Lover . . . writer . . . fighter.. .
Why Nicole Kidman chose to make a tele- movie
WHEN Nicole Kidman set out to research the character of trailblazing war correspondent Martha Gellhorn, she discovered a woman who outHemingway- ed Hemingway with her pluck, passion and ability to hold her liquor.
‘‘ This woman was remarkable,’’ says Kidman, who has picked up an Emmy Award nomination for her role in the handsomely shot HBO biopic Hemingway & Gellhorn.
‘‘ She had extraordinary spirit and tenacity and compassion and she wanted to see the atrocities of the world and give voice to the voiceless.
‘‘ I wanted her story to be told because, really, she was defined as [ Ernest] Hemingway’s third wife and when you know about her you go, ‘ Hold on! No, no, no, this woman was remarkable and that marriage was a very small part of her life’.’’
The 45- year- old Oscar- winner plays Gellhorn from age 28 up to her late 70s ( scenes for which she spent four hours in make- up) in a performance that is never less than riveting.
Hemingway & Gellhorn traces the combustible, erotically charged relationship between the two 20th century writers, whose love affair and five- year marriage played out against some of history’s most turbulent times.
From the moment they meet, in 1936 in Hemingway’s Key West hangout Sloppy Joe’s, they seem set upon a pre- destined path.
The uber- masculine Hemingway ( played by Clive Owen) is married but, when he and Gellhorn later find themselves thrown together in a Madrid hotel during the Spanish Civil War, their simmering passion is awakened leading to a surprisingly graphic sex scene.
‘‘ I couldn’t tell you for sure how far they were going to go in those scenes and they went . . . far,’’ says director
Philip Kaufman ( The Right Stuff, The Unbearable Lightness of Being.)
Kidman and Owen are completely naked in the scene and, for Kidman at least, the moment required bravery worthy of the intrepid Gellhorn.
When it’s suggested that this scene – along with her explicit scenes in The
Paperboy, which premiered alongside H& G at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year – shows her in completely fearless mode, the mother- of- four disagrees.
‘‘ Oh no, I have a tremendous amount of fear,’’ she says.
‘‘ But I just push through it. I don’t even know how to describe it, like I’ll feel terrified but then I’ll just go, ‘ So what’s the worst that can happen?’’
Gellhorn is considered one of the greatest war correspondents of the 20th century, having reported on nearly every major world conflict during her 60- year career but, like many outside the world of journalism, Kidman had not heard of her.
‘‘ I read the script and that’s when I discovered Martha,’’ she says.
‘‘ I called Phil [ Kaufman] and said, ‘ I don’t care when you shoot it, how you shoot it, you just tell me when and where and I’ll be there’.’’
A crash course on the hard- boiled journalist saw Kidman watching film of her, studying photos and reading her letters. She was so impressed with the type of work Gellhorn undertook that she dedicated the Cannes screening of
Hemingway & Gellhorn to another famed war correspondent, Marie Colvin, who was killed while covering the uprising in Syria earlier this year.
‘‘ I really try to enter into the psychology of the person, the wiring of the person,’’ Kidman says. ‘‘ I’ve always had the ability since I was a child to be able to imagine. I have an incredibly powerful imagination and I can emotionally attach, which is also
dangerous. But I think it’s the thing that helps me with acting.’’
Perhaps more surprisingly, Kidman had never read Hemingway, famous for literary
classics such as The Sun Also
Rises, A Farewell to Arms and The Old Man and the Sea.
‘‘ Being Australian, Hemingway was not a big part of our school curriculum,’’ she says. ‘‘ I was a Jane Austen fan, I was a Bronte sisters fan – Hemingway was off in the distance.
‘‘ But when I heard Martha had inspired For Whom the Bell Tolls, I went off and I then read that and he’s an extraordinary writer and now, God yes, [ I’m a fan].’’
Kidman, who has two young girls with her husband Keith Urban and a son and a daughter with ex- husband Tom Cruise, says that her own life goals differ greatly to the childless, fiercely independent Gellhorn.
‘‘ I want to raise children, I love raising children,’’ she says. ‘‘ But she is a great role model and whether you believe in ‘ OK, you’re going to choose to be alone and only have a career’, whether that’s right or wrong, who cares, there’s an incredibly vital story there.
‘‘ I think Martha and Hemingway together were fantastic and devastating. They inspired each other, they ignited each other, they both taught each other.
‘‘ Heming way says, ‘ Come on, Gellhorn! Get in the ring and start throwing some punches for what you believe in.’ I love that line.’’