Nicole is featured on the cover of the December 2018/January 2019 issue of Allure magazine for their Out of the Office issue.
With her aquatic life and stratospheric career, Nicole Kidman is a creature of two realms. Starring roles in three new movies prove that she is as relevant — and impassioned — as ever.
Every single one of God’s creatures in this wine bar is looking at Nicole Kidman, who gracefully excuses herself from our shared Caesar salad to float to the bathroom. As soon as Kidman gets up, a voraciously chatty woman nearby, who has been eyeing Kidman over her husband’s shoulder, stops trash-talking her next-door neighbor midsentence. The sole waitress watches Kidman cautiously from afar. Maybe they are gazing through her translucent skin, or wondering why Nicole Kidman, celebrated movie star, is dining at a strip mall wine bar at 1 o’clock in the afternoon, or perhaps they have never before seen a citizen of Oceania, a rare demographic in Nashville that comprises .2 percent of the populace. Regardless, they are joined in watching her amble preternaturally toward the bathroom, eyes trained on her legs, because no human being walks the way Nicole Kidman walks.
Arms rigidly pressed to her sides, posture geometrically perfect, she moves at the pace of one step every two seconds, like a local deity blessing onlookers with her presence and some scattered eye contact. When Kidman says hello to the gossipmonger near us, the woman doesn’t say anything, focusing all of her energy on not imploding. She can’t eke out a single syllable while beholding Nicole Kidman, queen of 360 Bistro, empress of this West Nashville strip mall, acclaimed actor, gazelle on two legs, moving glacially about the wine bar.
“Something you need to be aware of,” begins Karyn Kusama, who directed Kidman in this fall’s Destroyer, “is that she is legitimately statuesque.”
Onscreen, Kidman delivers performances that can best be described as emotional onslaughts. Remember when she exploded in grief during Rabbit Hole? When she mauled your heart in Moulin Rouge? Her quiet agony in Dogville? Of course you do, because the odds are extremely high that you have seen her in at least one of these films, and even higher that she has appeared in a movie you have seen in the last year. If I asked you to name five actresses off the top of your head, Nicole Kidman would be one of them, probably in the top three.
This is why everybody is staring. They’re all thinking in unison, What is this person really like? I have no idea, and our interview is almost over.
The sky in Nashville is so picturesque that it must be joking — it is the bluest-blue blue. Underneath it, everything is bathed in 80-degree sunlight, including the western reach of the city, where a highway meets a strip mall and forks in two. This is not your average strip mall, but a strip mall in one of Nashville’s most affluent neighborhoods. Meaning: It has a bistro and a Pilates studio and a juice bar.
Kidman, 51, moved here after she married country-music singer (and fellow Australian) Keith Urban in 2006, and it has since become home to the couple and their two daughters. After this interview, Kidman is going to Reading Corner at one of her daughters’ schools. “It’s where you go and read books,” she explains perfectly, “and [my daughter] chooses the book the night before, and then I read it to the whole class. I act out all of the characters.”
In addition to her masterful one-woman performances at Reading Corner, Kidman’s three newest films are premiering within months of each other: The Kusama-directed Destroyer stars Kidman as detective Erin Bell, a rogue FBI agent who seeks revenge on a gang leader after he wrongs her in a big way; then there’s Boy Erased, in which Kidman stars as a staunchly religious Christian woman who sends her queer son to conversion therapy; finally, there’s Aquaman, which is the story of Aquaman (Kidman plays his aquamom).
“I’m very left-handed and very lateral,” she says. “I just have the weirdest taste, which I follow. Right now, you’re seeing that.” She’s referring to the press cycle that has her oscillating between embittered ex-cop, pastor’s wife, and comic-book ocean monarch. “I still kind of work in the same way that I did 30 years ago. Each film, or each reason for doing something, vibrates from more than just the idea of making them.” Her thought trails off, then: “Oh, it’s nice that that truck has pulled up.”
A truck has pulled up in front of the picture window near our table, obscuring the sun that has been backlighting Kidman until now. I hadn’t noticed that her hair is soaking wet.
“My husband just had to go to Canada this morning, so we took a swim.”
