Nicole Kidman has been a household name for nearly 30 years now, but her star never seems to wane. Rocketing to fame in the ’80s, she survived the spotlight of a high-profile celebrity marriage to Tom Cruise and emerged triumphant from trial by tabloid. While her peers, and some of her predecessors, chased box-office success in romcoms and franchises, Kidman went for the interesting role, starting in 1995 with Gus Van Sant’s mordant black comedy To Die For. Since then, Kidman has been very much a director’s actor, collaborating with established names—Stanley Kubrick, Lars Von Trier and Anthony Minghella—while supporting visionary newcomers.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is overwhelmingly the latter that brings Kidman to Cannes this year. There are projects that reunite her with her Rabbit Hole director John Cameron Mitchell (How to Talk to Girls at Parties) and Portrait of a Lady’s Jane Campion (Top of the Lake: China Girl), while new partnerships come in the form of Greek “weird wave” auteur Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled.
What all of these films have in common is nothing except Kidman’s bravery and spirit, born of a love for acting that has burned in her since she was young and starting out. “My mother said I was an intense child,” she notes. “She still says it.”
You’re starring in four movies in Cannes—and then there’s also Big Little Lies. It’s very hard to come up with a project that really gets people talking, but this is one of them.
I’d hoped it would be, but you never know. I think when it first aired, I was like, ‘Oh, maybe it’s not gonna catch on like we’d hoped it would,’ and then it just built momentum through the whole season. I would get texts and calls and emails, and that’s when I knew it was really penetrating. Particularly when my husband was saying, “Oh, my friend just texted me and they were like, ‘What’s gonna happen next week?’” I haven’t had that for years, so it’s been an extraordinary journey.
How did you get involved as a producer?
I produced Rabbit Hole and then The Family Fang, and this came to me through Bruna Papandrea, who was with Reese Witherspoon and their company Pacific Standard. She called me and said, “I’ve just read a book that Reese and I love. Read it. It’s by an Australian author.”
I read it overnight and I said, “You won’t believe it. I’m going to Australia tomorrow. I’m gonna call Liane [Moriarty] and ask her if she’ll meet with me and let’s see if we can get the book.”
I went and had coffee with her and I said, “Liane, if you give us the rights to the book, I promise you we’ll get it made.” She said, “Oh, but you’ve got to play Celeste.” That was the genesis of it.
Was Celeste the role you envisioned playing?
I read it and I just went, “Whatever—I would just love to get this made.” If they’d said to me I had to play somebody else then I would have played that part, but when the author says, “This is the role that I envision you in,” then you honor that. It all came together perfectly. Reese called Laura Dern, and Laura called Shailene Woodley. Zoë Kravitz we all knew. It was friends creating opportunities for friends.
I don’t know of any actor that makes as many fearless choices as you.
It’s not fearless because there’s an enormous amount of fear at times. But it’s curiousity. I’m always interested in exploring human nature and the human condition. I actually feel safer and closer in the world when I do that, if that makes sense.
You’ve worked with an amazing list of world-class directors over the years—Stanley Kubrick, Park Chan-wook, Lars Von Trier…How do you choose your roles?
I’m so random. I would love to say that I have this really decisive way of working, but I am just completely random and spontaneous. If I feel it, I do it. If there’s something in the story that I love, if there’s a director that I just love, then I don’t even need to read the script. I’ll do favors for friends. That’s how I work.
Artistically, I want to explore things. I want to fail at times, because I need to fail to get back up again and to not be afraid. When I did a play in London [Photograph 51, as scientist Rosalind Franklin], I was terrified—absolute stage fright—but it felt amazing to get though it.
You’ve done a lot of theater.
Yeah. Theater is important for me. I hadn’t done it for 17 years but the emotional discipline that’s required of theater—the eight shows a week—is important. It’s a part of the scope of being an actor. There are amazing roles.
It’s dangerous being onstage, but the immediate reaction with the audience is so gratifying.
I’ve seen you in Cannes many times. I’ve seen you as a juror, at many red carpets and premiere parties.
You’ve seen me happy, and devastated, and shocked.
All kinds of things. There’s a whole history of Nicole Kidman in Cannes and this year is no exception; you have four projects. Tell me about Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
How do you like that title? Yorgos is tremendous. I loved The Lobster and Dogtooth. C’mon, when do you see films like that? That’s rare. In this day and age, those films need to be heralded. Whether you like them or not, they still need to be made.
Then you have The Beguiled, which is Sofia Coppola’s reimagining of the 1971 Clint Eastwood movie, I guess?
Yeah, and it’s Sofia’s unique vision. She’s deeply feminine, so her storytelling is not plot-driven. Jane Campion said it beautifully—she talked about that “unique femme style” that Sofia has.
I’m in a place, at this stage in my life, where I can support female directors over and over again. It’s a very conscious choice. I’m not gonna go for two or three years without working with a woman. I will seek them out and will continue to do it because that’s part of what I feel is important right now.
Do you like going to Cannes? Is it fun for you to walk up those steps?
Fun? I go there because it’s part of the job. It’s what you do. I support the filmmakers. These people are putting out money to make these movies. It’s part of what I have to do. There’s the glamor attached to it, but it’s also pretty frightening at times. That’s why, when you say fearless, I say, no, no, there’s definitely fear. Always fear, but I’m willing to put one foot in front of the other, right?
Always. That’s the career of Nicole Kidman: one foot in front of the other. Would you agree?
Two steps forward, one step back.