s all different now. I just move into the next part of my life and be me.

CC: Are fame and success different from what you thought they would be?

NK: Yeah. They’re overwhelming. They’re incredibly beautiful in terms of success when you suddenly get people wanting you to be in their movies, giving you the opportunity, where they’ve spent four years doing a script, and they’re giving you their sacred character that they love. They pass it to you. I do find that touching.

CC: What kind of parts would you like to play that you haven’t been offered yet?

NK: I would like to play a boy. Haven’t played a boy yet. I have an androgynous body. I had a father who wanted boys, but he got girls. When I told Anthony Minghella that, he said, 'Such a girl!' I didn’t know if that was a compliment or an insult.

CC: I’m sure if he said it, he meant it as a compliment. If he hadn’t he would only have thought it.

NK: Right, except some people do say quite scathing, cutting things to you, and you go, 'Oh my God! I can’t believe somebody actually said that.'

CC: We all run into mean people sometimes.

NK: Isn’t that funny - I use that word, mean, too. It’s just sort of a childish word, but it really is right. Yes, I’ve run into mean people. And it always baffles me still. Because why not be kind? You have a choice. Why be mean? I don’t understand it. Why?

CC: I think they’re probably angry because you’re you and they’re them.

NK: They’re so angry! But you’ve got to move on from anger. Anger, it can just kill you, absolutely kill you. I always get into this thing where someone’s very, very angry, and you want to heal them or help them or you want to protect them. I have to learn not to do that. But I can’t bear what I call the viciousness of anger. Viciousness frightens me. I can understand being jealous. I understand envy. I understand vocalising that. What I don’t understand is viciousness, and that really makes me recoil. But even that I try to understand it, where it’s coming from and why, and I try to make excuses for it. My mother always says to me 'Nicole, you’ve got to get tougher,' and 'You’ve got to get angrier!' And I say, 'No, I won’t. Actually, I’d like to live my life and get hurt repeatedly rather than run away and avoid it.' I love the line Virginia Woolf has in The Hours. 'You do not find peace by avoiding life.'

CC: I think the important thing is not to let them change you. That would be the terrible part, if you let it change you. Have you found the way to face rejection? An actress has to face a great deal of rejection, especially in the first part of her career.

NK: I still have to face rejection. It’s not only getting a part, you face rejection critically, where people say it doesn’t work or it’s not good. There are certain reviewers who I thin are really smart who I read, absolutely, because the review is an art form in its own way When they’re silly or vindictive or the reviewer’s showing off, then I don’t have time for that. But if it’s actually a really heartfelt, well-understood dissection of the movie, then I’m all for that. Because I’m all for people liking and disliking movies; I mean, that’s what creates controversy, it’s what creates our world, in terms of everyone begin able to have an opinion and voice it, and I like that. That’s the way it is meant to be. We’re meant to promote discussion. We don’t do enough of it anymore, sit around the dinner table to discuss things, debate and talk things out.

CC: How do you choose one film over another?

NK: A lot of the time they choose me, it’s not me choosing them. They come to me Moulin Rouge and The Others both were like that. Birth, the film I’m about to start, I sat at a table with Jonathan, and it just appeared. You know, this is what you should do - I think you have to be very open to the opportunities, to the chances, to the coincidences, and just allow them to happen.

CC: You must be offered more opportunities than you can possibly accept?

NK: You end up having to make choices when you get to a certain stage, and you’re passing up very, very good things and extraordinary opportunities, but that’s okay. You have to go, 'Well, it wasn’t right for me; it’s right for somebody else.' I’m inclined towards kind of eclectic tastes. I see them as very, very mainstream tastes, but everyone else doesn’t. (Laughs) But to me, it seems incredibly obvious why I choose what I choose, and I can’t understand why everyone else doesn’t see that. I suppose I just have a different way of looking at things. What I believe in a lot is intuition, intuition in everything. Our intuition is our real person getting out and being free.

Interview October 03 - Nicole Kidman

DAVID FURNISH: Nicole, the theme of this issue is daringness, so let's just dive in. You and Ed Harris have been chosen for the cover story here, not just because of how you each go about your respective work, but also because of how you live your lives. The obvious connection is that you both gave us daring performances in last year's most memorable film, The Hours, and now you're both about to appear in yet another risky venture Robert Benton's film of one of Philip Roth's most brilliant books, The Human Stain. In the movie you go way against type, to put it mildly. How do you decide whether or not to take on such a role?

NICOLE KIDMAN: Oh, gosh. I suppose I don't think of my performances as daring. The way I go about choosing a role is just whether it's something that interests me. The risk factor doesn't come into play,

DF: Do you think you're an adrenaline junkie?

NK: I do like to do things like skydiving and scuba diving. These are just things that I'm drawn to. It has to do with experiences. I have a fascination with experiences, and I have a desire to really feel and really live. I like to participate more than to be a voyeur--that seems to be the way in which I exist in life. It's not even a conscious decision; it's just something that exists within me. But I certainly don't pat myself on the beck for it--in some ways I beat myself up for it.

DF: You're critical of what you do?

NK: Yes. And at the same time I'm drawn to things that are difficult. But I rarely see the films I make because it's so painful to watch them.

DF: You don't sit and screen the finished product?

NK: Rarely. They had to drag me in to see The Hours, and with The Others they had to follow me around the world with the print [of the film] because I'd show up and then wouldn't go see if. I certainly don't mean to be disrespectful or to diminish the work I've been in--I'm incredibly grateful, both for the parts and for not having keeled over.

DF: Well, it's quite staggering, the amount you've had on your plate lately.

NK: But it doesn't really feel like work. There isn't that delineation between life and work: It all melts together. And the joy t get from it means that I would do it even if I didn't get paid. I see acting more as a life's journey.

DF: Is acting a means for you to explore emotional paths?

NK: Yes, and ideas. And hopefully to put some moments of truth--even if they're fleeting--in the world that will exist a bit longer than the here and now. That's what fascinates and enthralls me about acting. It's why I put my physical self under a lot of duress. It's something rye had to grapple with because I tend not to take care of myself physically at all when I'm making a movie. I throw myself around a lot and hurt and injure myself. You live with a lot of complicated emotions as an actor, and they whirl around you and create havoc at times. And yet, as an actor you're consciously and unconsciously allowing that to happen. So part of you says, "Well, this is what my life is, and it may be a shorter life," and it's why I so adored Virginia [Woolf, who Kidman played in The Hours]. She was able to express this feeling so succinctly: It's my choice, and I would rather do it this way than live to be 100.

DF: Rather than play it safe.

NK:--Or rather than choosing to not exist within life's extremities. I'm willing to fly close to the flame.

DF: So it all sounds like a process of total immersion, where living and acting become one in a sense.

NK: Absolutely. But I've denied that part of myself at times, and I'm never good when I do.

DF: When you're working that intensely, how do you bring the character home at night?

NK: You just exist with it. The hard part is finding someone who's also willing to exist with it. You need someone who has the same dedication to what they're doing. Either that, or you say, "My God, this person now brings me more joy than the other does." I'm kind of open to whichever or whoever happens them. But that hasn't evolved for me yet.

DF: YOU recently said that you would give everything up to be in a really wonderful relationship.

NK: Maybe I'll be surprised and learn that both can exist simultaneously, but so far it's been all or nothing. Personally, I don't know how people balance both things. I find that fascinating.

DF: Well, I live with someone who doesn't know the concept of balance at all, and that's why he's so good at what lie does.

NK: So that means you're incredibly understanding and generous.

DF: Well, you have to be. But that's the person I fell in love with.

