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  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.
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.