Naively, I ask this ridiculous question: You have a pool?
“We have a pool.”
More journalistic inquiry: Are you just splashing each other, or are you doing laps?
“We’re Australian, both of us, so water is very therapeutic,” she says. “We have a beach house, and we will get up in the morning before we have breakfast, and we’ll go in the ocean. Reese [Witherspoon] is our next-door neighbor. Reese will be going, ‘What are you doing in the water, you lovebirds?’ She’ll tease us because she rarely goes in the ocean. ‘You crazy Australian kids.’ ”
Do you do anything else to annoy Reese Witherspoon? What about water is therapeutic? Are you thirsty, literally or figuratively, and did this thirst attract you to the role of Aquaman’s mother, Queen Atlanna? What, in general, are you thirsty for? These are all fair-game questions for interviewing Nicole Kidman.
But I ask none of them, because I am in the presence of both a movie star and somebody of great personal importance to me. (I saw The Hours at a very formative point in my life.) The only question on my mind at all times is, What is it like to be movie star Nicole Kidman? And more meta: What is it like to be in the presence of movie star Nicole Kidman?
So I ask the next logical question: What’s your sign?
Nicole Kidman’s birthday sits on the cusp of Gemini and Cancer, the former marked by its childlike tendencies and the latter by its maternal dominion over all other signs. I am including this because astrology is an exact science, and also because Kidman agrees with me that these are apt descriptions of her personality. So there.
It would be reductive to characterize each of her forthcoming roles as moms, foremost, but motherhood is a powerful force for each. In Destroyer, her character is navigating a very complicated relationship with her daughter, who is coming of age, which results in the film’s most impactful scene. In Boy Erased, she plays Nancy, a Christian parent who sends her teenage son to conversion therapy. It is the maternal instinct in Nancy that ends up saving her son, even though it’s at odds with her faith.
“To be able to play a mother…” Kidman begins, then pauses for a minute. In that pause there is an infinite and quiet universe, as if the ability to play a mother in a movie is both an insurmountable burden and the most incredible gift. Of course, she does more than play a mother — she is a mother, to four kids, but this is a different thing.
“The mother is struggling herself, and there’s a truth to it,” Kidman says. “She changes. She’s the one that changes, and I love that. I think that’s really beautiful.” Nancy is based on Martha Conley, the mother of Boy Erased’s author. (The film is based on a memoir of the same name.) The most touching parts of the movie come from her as she reconciles her fundamentalist faith with a boundless, unconditional love for her son. Conley and Kidman worked together closely during production. “I’m very drawn to women who will mother me, and I was like, ‘Oh, I need a little bit of you!’ ” she says.
No stranger to grappling with faith, Kidman was brought up in an Irish Catholic family. She wears a diamond-studded crucifix, a gift from her grandmother, that she rarely takes off. “I’m spiritual in the sense that I absolutely believe in God,” she says, while holding the crucifix between her porcelain fingers. “I loved the idea of being a nun. Obviously, I did not choose to go that path, but I was very drawn to it.”
The voice for Nancy, a Southern drawl, was picked up from over a decade of living in Nashville. (Kidman says it’s closer to her native Australian than, say, Midwestern English, because both accents lack a hard r sound.) Her voice for Destroyer is another thing entirely.
Kidman explains how the role of Detective Bell inhabited her. The haggard detective walks like a hungover pirate and speaks in a husky, low American accent, both behaviors that she just…started doing. “Yeah, all of that, there was no thought in that,” she says. “That all just came from within.”
The mystical “within” is something actors talk about a lot, as if their brains contained little baskets of freshly picked emotions, but with Kidman, within is a fertile place, a space that produces lush and vibrant portrayals of lived experiences. Detective Bell’s backstory isn’t built into the script, except for one small line at the end: “I had a hard life,” she says, five words that were the basis of her characterization.
Destroyer’s main sequence takes place during a bank robbery near LAX, in which Kidman’s Detective Bell goes rogue, pulls a semiautomatic rifle out of the trunk of her Honda Civic and enters what becomes the most gripping scene in a movie that can be described overall as extremely gripping. The minutes-long sequence is a 90-degree roller-coaster drop halfway through the ride, not only in terms of plot, but also production logistics: There are pyrotechnics, exploding glass, and at least six actors firing blanks in the general direction of one another. And there was also the flu, that really bad one from about a year ago, ricocheting from crew member to crew member and finally to Kidman during this stretch of filming.