NK: I suppose my capacity for love is that extreme, too, where I actually go, "I want to be in love with someone in a way that they do outweigh everything else." That's what I want. I find that romantic and beautiful and compelling, and when it happens it becomes the all-encompassing part of my life. Which is what I had, and which is what I don't have now. So that feeling has flip-flopped into films and characters, and these different people I play become the loves of my life.

DF: Though from what I understand, you're also a fiercely dedicated mother.

NK: Well, the love of a child is a different love. They exist in your life almost as part of you, and in a way my work is my gift to them. With each film, I make sure they can see the character being created. That's when I say to them, "Yes, you're incredibly unlucky to have an actress as a mother, [both laugh] but at the same time I hope that when you're older you can look back and know that those performances were for you." So much of my work is generated by my love of them, and so much of the depth of emotion is generated because of what they've given me. And they know that. Their memories are sets, you know--they have Satine [her character in Moulin Rouge, 2001] imprinted on their memory. They have Virginia.

DF: Do you bring your children to the set while you're working so they'll understand what you do?

NK: Yes. And we sit together and read stuff, so they're totally aware of how the characters are created. I think it helps their imaginations, and it gives them access to a world that they maybe wouldn't have had access to otherwise. For instance, when I learned Russian for The Birthday Girl [2001] my daughter would speak Russian with me. It's so important for their lives to be a part of what I'm doing and vice versa so that it's all shared. The relationship is far more upfront than a typical motherchild relationship, and that means that there are mistakes that are made and they see a lot more than maybe a typical child would.

DF: Your own mother is obviously a pivotal figure in your life.

NK: She's a very smart woman, and due to circumstances and the generation she came from, she just never had the opportunities, and so she had two girls that she really wanted to give a lot to. We're totally indebted to her. She gave us a very strong sense of family, as did my father. I'm very lucky in that I have two parents that I have a deep, deep respect for and am still in a very, very close relationship with.

DF: In your Academy Award acceptance speech you talked about wanting to make your mother proud.

NK: I sort of blurted that out, and then I felt incredibly embarrassed.

DF: Why?

NK: Just because of exposing that, I suppose. I can expose myself as a character, but as soon as I expose myself as me I want to go "Oh, [gasps] save that."

DF: Because there's nothing to hide behind?

NK: Because of privacy. I just think people know too much now. There's so much revealed today that there's very little mystery left. And I love mystery. I've always been drawn to it, and I find that not knowing everything is the thing that's most compelling and fascinating for me in someone else.

DF: True. Allure is a very underrated quality these days, isn't it?

NK: So is quietness and being able to say, "I'm not going to discuss it."

DF: It seems that in the media-driven society we live in, no detail is deemed too small. For instance, these days it doesn't seem like you can go out to lunch with a man without suddenly being romantically linked with him.

NK: Well, that's a big joke. But at the same time, part of my willful nature says, "I'm going to do it." So now I purposely go out to lunch and don't run and hide. I have female friends and I have male friends. And no, it does not mean I'm sleeping with them.

DF: But people are so quick in the media to jump to conclusions.

NK: I just started to say, "Well, I'm actually just going to live my life. I'm not going to wind up a hermit, and I'm not going to wind up looking back saying 'if only ...'" But I do sometimes find the nastiness and the viciousness a little overwhelming. I look at it and go, "Oh, does it really have to be that vindictive?" We can exist with each other with a little more compassion and understanding and forgiveness of each other's flaws, which is what I try to teach my kids.

DF: Everyone is entitled to go through life without being under constant scrutiny,

NK: True, though I think it's important that we don't all have to sort of hold our heads high all the time saying everything's fine. During my divorce I was like, "I'm really not in a good place, and I'm not able to pretend. And that's okay, I hope." I don't know any other way to do it. But at the same time, am I going to reveal every detail to the world? No.

DF: You've got to find a balance.

NK: And your family has to find a balance, and you have to protect your family. Even as a child I always felt very protective towards the people that I love, almost to the point where I'd sacrifice myself to protect them.

DF: Let me ask you another question: A diversity of roles and life experiences is a hard thing for an actress to pull off because the film business loves to put people in boxes. Yet somehow you've managed to thrive outside those boxes.

NK: For the moment! But I think my career will probably be quite short-lived because of that.

DF: Really? I would hope it would be the opposite. But I guess you're referring to how much Hollywood loves to typecast its talent.

NK: Yes. I go off and do a Lars yon Trier movie [Dogville], followed by a big commercial film, then a movie about a woman who falls in love with e 10-year-old boy [Birth, due out in 2004]. I don't necessarily think that way of working allows you a long career, which doesn't bother me because there are many other things I want to do.

DF: What drew you to want to play Faunia [Kidman's role in The Human Stain]--she's such a damaged, tortured soul.

NK: The damage did. I suppose I'm always drawn to that. At the same time, I see her as incredibly proud and smart. A lot of times the stigma attached to an abused, uneducated woman can be that she's stupid. One of the things that I really wanted to show was that sometimes a woman like that can be the smartest person around. I think Faunia is the smartest character in the film--she sees beyond so much, and she knows what she is.

DF: She almost seems to have an inner sense of happiness.

NK: Not happiness. I think it's more a sense of "I'm not happy, and that's okay--I have very deep, dark secrets, and I carry around an enormous amount of pain, and with that comes acceptance." She basically says as much to Anthony Hopkins's character, Coleman, and tells him that because of that "You don't want to be a part of my world." And he still says, "No, I do." That's a beautiful love.

DF: Of course, he's had such a fall from grace himself and has been harboring so many deep secrets and choices that are obviously life-changing and hugely painful and that come back to really snap at him. But they're real kindred spirits, The way that society was just constantly passing judgment on them from the outside and shying its finger at them drove me crazy.

NK: This is why you always say, "You never know what goes on behind closed doors." You can't ever judge the reason two people are together.

DF: Have you seen the film yet? Are they chasing you around with it? [both laugh

NK: I was supposed to see it last weekend, and I didn't. I haven't seen Cold Mountain [due out or Christmas day] yet either, which I was meant to see.

DF: Which I also hear is fantastic.

NK: I hope it's good. We were in Romania for so long making it.

DF: What drew you to Ada, who you play in Cold Mountain?

NK: In a way, it's almost too personal to delineate There's so much of me in Ada. The fact that she'll wait four years for someone to come back to her, the way her faith and all those things keep her hanging; on. The character was just in me. I opened myself to her, and I went, "Oh, this is close to home." DF: Would you say that role is the closest so far to reflecting who you are?

NK: Probably, yeah.

DF: That's a scary thing too, isn't it?

NK: A little bit. [Kidman laughs] There's another one that's coming out, Birth, the Jonathan Glazer film that's even one step closer. I don't know what the film will be like ultimately, but I know Jonathan and I have high hopes for it. I came out of filming it four months ago and felt like I had completely give over a part of my psyche, a huge part of who I am I'd given it to a director and a film, and that is a very frightening prospect because when it's then given to the world you go [gasps], and if that's criticized then it's like knives going straight into your soul.

DF: Many of the roles you have chosen lately seem to mirror the journey you're traveling in your own life, in one way or another.

NK: These roles did, yes--the one I'm playing now [in The Stepford Wives], not at all. It's like I have to come in and put her on. Today I was out there shooting a scene in which I'm giving this speech to 1,000 people, and I just have to click into her. It some ways it's actually more difficult. It means that some days you're almost flailing around for about 20 takes, and everyone's going "Oh, my God, she's dreadful." [Furnish laughs] And then something happens and it clicks. Who knows--I may be dreadful in the whole thing.

