When Big Little Lies debuted in 2017, it felt revolutionary: five power moms from Monterey who save their friend, Nicole Kidman’s Celeste Wright, from a violent marriage. The show, based on the novel by Liane Moriarty, unknowingly prepared America for what was to come. Less than a month after the 2017 Emmy Awards, in which the HBO series carried home eight golden statues, the New York Times and the New Yorker published their exposés on Harvey Weinstein. A few months later, the show’s five leads (Kidman, Laura Dern, Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, and Zoë Kravitz) were among the earliest supporters of the anti-harassment initiative Time’s Up. Two years out, we practically expect to see women linked hand in hand—just as the five actresses were as they marched onto the Emmys stage—as a balm to a culture of casting couches and White House diatribes. Big Little Lies created that visual road map.
“Everyone says, ‘Are you going to do a season three?’” Kidman says. “We’re like, ‘Just give us a sec.’” (She’s busy: After our interview, she’ll be promoting the September release of The Goldfinch, adapted from Donna Tartt’s novel, in which she dons the country-club cardigans of Mrs. Barbour.) Kidman hastens to add, “We’d love to [do another season] because we love being together, and it’s lovely spending time with your friends, and with such good material,” she says. “It’s part of the reason I wanted to do Bombshell, to support Charlize.”
In Bombshell—next month’s newsroom drama from Trumbo director Jay Roach and coproducer Charlize Theron—Kidman returns to the female-ensemble format to chronicle Roger Ailes’s sexual harassment of female staffers at Fox News. The movie follows Gretchen Carlson (Kidman), Megyn Kelly (Theron), and the fictional composite character Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie) in the year leading up to Ailes’s July 2016 resignation. “The story it’s trying to tell is broader than Fox News,” she says. “It’s much more about sexual harassment and the women.” When Bombshell’s 87-second video teaser dropped in August, it racked up over 6.3 million YouTube views in just four days. Bring on the Blond Squad.
At the time of our interview, Kidman is in Nashville, where daughters Sunday, 11, and Faith, 8, have just returned to school for the fall. When Kidman escaped to the heartland in 2006, she’d just married Grammy winner Keith Urban, a fellow Aussie, and was hot off of a string of films teed up from her first Academy Award, for her chameleonic portrayal of Virginia Woolf in The Hours. “My mom goes, ‘Don’t give everything up. You’re going to need to keep your artistic juices flowing,’”says Kidman, who at the time was five years out of her 10-plus-year marriage to Tom Cruise. “That was the thing that ignited me to go, ‘Okay, why don’t I produce?’ ”
Produce she did, launching the company Blossom Films in 2010 with fellow cinephile Per Saari. After just three movies, they produced Big Little Lies, for which Kidman won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie. “Creatively, she’s a big risk taker,” says Saari, with whom she’s currently juggling HBO, Hulu, and Amazon projects. When Moriarty suggested a new book based around a remote resort, Kidman wanted in. “Although we knew what the concept was, that was acquired more or less sight unseen,” Saari says. “Liane was talking to Nicole about the seeds of a character and she embraced it instantly, so Liane ended up writing this extraordinary character for her.” (The result, last fall’s novel Nine Perfect Strangers, was an instant New York Times best-seller, and its Hulu adaptation begins filming this spring.)
As Moriarty recalls, “Recently, we were in Sydney talking about Nine Perfect Strangers and [Nicole’s character] Masha, a troubled, charismatic Russian woman, when Nicole spoke in a flawless Russian accent. Suddenly, for just a few seconds, Masha was right there in front of me. It was extraordinary—and then she was back laughing and being her goofy self again.”
Kidman is protective of her process, but does use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to flesh out roles before filming begins. (She doesn’t know her own personality type offhand, but the internet’s dubbed her the elusive INFJ.) “I’ve done a little bit of it myself, but I really use it for characters,” she says. “Once they’re out there in the world, I love for people to interpret them. Whether it’s actually worked or not is up to the audience.”
These days, she’s restarting vocal training, as she’s set to join the Ryan Murphy–verse for an adaptation of Broadway’s lesbian rom-com The Prom. “I do all my own preparation, which I bring to set, and then you have to throw all that out and be willing to try things,”she says. “You hope the work you’ve done is so layered and solid that it’s created a living, breathing person.”