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.
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.