DF: I have faith. [both laugh] Speaking very personally, I can tell you that five years ago I had a public image of you, but I never got a sense of knowing the heart that beat inside your body and soul. Through the work you've been doing recently, I really feel like I know you--there's more of you out there than there ever was before.

NK: Well, I think that's because before, it was all given to a man--it wasn't for anybody else, really. So now it's like, this is what I can give [to the world]; I don't feel like I'm betraying anyone. You open up a bit more and say, "My rawness can now be viewed in a much more open way. I can allow it to seep into my work."

DF: Audiences. as well as a lot of really talented filmmakers, are latching on to that. I'm sure your colleagues are grateful for the opportunity to work with an actress who's willing to reach that level of emotion.

NK: I truly love to give like that. I don't know any other way to do it. It's like, "Here I am; use it, abuse it, take it for what it is. But at the same time, please don't destroy me." When you're giving a director so much of who you are, they have the capacity to do that. It's like when you're in a relationship and you say, "Don't use everything that I've given you against me."

DF: That takes trust.

NK: Huge. But I would never want anything other than that because once you get into mistrust, then you have no ground to stand on. I wouldn't know how to work, I wouldn't know how to give: I'd be second-guessing everything, and you can't exist like that. Or I can't.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Interview April 99 - Liv Tyler

So nice girls finish last, do they? Why, then, does Liv Tyler seem to be way ahead of the pack? Drew Barrymore gets to the core of her friend's mystique with this intimate talk.

Liv Tyler - lovely, soulful, limpid Liv - is an anomaly on the current American film scene. The calling cards for actresses in her peer group are bitchy aplomb (Posey, Ricci, McGowan), Girl Scout sexiness (Hewitt, Gellar, Holmes), feisty, furrow-browed cuteness (Silverstone, Witherspoon, Zellweger), gorgeous vacancy (Campbell, Richards), and that less-valued commodity, penetrating intelligence (Danes, Polley). But those are earth tones, and Tyler is of the sky. No matter that she can play ordinary folks - her touching waitress, for example, In Heavy (1996) - she seems borne away from workaday sweat and grind by dreamy self-absorption. And that's exactly why she retains her mystery. Like some European actresses of the '60s - Jane Birkin, say, or the young Deneuve - she seems lost in deep spiritual questions, even if they sometimes take carnal forms. And where others stride, Tyler seems to float into movies, even when she's carrying them, as she did Stealing Beauty (1996), and then float out of them. What's carrying her? you wonder. Invisible fairy wings? Or her own airspace?

Tyler is an ineffably nice, feeling young woman, offscreen as well as on. If you didn't know that you might surmise it from watching her in films like her latest, this month's Cookie's Fortune, directed by Robert Altman, in which she is a runaway returning to her smalltown home, where she comforts a jailed family friend (played by Charles S. Dutton) and makes enthusiastic vertical love with her rookie cop boyfriend (Chris O'Donnell). It could shock us one day if she chose to play a vixen, a hormonal tempest, or any kind of neurotic - and she will need to if she is to extend her range. She's just twenty-one, so there is time for her to upset us in that way. But she disconcerts us already, for this era - and the habitual cinematic shtick that accompanies it - is characterized by cynicism, manipulativeness, and venality, whereas Tyler serves up the opposites. What an odd one she is. And what a gentle wonder.


LIV TYLER: Hi, baby! How are you?

DB: Good!

LT: How weird is this?

DB: It'll be fine, Livvie.

INTERVIEW: Today's a historic day, because the president has just been acquitted.

LT: [sings] "Don't mess with Bill."

I: And it's also historic because we've got you both on the line; but now we'll get off and just leave you to it.

LT: How funny is Bill?

DB: He's just holding it in his hand, happy as a clam. [LT laughs] I always wondered what would happen with this thing.

LT: It's gone on and on forever. And the questions they were asking, like what his daily exercise routine is - what's the point?

DB: Maybe it's just male thrusting. Everything Is about male thrusting, whether it's exercising or the Oval Office.

LT: You know, I was just putting Etta James into my jukebox - I just got a brilliant jukebox - and I remembered the first time we met. It was in a bathroom, because we started singing [sings], "I want a Sunday - "

DB: [sings] " - kind of love."

LT: You were the only other person I knew who knew that song.

DB: Where was that?

LT: At the premiere for Everyone Says I Love You [1996], a million years ago. I don't think we'd ever met before.

DB: We met during shooting. Remember?

LT: Oh, that's right. Sorry.

DB: That's OK. Maybe we even met before that. I bet our paths probably crossed when we were kids.

LT: I was definitely watching you in the movies.

DB: I've been watching you, too, ever since you were on my radar. I've been like [makes radar sound], radar's out for Liv. I was thinking about how similar our upbringings were, even though I was in L.A. and you grew up on the East Coast.

LT: It's funny - because of my dad [Aerosmith's Steven Tyler] everybody thinks I grew up in this crazy rock 'n' roll world. But I didn't even meet him for the first time until I was eight - and I didn't know then that he was my dad. I met him at one of Todd's concerts. [Todd Rundgren raised Liv as his daughter.] Actually, the biggest rock influence on me was my mother [Bebe Buell], who was in a really great band. But I grew up in Portland, Maine, and I didn't come to New York until I was ten or eleven. I really had a pretty normal childhood. But even if I tell people that, they don't want to believe it.

DB: People have their own ideas of how things are. They want to live vicariously through you, or envy you, or glamorize your life. But it is interesting what your more was like - that's one similarity we have. When I was growing up, my morn [Ildiko Jaid Barrymore] managed the Troubadour, and she got to know every cool rock 'n' roller. She was out partying with Jim Morrison, you know, in his leather pants. She was so cool. And then she worked at The Comedy Store with Steve Martin.

LT: God! My favorite movie ever, in the whole world, is Three Amigos! [1986]. I'm always reciting things from it.

DB: I love Steve Martin. He wrote this incredible play called Picasso at the Lapin Agile. It is so profound the way he combined history with where we're at today. I think that's what we're all trying to do: respect our history and know where we came from, and amalgamate that into today's time.

LT: Sometimes it'll dawn on me who my family is, the lives my mother and father have led, and it just hits me so hard. I'd love to trace my roots, especially on my Italian side. My father's family name is Tallarico. I'm sure there are millions of Tallaricos out there somewhere. I love Italy. I haven't gone back since I made Stealing Beauty. It would be so emotional to go back because that film is so special to me.

DB: Tell me why.

LT: It was such a growing experience. Working with Bernardo [Bertolucci] and living in Siena - it was amazing. I had this beautiful hotel room and I was good friends with everybody there. We'd laugh and run around and roam the streets after dinner. It was summertime and it was so delicious.

DB: Was your character in Stealing Beauty the role you've played that's most like yourself?

LT: That's so hard to answer. I think the point of getting into a character is to separate yourself from yourself as much as you can. It's sort of like an out-of-body experience.

DB: I completely agree. The whole thing is kind of a Journey, and that actually brings me to my next question: What is your favorite Journey? It could be spiritual, it could be travel, it could be a journey you need to go on.

LT: It would be hard to find one particular thing that stands out. I mean, I find every day an unbelievable journey. [laughs] I'm such a weird person because I find myself in moments with this huge grin that won't go away, and I'm like, "I am so happy!" Isn't that a nice feeling?

DB: It's the best feeling in the world. And when you have those moments it takes a lot of work not to be afraid that they'll disappear, that they'll evaporate with the acknowledgment.

LT: When I was a kid, I used to try to capture all those moments by taking millions of pictures, or writing it all down - and almost missing the moment because of that. It's hard to learn to just let things happen.

DB: I want to ask you about love: What is the one thing about being in love that you desire the most?

