Recently Nicole and Amy sat down together and chatted as part of Variety’s Actors on Actors Series.
Few stars are more willing to take risks than Amy Adams. Her turn as Second Lady Lynne Cheney in “Vice” is only the latest in a series of on-screen transformations, following her startling work in the HBO limited series “Sharp Objects.” Adams’ roles — from a heartbroken linguist in “Arrival” to a social climber in “American Hustle” to Lois Lane in the DC Universe — share little but Adams’ fierce tenacity and perpetual intelligence.
Meanwhile, Nicole Kidman’s characters seem at times to share nothing at all. Her 2018 has been as much of a tightrope walk as Adams’, with two juicy but divergent roles — as an achingly conflicted mother of a gay son in “Boy Erased” and as a hardened cop in “Destroyer.” On top of it all, she plays an undersea monarch in “Aquaman,” a role whose special-effects surroundings promise not to diminish Kidman’s star power.
Nicole Kidman First of all, we have to acknowledge that we’ve both worked with Jean-Marc Vallée on limited series.
Amy Adams You had him first. When I started working with him, you guys were releasing “Big Little Lies,” and I read about the intensity of the work. What was that like for you?
Kidman It was incredibly intense, but it was also very freeing. It was almost slice-of-life, where he’s in there with the camera, because he operates the camera sometimes. I was really exposed, but that was good. What about you?
Adams It was challenging, because it does create this voyeuristic energy. I had so much to do that the way he shot became an endurance challenge.
Kidman You’re amazing in it. And I want to play sisters, so I’m putting that out there for anybody.
Adams I always said that I wanted to be like Nicole Kidman, but I understood that I was like corduroy to her silk.
Adams It’s so true. I’m so corduroy and I hate it, but it’s true. You have to know yourself.
Kidman Well, I’m not silk. It’s like to be a little bit of lace, a little bit of leather. Can I be that?
Adams Yeah, you can be that.
Kidman And maybe pleather. I just saw “Vice,” and once again, [I’m] gobsmacked at your talent, because you become [Lynne Cheney]. You’re her.
Adams She reminded me of my grandmother very much. I grew up knowing women like Lynne who were self-starters, uncompromising and direct and not afraid to speak the truth. It was strangely empowering, because I would go on set and have these debates with Adam [McKay] as Lynne Cheney, so we would talk about the political events of the day and I would imagine Lynne’s point of view. Adam requires a lot of improv.
Kidman The scene where you and Christian [Bale] speak Shakespearean, that was obviously written.
Adams I had a contest with Christian to see who could memorize it first, and he won, of course. I have a feeble brain. He won, and that was with him working every day at two o’clock in the morning getting makeup on. I was not happy about it.
Kidman I have a tough time learning lines. There’s different directors, and sometimes there’s improvising; sometimes you can move around the line and fill in, and other times it literally is to the rhythm, to every piece of punctuation. You take a breath when they want you to take a breath. Have you run that scope of directors?
Adams Oh, absolutely. David O. Russell will throw lines to you in the middle of a scene, and you’re just saying them while in these intense situations.
Kidman But I love that. People say, “What’s your process?” Well, it changes every film.
Adams I agree, and I think that it’s so important to have that adaptability, because you never know the actor you’re going be working with, the director, what the day calls for. I always find that if I go into a scene with an idea of how this scene’s going to go, it never goes that way. And that’s when you get lost, when you’re trying to steer the scene. I used to try to steer scenes and I would get really panicky. There was this scene in “The Master” where I was supposed to wake [Joaquin Phoenix] up and he wasn’t waking up. I freaked out. I’d pour water on his head now; I’d be like, “You want to play that game, Joaquin, here you go.” I didn’t roll with it, and I learned a lesson from that.
Kidman My one thing I struggle with is to get through my shyness. Because if I’m willing to speak up and not be obedient all the time, then I’m free and I do much better work. But if I haven’t worked for a long time, I’m a little bit rigid and scared. Strangely enough, because “Destroyer” required so much fatigue and so much kind of just [being] beaten down, that kind of worked for it. I try to never fight whatever I’m given. I learned that early on from people like Jane Campion and even [Stanley] Kubrick. He’d lose a location and shrug, and create something better, actually.
Kidman Do you ever feel that you’re in that place where it’s not clicking in?
Adams I think that happens to me when I’m trying to please somebody. When I’m trying to please the director, I’m not thinking about the character anymore. You do a take and they call “Cut,” and I would immediately look for them to tell me if it was OK. And I had to train myself out of that.
Kidman Do you watch the monitor?
Adams I don’t.
Kidman Neither do I.
Adams I’ll start self-directing.
Kidman We’re kindred spirits.
Adams Do you still try to please, though?
Kidman I have a pleaser personality, so there’ll be times when I’m being really well behaved and really good. That can sometimes not work for me because I have other ideas. Now what I’ve trained myself to do is just do it. I never ask; I just do it. Because then it’s being true to the character and who I am. And I love obsessive directors. I love the passion, so anyone that people think is difficult, I usually do not think is difficult.
Adams I’m OK with difficult, as long as they’re nice. I don’t like yelling.
Kidman No. But I’ve never really worked with yellers. I have a huge understanding of the artistic process, and I like the idea of the set being sacred. So there’s a sacredness to what goes on there, and obviously if someone’s feeling exploited or violated, everything has to be talked about so it’s safe. But I also believe there is a sacredness to the artistic bubble.
Adams You’ve committed to working with female directors once every 18 months, right?
Kidman I did. I made a pledge at the Cannes Film Festival to work with a female director every 18 months because I actually saw the statistics and they were unbelievably dire. One night, strangely enough, after the Oscars, and instead of going to the parties, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett and a bunch of us went and just had a bite to eat. Out of it came the conversation of how do we support women, and how do we build more female directors, female crews in this industry. What do we do? And that’s where I went, “OK, I’m going to make this pledge publicly,” and I’ve exceeded it, actually.