Imagine having a particularly nasty flu — the kind that saps your life force and convinces you that an early death doesn’t seem so bad — and then imagine having to work four full days while you have this flu, and then imagine each of these days includes at least an hour of aerobics. Then add some gunplay. “The crew had it, then Nicole came down with it,” says Kusama. “She wanted to soldier through. The perspiration on her face and catching her breath, that was real.”
“I had a 102 fever,” says Kidman. “When I picked up the [prop] AR-15, I was like, Oh, my God, this is so heavy, I can’t even walk, let alone run across the street. I sat down and curled up in the fetal position.” Mercifully, the team sent her home early, but it was a small-budget film and an extra day of shooting was not guaranteed. And Kidman is a professional. The next morning, she showed up to set on time. “And we shot the hell out of the thing.”
It’s almost as if these roles lay siege to her body. But where does she go in her mind when this happens?
She gets kind of uncomfortable talking about it, and perhaps a bit less articulate than usual. “I was sort of, in a weird way, possessed by that, because it’s just weird; it’s weird…. It happened on Big Little Lies, too. When I do Big Little Lies, I’m very, very kind of febrile, and I shake.” In the HBO series, Kidman plays Celeste Wright, a former lawyer and current housewife terrorized by her physically and emotionally abusive husband in the first season. “It starts to — it seeps in, in sort of a cellular way.”
(The only time Kidman didn’t mind this type of brain melding was in the case of her Aquaman character, Queen Atlanna, the Atlantis-born mother of the titular guy. In the source comics, Atlanna is lissome and blonde with unrelenting cheekbones. To put it more succinctly, she looks like Nicole Kidman. Due to a strict embargo, I am permitted to watch only the unreleased trailer, which shows Queen Atlanna speaking to a baby and diving into an ocean and wearing linen pants and fighting enemies with a trident. She is compassionate, formidable, and comfortably dressed, and that is all I can say about Queen Atlanna.)
I still do not know what it’s like to be Nicole Kidman, other than that it is sometimes painful and wet. But when she excuses herself to go to the bathroom, I look up the word “febrile” and commit it to memory.
Back to the Caesar salad, which we are slowly savoring. She is eating the croutons, and I am eating the everything else.
She is intense, especially when asked silly but harmless questions about what it’s like to be her. A few weeks prior to our meeting, she casually eviscerated a Destroyer panel-audience member who asked her to rank the wigs she’s worn throughout her career. (The premise of the question is preposterous — Kidman has worn too many wigs in her career to inventory in a timely manner!) “That’s an awful question,” she said, before shutting it down.
Don’t ask Nicole Kidman about her wigs, and don’t you dare ever refer to her as a celebrity, which I unfortunately did and will regret for the rest of my life.
Here is the landmine: Do you like being a celebrity?
Her brow furrows. “I don’t see myself as a celebrity.”
“I’m not a celebrity.”
I would say that you’re a movie star.
“I’m not a movie star. I feel like I’m an actor. Beyoncé is a celebrity. And that’s a much bigger thing.”
We disagree on this. Kidman says she feels “far more niche,” which I understand — no serious actor considers being famous a part of their identity. As I’m trying to formulate a question about celebrity, Beyoncé, and Kidman, a white SUV pulls up to the curb, as if on cue, to take her from this wine bar to Reading Corner, before she will go on to premiere two more films, plus star in a handful of others, because, um, she is a movie star.
Every famous actor says that “the work” is everything, and she is no exception. Her cells quake. Her immune system buckles. It’s painful and joyous. Empathy runs through her like a current. “You give,” she says. “You’re not in a position as an actor to be a taker.”
When she’s done giving, again, to another interviewer, she gets into the white SUV and goes somewhere else. Maybe she arrives at a place where she can be somebody other than Nicole Kidman, movie star. But as Nicole Kidman leaves the building, with everybody watching her go, I doubt it.