LT: I suppose it's the feeling of having a complete, unbelievable kinship of the soul. That is the most incredible sensation in the world. I don't even know how to describe it.

DB: Someone asked me the most amazing question the other day, and it freaked me out. I still don't know if I can answer it. This person said, "You could have one solid relationship for the rest of your life - stable, reliable, calm, but not passionate. Or you could have a bunch of relationships for the rest of your life, and most of them would end in heartbreak, but you'd have had incredible adventures, and you'd. . ."

LT: You'd have lived.

DB: Right. And which would you choose? What's so scary is that young women tend to be out there looking for that knight in shining armor who's also a reliable, stable force.

LT: That's an extension of family somehow. It's the feeling that everything will always be OK. And you'll always be loved. I think everybody tries to recreate that in their lives.

DB: And even if it wasn't there in the first place, that ideal of stability is what people really want.

LT: I think the most important thing is to love somebody for who they are, and not to confuse them with what you want them to be.

DB: But that doesn't mean you're settling, right?

LT: No. But if it's not good enough, you gotta get out!

DB: Absolutely. OK, let's talk about your new movie, Cookie's Fortune. How was that experience?

LT: Well, first of all, I had such a big year. I did this film Plunkett and Macleane with Jonny Lee Miller and Robert Carlyle. It's about highwaymen in London in 1750, with a modern twist. It's very graphic and real. While doing that, I also did Armageddon. Then I did Eugene Onegin with Ralph Fiennes, which was such an intense experience - literary, passionate, Russian. Then, five days later I was in Mississippi, with no hair anymore, for Cookie's Fortune.

DB: Is that what you cut your hair for?

LT: Yeah. We just lived and worked in this tiny town and the people were so kind to us. We rented these houses and we had porch swings and fireflies. Every time a new actor would come, Bob [Altman] and his wife Kathryn would cook a big dinner and we'd all get together and Lyle Lovett would play music. And Bob just has a way about him - you feel really free with him and free to let moments happen. I would always come up to him at the end of a take and say, "So, is there anything you wanna tell me?" He'd say, "Shut up and don't think so much." [laughs] It was a really beautiful time. It went by way too fast. There was no money, and we only shot for about a month and a half, so that was kind of a bummer. But I've made so many great friends from it - Julianne [Moore] and Glenn [Close], who are just amazing. And I got to meet Patricia Neal, who's extraordinary.

DB: Now, Liv, I have a bunch of fun questions for you, like: What were your favorite television shows growing up?

LT: The Dukes of Hazzard, He-man, and The Brady Bunch. I remember when I was in first grade I was living with my grandparents in Virginia at the time and they cut my television privileges back to like half an hour. And I remember crying, because that meant I couldn't watch He-man and The Dukes of Hazzard. It was the biggest crisis.

DB: It's so amazing that there's a time in your life when the big issues are getting to watch television shows, and then you get older and the problems are so big.

LT: What were your favorite shows?

DB: The Incredible Hulk. I was scared of him, but I was also turned on by him. And I liked Superman.

LT: I bet we watch similar shows now. Dave, right? That's probably the only show I actually watch.

DB: David Letterman is my boyfriend In my fantasies.

LT: One time I called him because I wanted to say hi, and he wanted me to come up to his office. And it was really far away and I was running late for dinner with someone, so I said, "Can't we just talk on the phone?" And he said, "No, you have to come up, and I'll buy you your dinner." And I went over there, and then we went to Nobu, and he paid for it! Bought us this amazing feast. So I wrote Dave a thank-you note.

DB: I bet he loved that.

LT: "Dearest David. . ."

DB: "Dearest David, let me start by saying, 'I love you.'" [both laugh] What a gentlemanly thing to do. I love it when men surprise you. I love when a man conjures up a whole scheme, and then reveals it later on. That's what I think I desire most in a man - the capacity to surprise.

LT: That's a good one. And I love presents. I love giving presents - and getting them.

DB: Yeah, me too. I just want to be thought of. OK, next question: Do you wear a watch?

LT: I'm weird with jewelry, I don't wear it that much. But I have two watches I really love. I have one watch that my dad got me in Japan. When you press a little button, blue glow-in-the-dark stars fly all over the room.

DB: No way!

LT: And then I have a Pulsar from 1972. The screen's totally blank, but when the heat of your finger touches it, the little numbers come up.

DB: You've got like cool Charlie's Angels gadgets.

LT: I like to know what time it is all the time. It's a nervous habit, like picking at your cuticles.

DB: I tend to clock everything and it gives me an anxiety attack. So I don't wear a watch because I like to be freer than that. I like to not be under the spell of time.

LT: I'm definitely straggling with that now, especially being away for so long and then coming home. I get mini heart palpitations trying to figure out how to balance all the personal things with all the work things. There's not enough time in a day.

DB: No, there's not. OK, what's your favorite street in the country?

LT: I would say Lafayette Street, in Portland, Maine, which is this beautiful road that goes past my aunt's house. I suppose I'd choose it just for comfort reasons. It's so funny to go back to my old home there, because I drive by and I look in the window, and I can see myself sitting there looking out the window. It's so funny that somebody else is living there now.

DB: Did you ever go and knock on the door?

LT: I haven't. I probably should. I'd love to go in and just smell it. I bet it smells the same.

DB: You know what? A few days ago I went and knocked on the door of the house I grew up in. The woman who lives there doesn't speak English. The only words she said were "Come back later." And I said, "i will." I'm going to find an interpreter so I can get into that house. I brought my dog, Flossie, too, because I wanted her to see it. Flossie is like my little daughter. I can't wait to have kids.

LT: Me, too. I really look forward to them. But I'm definitely not ready now. I always knew I wanted to have a big family, with four kids. And I have this vision of a house in the middle of nowhere, just kids and animals.

DB: That's a perfect dream. I hope you get to fulfill it. So nice to talk to you, Livvie!

LT: All right, baby. I love you!

DB: I love you, too.

W July 05 - Domestic Bliss

Sometime last year, Brad Pitt began giving a lot of thought to unhappy marriages.

The actor was in Los Angeles filming Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Doug Liman's thriller about a glamorous husband and wife who are secretly hired to assassinate each other. While the movie uses domestic ennui as a backdrop for a series of high-style action sequences, Pitt wanted to tell a darker, truer tale, one that explored the "unidentifiable malaise" that so often haunts a seemingly happy couple. "You don't know what's wrong," he says, "because the marriage is everything you signed up for."

That was the inspiration for this photo shoot, which Pitt created with photographer Steven Klein. Tired of celebrity portraiture and always up for an artistic "jam sesh," as he calls it, Pitt (who'd teamed with Klein and W in 1998 for an equally risqué layout, inspired by the film Fight Club) essentially codirected the photo series, while starring in it alongside his Mr. and Mrs. Smith costar and purported new love, Angelina Jolie. He opted to set it in 1963 (the year he was born), a time when the last traces of the squeaky-clean Fifties were giving way to something more complicated. "The facade was still being maintained," he says, "but things were starting to crumble underneath."

As you might have heard, Pitt's own marriage broke up recently: Jennifer Aniston filed for divorce in late March, as our photo shoot was under way in Palm Springs. Pitt, calling in early May from the Moroccan set of his next film, Babel, is inclined to emphasize the positive aspects of that particular union. "I know that if a marriage doesn't fit a certain idea, it's looked upon as a failure," he says. "But I see mine as a total success. My God, man. Jen is such an influence on my life. We made it for seven years—that's five years more than I made it with anyone else." Even at a time when the tabloids are depicting a contented Pitt and Jolie strolling on an African beach while Aniston supposedly scowls her way around Malibu, Pitt says he and Aniston are still close and will likely remain that way. "We've been able to keep the love that we have for each other in front [of everything else]."

