Harper’s Bazaar UK
Love and death, motherhood and career, the stage and the screen… Nicole Kidman addresses life’s big questions with thoughtfulness and grace
The London stage has been good to Nicole Kidman. Eighteen years ago, her West End debut in The Blue Room led directly to two of her most significant film roles, in Moulin Rouge! and The Hours, after their respective directors witnessed her electrifying performance. Her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in the latter film won her a Best Actress Oscar and cemented her reputation as one of the finest and most nuanced actresses in the business.
“The Blue Room basically changed my life,” Kidman subsequently observed. Her return to the London stage in 2015 proved similarly triumphant. Photograph 51, a play about the biochemist Rosalind Franklin, whose contribution to the discovery of DNA was unjustly overlooked, saw the audience rising nightly to its feet to give Kidman a standing ovation for her portrayal of the complex, prickly scientist. It won her the Theatre Icon prize at Bazaar’s Women of the Year Awards, and the Best Actress statuette at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards.
I meet her when the play has just three days left to run. We were supposed to have had our rendezvous earlier, but Kidman came down with a severe cold, and had to cancel. Now, I’m waiting for her in a little drawing-room backstage at the Noël Coward Theatre, feeling increasingly nervous as the minutes tick past and mentally preparing myself to meet an amalgam of Kidman’s more intimidating screen roles: the homicidal Suzanne Stone in To Die For, evil Mrs Coulter in The Golden Compass, disturbed Grace in The Others and the knife-hurling taxidermist in Paddington,who had my children hiding behind the cinema seats (all characterised, as Kidman will doubtless also be, by a chilly, porcelain elegance). Before I even clap eyes on her, however, I realise that these fears are groundless. I hear a door slam, heels clattering frantically up the stairs, a breathless, strongly Australian voice expostulating at her own lateness. “Gosh, I’m so sorry!” Kidman declares as she bursts into the room, face flushed, coat flying. “The driver took a wrong turn and we got stopped by the police!”
Kidman is now 48, as she tells me several times. She is wearing no make-up, and her auburn curls have been dragged into a careless bun at the top of her head, yet she remains mesmerising to look at: six-foot tall in her heels, slender to the point of fragility, with skin (which, contrary to online gossip, moves perfectly normally) so delicate it is almost translucent, changing colour with her every emotion. No wonder film directors over the years have repeatedly indulged themselves with long, lingering close-ups. Kidman, unaware or perhaps just used to scrutiny, dabs unselfconsciously at her reddened nose. She still has her cold, she says. “It’s having a five-year-old. You get every virus going.”
I expect she’ll be relieved when her punishing schedule for Photograph 51 is over, and she can go back to her home in Nashville, Tennessee, to relax, I say. “I’ll weep,” she declares instantly. “It has made me fall in love with acting. The great thing about the play is I get to do it from beginning to end. Nothing ends up on the editing floor, it doesn’t get changed. Once the actors step onto the stage, it’s ours for 95 minutes and that’s exquisite,” she says. “Right now I’m having a love affair with being on stage.”
Beyond the thrill of live performance, it is clear that the play
itself is personally important for Kidman. Otherwise it might be hard to understand why she’s put herself through it. There’s no money in it, for she is donating her earnings to King’s College (Franklin’s place of work) and to the Actors’ Benevolent Fund. Moreover, the role has meant a good deal of domestic disruption. She has had to bring her small daughters to London for several months, while her husband, the country singer Keith Urban, has been such a permanent fixture on transatlantic flights that she says the stewardesses all know him by name.
On top of this, she has struggled to overcome “unbearable” stage fright. “That extreme adrenalin that goes through your system, it’s a really weird feeling,” she says. “Your heart is pounding and you just have to get through it. It was kind of fascinating, because I had to navigate it, I couldn’t run away from it. I would stand in those dark wings, thinking, ‘Why am I doing this to myself?'” Well, why is she? “I don’t want to become safe and complacent as I get older,” she explains.”I still want to push into different placesand feelings and experiences.”