A self-described "Zen master" at tuning out the intrusions of the tabloid press, Pitt allows his meditative calm to collapse when he talks about the paparazzi's recent conduct, particularly their treatment of Aniston. "These guys have been incredibly despicable this round," he says. "They should literally be hung up and flogged. You wouldn't believe the s--- they've been saying to Jen. She doesn't have a nasty bone in her body, and they are yelling horrible things to get a rise out of her so they can get more money for their pictures." Even as he speaks, he and his Babel costar, Cate Blanchett, and her two children are being stalked by two photographers who've snuck onto the grounds of their hotel in Ouarzazate. "They're scaring the kids," Pitt says. "Some of these guys need a beating."

As for Jolie, Pitt calls her an "incredibly talented" actress, but beyond that he's determinedly mum, clearly because he's picturing his every word as a three-inch headline on the cover of the Enquirer. "Well, I just don't want to … I really don't … let me see. I'm really wary, in this particular climate, of commenting." After a long pause he says, finally, "I just can't find any safe bets."

Jolie, calling a few days later from her home in London, gives it a go. "The thing that makes Brad a great actor is that he's a very genuine person," she says. "Anybody who's met him would know that. You can read him, and you can feel that there's something open and approachable and interesting. And he's just very real. Whether cameras are rolling or not, he doesn't change." She adds, "He's very solid. I think you know you can count on him."

The benumbed, salon-perfect housewife in these photographs, who seems far more interested in her nails then in her children, reminds Jolie of what can happen when you become "absent from your life," as she puts it. Jolie herself doesn't appear to have that problem; at 30 she's raising her three-year-old son, Maddox, flying her own plane and holding human rights press conferences in Islamabad. But she knows a few things about marital dysfunction, having been divorced twice (from Jonny Lee Miller and Billy Bob Thornton), and she states flat out that she's not very good at being a wife.

"I haven't learned how to work as well in partnerships as I do as an individual," she says. "I'm better alone." The key, she believes, is finding someone with goals as ambitious as hers. "Basically, I think there should be a reason for you to be a unit. Not just to be happy, but to actually accomplish and change, and take on the things you want to take on in this life."

One wonders how the famously uncensored actress feels right now about having to stay silent about her role in the biggest offscreen drama of the year. Just fine, she says. "People want an answer about what's happening in my life and my family, but I need to know what's happening first," she explains. "And I don't plan to discuss it before then. It's not about censoring myself. It's that there's nothing to say until I know that there's something to say."

Coincidentally or not, both Pitt and Jolie have lately been drawn to new pursuits that take the focus off their screen-idol selves. "I'm so bored with me," Pitt says, sounding as though he might really mean it. At 41, the actor is aware, and perhaps relieved, that his pinup days are numbered. True, the torso he first showcased in Thelma & Louise retains the same chiseled splendor 14 years later, and nobody Pitt's age has abs like that without making them a very serious priority. But with time, Pitt laughingly notes, in place of the six-pack, "there'll just be a keg." He's now more interested in things he can create, from buildings to babies, and in luring the press with him to Ethiopia and South Africa, on the off chance that they'll notice the millions of AIDS orphans there. Pitt has also been spending long hours on his motorcycle, blissfully unrecognizable beneath his helmet. "It's great," he says. "No one has a clue. You're just another jackass on the road."

Jolie, too, gets her biggest highs while operating heavy machinery, but her vehicle of choice has wings. "Flying solo really is the most amazing feeling," she says. "And the freedom of it is something I've desperately needed my whole life. Now I really don't feel confined to this earth." While on the ground, Jolie has taken the intensity that once made her Hollywood's favorite badass babe (with a taste for S&M sex and self-mutilation) and redirected it toward her work as a mother and a UN goodwill ambassador. Having declared herself uninterested in anything as banal as a boyfriend, she's kept her liaisons outside the house for the past few years. "The man that enters my home with me and my son—I take that very, very seriously."

She does have an idea about who such a man might be. "Somebody who just really works hard, and loves," she says. "That has not been an easy thing to find."

Elle January 03 - Nicole Kidman

The new Nicole on being married, being alone, and being Virginia Woolf.

She's outside, over there, sitting at a corner booth in the garden of Hollywood's Hotel Bel-Air, head tilted, cheek in hand, fast asleep. She snoozes gently, dressed in a white gauzy short-sleeved top and skirt, her wild strawberry-blond curls topknotted, exposing a slender neck. Her tea has oversteeped in the late-afternoon sun. Notice the bruises up and down the inside of her arm, marring her pale skin - black, blue, purple, yellow.

At once Nicole Kidman's head springs up, and a blush bursts into her cheeks. Caught, she laughs and says by way of greeting, "Hello, I'm exhausted!" We've met before. She was bruised and weary then, too. It was the last month of shooting on the set of Moulin Rouge in her native Sydney, Australia, and the year-long musical production had taken a physical toll that included two broken ribs and a nasty knee injury. But Kidman was a happy trouper, looking forward to going home to Los Angeles to be with her children, Isabella and Connor, and her husband, Tom Cruise - much has happened since.

Nearly two years, six films, and one divorce later, the actress has flown in from Romania, where she's been shooting the adaptation of Charles Frazier's Civil War epic Cold Mountain. "Look at my bruises," Kidman says, holding both arms out. "I have them on my legs, too." She pulls her skirt up high, revealing a fat-free thigh covered with marks. "Bad, huh? I was building a fence with Renee Zellweger, and we were lifting these huge logs. The men couldn't lift them." She smiles proudly.

Kidman has become Hollywood's new Lit Girl. In addition to Cold Mountain, she has two other film adaptations coming out - Philip Roth's The Human Stain and Michael Cunningham's The Hours, in which she plays Virginia Woolf opposite Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore. Directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot), The Hours depicts three days in the lives of three separate women living in three separate eras, whose only commonality is emotional bankruptcy and a profound relationship to Woolf's novel Mrs. Dalloway.

Woolf is a subject every actress would kill to take on, but few could pull off: Deconstructing the feminist novelist's intellectual, psychological, and sexual complexities would have even a psychiatrist popping Prozac. But given the opportunity, Kidman, who was going through a tough period of her own - the end of her marriage and a miscarriage - was undaunted. "I studied Virginia Woolf intensively, and I fell in love with her," she says. "I absorbed Virginia at a time in my life when I was ready to absorb her." As happens with the characters in the novel and the film, Woolf became Kidman's great escape and inspiration.

"I love that passage in Mrs. Dalloway, 'Her whole life in a single day, and in that day, her whole life . . .'" Kidman has a faraway look in her eyes. "It's so true - the minutiae, the tiny things that we wrestle with, the major things. They can occur right in one day. And for Virginia to be able to take the little things and see their weight and see how enormous they are is extraordinary." But in 1941, overwhelmed by her mental illness, Woolf stuffed rocks inside her coat pockets, walked into a river, and drowned herself. It's the opening scene of the film, and Kidman, truly unrecognizable in a prosthetic nose and graying brown wig, walks into the water and off with the movie.

At thirty-five, Kidman has become one of the few actresses of her generation worthy of Meryl Streephood. In her last four releases alone - Moulin Rouge, The Others, Birthday Girl, The Hours - she's adopted three different accents and four aesthetics and inner lives as disparate from each other as they are from her own. Kidman might not be having the time of her life, but she's having the time of her career. If there's a silver lining within her very public divorce, it's the spotlight it threw on her work. Marrying Tom Cruise made Kidman a star by virtue of his stardom. Before that, she was headed for a solid, respectable career as an actress in the same boat as, say, her fellow Aussie Judy Davis. Catapulting onto the Cruise ship presented Kidman with bigger opportunities, but also stuck her in his wake. Starring in films like Malice, My Life, To Die For, The Peacemaker, and Eyes Wide Shut, Kidman was considered a good actress with okay box office.

While Cruise's stardom was built on his grinning, winning, running-for-public-office persona, Kidman always seemed reticent to cultivate popularity. Head down, she was usually holding Tom's hand, walking two steps behind. There was no getting a bead on her. "People mistook her allure and beauty for aloofness," says her Batman Forever director, Joel Schumacher. "But Nicole is down-to-earth, very silly. She's a downtown girl in an uptown body." Adds Robert Benton, who directed Kidman in 1991's Billy Bathgate and the upcoming The Human Stain, "Being married to the biggest star going distorted everyone's perception of her. The world was never really looking at her as her own person. Now that veil's been drawn back."

"I think the interpretation of my being chilly is because I'm quiet and shy," says Kidman, who at times still breaks into the stutter she overcame as a child. She can make it through an acceptance speech (she won several awards for Moulin Rouge, including a Golden Globe), but she's not one to handcuff the orchestra so she can carry on and on. When it came time for her curtain calls in the Broadway production of The Blue Room, "I had to be taught how to take a bow," she says. "Sam Mendes [the director] told me, 'Nicole, you are apologizing in your bow. You bow like you're ashamed."

Once she gets to know someone, Kidman says, "I'm gregarious. But up until that point it's about being rejected. And also, when you're in a bubble with somebody, you kind of become . . ." She stops. "Like, that's what your life is about. So it's very hard to . . ." Stops again. "You don't step over boundaries and stuff like that." A furrowing of the brow. "Know what I mean?"

Yes and no. One can only imagine what life would be like married to Tom Cruise. "I stepped into a big world when I was twenty-two," she continues. "I knew nothing else. And I was very protective of that and extremely protective of [Tom] and our privacy. Therefore, it was about just protecting the intimacy of that. He has an abundance of talent. And I revered him on a pedestal. Absolutely revered him and what he was doing."

Everything about her life had been so charmed and certain that when the news came that their ten-year marriage was over, "I was shocked," Kidman says. If she wasn't, I tell her, she should get an Oscar for her portrayal of ignorant bliss while I was on the set of Moulin Rouge the month before the relationship collapsed. "Oh, no! I can't act to that degree!" she says. "Everything was - as far as I thought - fine. But for me to go into it any more . . ." She stops. Yet again.

While Cruise stepped out with his Vanilla Sky co-star Penelope Cruz, Kidman stepped out alone. "She revealed her true 'the show must go on' spirit," says director Baz Luhrmann, who cast Kidman as the singing, dancing, dying courtesan Satine in Moulin Rouge. "Two weeks after they separated she was standing in front of her fans at Bloomingdale's promoting the film. It was one of those Marilyn Monroe moments. The crowd went wild. "The divorce cast Kidman in a new light. The public response buoyed her. With each appearance she seemed lighter, brighter.

"It's like Sleeping Beauty," Luhrmann says. "You feel that she's awoken, not from something terrible, but you feel she's in full bloom. You look at Nicole and see this woman in full possession of her power as an actress, her sexuality, and her sense of self. And it came out of the chrysalis of that experience."

Gaslights throughout the garden have begun f9lling in for the sleepy setting sun. "Two Catholic girls, sitting drinking wine - uh-oh, danger!" Kidman says, blue eyes twinkling. "Let's get some cigarettes!" And before you can say Hail Mary, we're smoking, too. ("I like that mischievous, pixieish thing that she has," says her Dead Calm co-star Sam Neill, an old friend. "You know how some people, when you're around them, they make you feel more alive? That is her great gift. There's an old Australian expression - 'You wouldn't be dead for quids." It means no money on earth could substitute for the joy of life. She loves being alive.")

Like every good Catholic girl, when Kidman was growing up, she was in heaven when a bad boy was around. "Motorbikes," she says, confessing her weakness. "My boyfriend had a motorbike, and he's pick me up from my all-girls school in my uniform - a tie, blazer, skirt, knee socks - and my mother would scream. I still have that uniform.

"I was in love with Judd Nelson in The Breakfast Club - the boy on the bike with the diamond earring and the checkered past. What was the song?" She begins to hum and, remembering the words, sings, "Don't you forget about me . . .' Simple Minds!" A sigh. "Breakfast Club was aces, man, we loved it. Judd Nelson, man. Oh yum."

Game for girlish fun, Kidman agrees to say whatever first comes to mind when hearing the names of some of her dreamy co-stars. Ben Chaplin: "Quirky, darling, and really underrated." Viggo Mortensen: "Sexy and poetic." Ewan McGregor: "Just one of the dearest, most gorgeous men to walk the earth." Jude Law: "The most open spirit, giving, Jude glows." Russell Crowe: "My best friend. Loyal, loyal. Fiercely loyal. And strong. A deep friendship for the rest of our lives. I'll be there for him for everything. It's nice to have him in the world. He's always been kind to me."

Tom Cruise: "Great actor."

Okay, so she never made a movie with Russell Crowe, but they came close to co-starring in In the Cut, which Kidman opted to produce instead, and now co-stars Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo. Contrary to ongoing reports, the two Australians aren't seeing each other romantically, although it would be fun if they were. So, now that that's clear, how's the real dating going? "It's not!" She shrieks, laughing. "So tragic. My friends are like, 'Hurry up, already!' But it's important to take the time. Not push it. I'm just quietly healing. I don't take things lightly."

Not long after I saw her at the Hotel Bel-Air, Kidman calls from home on a Saturday night. She's readying to go back to Romania and Cold Mountain, which will hopefully wrap before Christmas. Then she'll be busy promoting The Human Stain and the Lars von Trier project Dogville, in which she plays a woman on the run. It's telling that the last four roles she's worked on - the above three plus The Hours - are all women grieving in some way. If her choices reflected her own emotional state, she must be feeling more lighthearted now: She recently signed to star in a dark comedic remake of the 1975 cult classic The Stepford Wives, with a script by the wickedly funny Paul Rudnick (In & Out). "That just shows how cool she really is," Schumacher says. "She can go to the darkest places and turn around and do a really broad comedy."

The sound of a little girl's voice can be heard entering the room. "Hey, Boo-boo. What do you have?" Kidman says to her daughter, Isabella, now ten (her son, Connor, is eight). "Oh, beautiful! Bella's drawn a picture of me, and it says, 'I love you, Bella.' That's beautiful." The sound of a kiss. "She's the dearest girl in the world. Boo-boo, I'm going to sleep with this under my pillow tonight."

Tell Kidman you have one last question, and she interrupts with one of her own: "Am I going to have another baby? I don't know. I don't know anything anymore. I'm so naïve now. Now I say constantly, 'I have no idea.'" Suggest to her that there's a sort of relief in not knowing what will happen in life, and she replies, "I don't feel relief, or that I actually would have chosen this. But there's something about being a woman having to stand on your own two feet alone . . . I was so fearful of something bad happening. But I do have relief now, knowing that I can survive."

Harpers & Queen UK February 05 - Scarlett Johansson

Hollywood's hottest starlet, Miss Johansson trills numbers from South Pacific between shopping sprees in Superdrug, kissing a chihuahua and discussing 'the post-mortem look'. Charlotte Sinclair is charmed by the former tap-dancing tot turned smouldering screen goddess.

On a bright November morning, Scarlett Johansson trips into an LA house perched high above the Hollywood smog, her chihuahua's lead tangling around her ankles. She talks at a gallop in a husky contralto. 'Do you like my dog? She's a teacup chihuahua puppy - Maggie. It's funny...' She pauses, a tiny frown puckering her brow. 'I never thought I would like little dogs. But a Korean woman offered her to my mom at a hair salon. When she called me to come get her I drove, like, crazy fast!' Scarlett kisses the dog's stomach with her indecently voluptuous lips. The native New Yorker, who gave exquisite and critically lauded performances in last year's Lost in Translation - for which she picked up a Bafta and two Golden Globe nominations - and Girl with a Pearl Earring, was the most significant breakthrough actress of 2004. No other young actress in recent years has so confidently, or justly, laid claim to their place in Hollywood, and with at least three major films released this year, Johansson's acting career ('Eleven years in the making,' she reminds me) will surely continue to gather pace.

Three days away from her 20th birthday, Johansson is a petite five foot three, with green eyes set into a luminously pale, heart-shaped face. There's a faint scar above her left eyebrow from an old piercing, and she wears a clear stud through the tragus cartilage in her ear. In a grey hoodie, layered vests, faded blue skateboarder shorts, a gold skull necklace and Converse trainers, Johansson looks the antithesis of the classic, grown-up glamourpuss we see on the red carpet.

Any preconceptions are also confounded by her effusive chatter: 'Wait, can I just tell you a story before we get started?' She pushes a pair of sunglasses through her white-blonde hair. 'I was shopping yesterday and I chose a bunch of stuff, including this great zip-up top made out of vintage Nike sweaters. I'm at the till and on the phone at the same time, and I look down at the receipt and the sweater costs... $1,400!' Johansson screams, although surely she can now afford such luxury. 'I practically dropped my cell phone while I was gawking at the bill. But obviously I'm too embarrassed to say anything, so I ask the guy why it's so special and he says [she mimics an effete voice], "It's this one guy. He only sells here and Tokyo. It's totally exclusive. Incredible, isn't it?'" Johansson shakes her head in disbelief. 'Christ,' she exclaims, 'I wanna find this guy and just say, "What the fuck?'" She laughs, stabbing her finger at the imaginary designer. So what did she do? 'I bought it, of course.' Johansson waits a couple of beats for comic effect. 'But I'm getting my assistant to take it back.'

Having an assistant is just one of the benefits of Johansson's nascent fame; however, it has not been without its drawbacks. Fiercely aware of the rumours that have attached themselves to her (that she is a demanding man-eater who only dates men 20 years her senior - likely the result of an alleged fumble with Benicio Del Toro in a lift), she refutes them with a subtle but pointed humour. While being photographed in the garden, she adopts an austere English accent and pronounces a litany of assumptions about herself. 'Scarlett Johansson is a diva. She only dates men over the age of 30. I hear she's dating Freddie Windsor.' It's another wisecrack, but one with bite, and I can't help but think it's a warning shot to me, the journalist. 'For some reason, people like to make things up about me. I've read so many ridiculous things: like, apparently, a businessman offered me £185,000 to DJ at his daughter's party!' she says, astounded. 'I've never spun a record in my life; it was totally fabricated. But those things about Freddie, and made-up relationships with people I've never even met, can be really hurtful,' she sighs. 'I could go around and sue everybody, but it's a waste of time and you only feed the fire. I think I can slip under the radar a lot of the time. And if all else fails,' she adds, 'wear giant sunglasses.'

It's easy to see why Scarlett might be a target of tabloid interest. Until last year, the actress had been quietly carving out a career in films such as The Horse Whisperer, opposite Robert Redford (who said of her: 'She's 13 going on 30'); and Terry Zwigoff's cult film Ghost World, playing a disaffected teen opposite Thora Birch. Born on 22 November 1984 to a film-producer mother and Danish architect father, and named after the fiercely determined heroine of Gone with the Wind, as a child Johansson was as strong-willed as her namesake. Scarlett thanked her mother during her acceptance speech at the Baftas, for 'schlepping me to auditions', and buying her hotdogs afterwards. But she stresses that she didn't feel she'd bypassed her childhood. 'Oh my god, are you kidding? I was a total ham, if you can believe it: a huge ham. I was one of those three-year-old singing, dancing kids. I liked to tap-dance and vocalise.' She trills out a loud 'Laaaaa', with accompanying show-hands. 'Some kids play softball; I wanted to be on Broadway - playing Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard.'

Scarlett has always striven to land offbeat roles. She even fired an agent who pressurised her into taking mainstream parts. After The Horse Whisperer, I got a whole slew of scripts about girls who were horseback-riding champions who then got some fatal disease - all these Cinderella stories,' she has said. Eschewing roles with conventional box-office appeal, she found favour with Hollywood's new guard, and parts such as Billy Bob Thornton's ill-fated seductress in the Coen Brothers' film noir, The Man Who Wasn't There (2001).

It took just one lunch meeting for Sofia Coppola to cast the then 17-year-old Johansson as the lead of last year's hit Lost an Translation. 'She makes you feel like she has been around the world. She had a coolness and a subtlety that you would not expect,' Coppola said. Scarlett plays Charlotte, an ethereal 22-year-old philosophy graduate stranded in Tokyo, whose brief encounter with Bill Murray's fading actor, Bob Harris, leads to an unconsummated love affair. It's a bittersweet film, and Scarlett's nuanced performance of unsated desire makes the age-gap relationship not only believable but also beautiful. As Sofia said: 'She can convey emotion without saying much at all.'

The same could be said of her performance in Peter Webber's adaptation of Tracy Chevalier's novel Girl with a Pearl Earring, set in 17th-century Delft. Johansson came straight from the 27-day Lost in Translation shoot to play Griet, the maid who becomes a model for the painter Vermeer, played by Colin Firth. Despite being present in every scene, Griet barely utters a word throughout the film. Instead, Johansson's face becomes the medium of expression, and, with a few lingering stares, she conveys an extraordinary range of emotions. Webber said of her: 'I just found myself fascinated by her presence. I just saw that I could do a close-up on her and I could tell what she was thinking.'

In contrast to her muted characters, Scarlett is exuberant on our shoot, singing - with a total lack of irony - 'I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair' from South Pacific, or an improvised song about her dog ('who shits on my carpet') while dancing in the pair of four-inch wedges she's chosen to wear with a baby-doll dress. Scarlett takes the role of fashion stylist frequently during the day's shoot, examining the rail of clothes we've brought for her with a discriminating eye: 'If I wear the sunglasses, then the necklace is overkill, don't you think?' Her style veers from elegant (Alberta Ferretti satin gowns and red lipstick for premieres) to sexy urban chic (Proenza Schouler hot pants, or a beaded Roberto Cavalli mini-dress for the Brit Awards). 'I think New Yorkers are incredibly fashionable, and I like clothing and design of every kind. I've been fortunate to be involved with great fashion houses such as Louis Vuitton [whose last campaign Johansson starred in], and Calvin Klein [for whom she is the face of the perfume Eternity Moment], as well as having friends in the business, such as Tara [Subkoff], who often gives me pieces from Imitation of Christ to wear.'

Johansson is a born entertainer; every shot is an opportunity for a skit. Climbing into the boot of a white Rolls-Royce, she parodies fashion speak: 'Spring forward: the post-mortem look. Accessorise with a burlap sack.' Barefoot, and wearing a long white dress split to the waist, her hair teased into an electric shock of blonde ('I look like a cotton bud'), she sprawls wantonly on the grass. 'I'm that girl who gets drunk and left behind at the prom.' Slipping into character, she slurs: 'Hey, hey! I paid my 60 bucks. Now where's my fucking limo?'

Speaking about a set in Nevada she's just returned from, she deadpans: 'The place was deserted except for a casino and a brothel. Apparently, the prostitutes there give blowjobs for Doritos.'

'What? Ranch flavour?' asks the photographer.

'Cheese, gotta be,' she giggles. So far, Scarlett's roles have not displayed this comic streak, and it comes as a welcome surprise. In the sunshine, Johansson writhes up to a sculpture, borrowed from the artist's studio in the house, pretending it's a suitor. 'Buy me,' she coos. Scarlett has a potent sexual confidence. She is slim, not skinny, with enviable curves. 'Aren't pomegranates supposed to be aphrodisiacs?' she asks, languidly. 'You should know, sweetie,' replies the make-up artist.

Even the walls of the house are littered with sketches of buxom nudes, providing an ideal backdrop for Scarlett's seductive poses. It was no coincidence that Coppola chose a lingering shot of Johansson's bottom to open Lost in Translation. As she lies on the lawn for the photographer, the wind blows her skirt up at the back. 'My ass is making its debut,' jokes Scarlett. 'Oh no,' she recalls nonchalantly, 'it's done that already.'

After burning so much energy during the shoot, Scarlett is tired but attentive as she sits opposite me in a corner of the studio, wrapped in a grey wool rug, her legs spread across the sofa, her dog on her lap. The hood of her sweater is pulled up over her hair, and she looks young and fragile. The wisecracks are replaced with sincerity as she talks about her new film, In Good Company, which also stars Dennis Quaid and Topher Grace. Quaid plays Johansson's father ('He's gorgeous - for an older man'), demoted at his firm in favour of twentysomething Grace, who then falls in love with Johansson. It's a comedy with a message that Scarlett feels strongly about. 'It's about how youth is pushed into these huge corporate positions that they're not prepared for,' she says, 'and how the experienced people who have been there for years are being pushed out.' Johansson shakes her head. 'My scenes with Topher felt very real. It's hard to capture a realistic relationship with someone on film. Most sexual relationships in films are really stereotypical and fake. It's very rare that you see a film in which you recognise something that you've been through,' she says.

So how does she create this authenticity on screen? 'By nature, people want things from each other. I try to think about what my character would want from the other person. The audience has to find something they like about the character. For me, being outlandishly aggressive is obnoxious; even if you are aggressive with your sexuality, you have to have a strategy of some sort. I don't know necessarily that I look for characters that are just a little bit sexy or have that underplay. It mightjust leak out,' she says, grinning. 'I did a love scene this summer. A lot of people get nervous. I try to be relaxed, because, after all, it's your work. There are those first few takes where you're like, "This is awkward," and it's hot and you're almost naked, but if someone catches sight of your bare breasts, you think, "Let them have it and enjoy it for the day,"' she laughs.

After perhaps being typecast as the romantic muse for men of a certain age (given her roles opposite Bill Murray, Colin Firth and Billy Bob Thornton), it must be refreshing to have a love interest of her own age in Topher Grace. 'It's not something I really think about; it just happened that way,' she says. 'I've been very fortunate to work with older actors who are incredibly talented. It's a compliment. Hopefully, people see my sexuality as not something that can be put into a box, not just being like a young girl. Maybe it's larger than that.' Her boyfriend, the actor and Vogue Homme cover star Jared Leto (whom she's reportedly been secretly dating since April), is 13 years older than her, but she won't be drawn on the subject. However, the latest group of eminent men enchanted by Miss Johansson includes John Travolta, Tom Cruise and Woody Allen. She starred in Allen's secret London project, filmed over the summer, and became a favourite on the party scene (where she met Freddie Windsor). 'I loved London,' she enthuses. 'I went to Notting Hill and ate at the Electric Brasserie. I visited the museums and hung out in Soho and the Curzon cinema. I don't think I ever left Harvey Nicks, ever. And I am really impressed by that store Superdrug.' Seeing me baulk, she squeals, 'My god, I would spend, like, $200 in that place! Every time I went in there I was picking up products.' I ask her how she found working with Woody Allen. 'It was a dream come true. I'm not supposed to say that. He was an ogre, according to him. He can say such wonderfully horrible and rude things - it's such a joy. Maybe it's the masochist in me, but we have a very similar sense of humour.'

She also managed to persuade John Travolta to star in A Love Song for Bobby Long, also out this spring, a film that Scarlett and her mother had been pushing to get made. 'It was a project that I was really passionate about for a few years, and I finally got it moving. My mom produced it.' She adores Travolta ('Ahhh,' she sighs, 'there's not a mean bone in that man's body'), and regards her character, Pursy Will, a down-at-heel, salt-of-the-earth type who rescues Travolta's alcoholic, as one of her favourites. How was it to play trailer trash, I ask? 'Oh, you know,' she deadpans, 'it was a dream come true.' Tom Cruise, meanwhile, was so impressed with Johansson that he cast her in Mission Impossible III. Is she afraid that the blockbuster will ruin her indie-girl credibility? 'I'm doing a huge science-fiction film right now with Ewan McGregor, and Jurassic Park is one of my most favourite movies. I'm not a film snob. I don't think any creative person wants to be labelled the Indie Girl or the Action Star.' Even the stunts for Mission Impossible III didn't faze her. 'Tom is like a stuntman himself, so he was tender with me. I figure, if it's my time to fall off a building and die, then it's my time,' she says, laughing.

Not content with mere movie stardom, Scarlett also wants to direct. A huge epic film or a realistic romantic comedy,' she says, petting the dog in her lap. 'I need the time and the right project. Directing a film takes two to three years to finish.' And she has a surprising lead in mind: Tom Wilkinson, her British co-star in Girl with a Pearl Earring. 'He's a real movie star,' she says, earnestly. Scarlett is also developing Marjorie Morningstar, a remake of the 1958 film starring Gene Kelly and Natalie Wood, that stays closer to the original book about a young woman who falls in love with an older man. It sounds like a familiar theme. 'The actual age difference is not really that huge: 10 years,' she says. 'It's a beautiful film - I mean, it will be, the way I see it in my head.'

Despite the sophistication and New York savvy, Scarlett still acts her age. I cite the gleeful press coverage that ensues every time she does something remotely teenage. 'Oh, I know,' she groans. Scarlett adopts a nasal, news-reporter voice. 'They say, "There's still a glimpse of youth. She fidgets like a teenager." But I still roll around on the carpet. I still wear cartoon Band-Aids - look!' She thrusts her hand towards me. 'I don't walk around saying, "I'm mature for my age." I'm not faking anything.'

Johansson now divides her time between New York and a new apartment in Los Angeles. Being constantly in the limelight must make it hard to unwind, but she is pragmatic. 'I read a lot: Salinger; David Sedaris; Steinbeck; Truman Capote. I listen to music: Björk; Belle and Sebastian; Radiohead; Depeche Mode. My iPod's, like, solid,' she says. 'Everything in there I take full account for, even the South Pacific soundtrack.' Johansson even recently appeared trussed up in lingerie and fishnets to MC for the LA burlesque act Pussycat Dolls. 'It was great. I had this whole character going, and this voice [she affects a lazy Southern ringmaster drawl], "Gentlemen, hold onto your hats! Ladies, hold onto your gentlemen!"'

She reflects on her luck as the room darkens in the twilight. 'I'm able to make money doing what I love, and I don't have to make any exceptions. I'll never stop making movies. Hopefully I'll be able to end up as beautiful as Vanessa Redgrave, and as incredible at that age as she is.' It's an unusual ambition for a Hollywood starlet. But then, Scarlett is anything but usual. As she leaves, zipping Maggie into her sweater, looking like any other Californian teen, she begins to sing in a low voice: 'Nobody Does It Better'. It couldn't be more apt.