MICHAEL BODEY ON THE ENIGMA OF NI­COLE KIDMANN

Ni­cole Kid­man ex­plores the depths of am­ne­sia and the bound­aries of hu­man faith in her lat­est film role, writes Michael Bodey

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Front Page -

NI­COLE Kid­man plays a vic­tim in the film Be­fore I Go to Sleep. In the hum­ble Bri­tish adap­ta­tion of SJ Wat­son’s best­selling novel of the same name, the Aus­tralian ac­tress plays a woman suf­fer­ing an­tero­grade am­ne­sia, a con­di­tion whereby a per­son is in­ca­pable of cre­at­ing new mem­o­ries: she wakes ev­ery day with no knowl­edge of who she is.

Her character, how­ever, is not your stan­dard on-screen vic­tim; and Kid­man is not your stan­dard ac­tress.

Her ev­ery role is parsed and as­sessed, given mean­ing when per­haps there is none. Even a per­for­mance in a sim­ple three-han­der such as Be­fore I Go to Sleep will be over-an­a­lysed for in­flec­tion, in­nu­endo and in­sight.

Sim­ply enough, Kid­man says she was at­tracted to the film be­cause she knew its di­rec­tor, Rowan Joffe, the di­rec­tor of Brighton Rock. (Joffe is also the son of di­rec­tor Roland.) “(I) just con­nected to the univer­sal theme of a man con­trol­ling ev­ery part of a woman’s world and her hav­ing to fight her way out of that,” she says.

Kid­man says she was in­trigued by the in­ter­nal strug­gles in this film: Chris­tine’s need for her hus­band (Colin Firth’s Ben) and how that con­trasts with the hus­band rel­ish­ing “com­plete con­trol over ev­ery as­pect of her life”.

“Con­trol is a re­ally fas­ci­nat­ing sub­ject for a movie,” she says. “And that’s what this is, it’s a film about that and iden­tity, ob­vi­ously.”

Surely peo­ple will read be­tween the lines of that ex­pla­na­tion to ex­trap­o­late some­thing from Kid­man’s per­sonal life (gut­lessly, this re­porter fails to ex­plic­itly men­tion her nine-year mar­riage to Tom Cruise)?

“Oh, they shouldn’t,” the 47-year-old re­sponds, per­haps disin­gen­u­ously, per­haps deftly de­flect­ing to the present. “It’s got noth­ing to do with that. If they read be­tween the lines, no. In terms of my life now, no. I have the most in­cred­i­bly gen­er­ous man (hus­band Keith Ur­ban), and after what I’ve just been through the last month ... (he is an) ex­tra­or­di­nary part­ner. I’m just so grate­ful to him for be­ing able to carry me through.”

The past month has been a pe­riod of griev­ing fol­low­ing the death of Kid­man’s fa­ther, Antony, a prom­i­nent Syd­ney clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist.

Her will­ing­ness to help pro­mote this film dur­ing such a time is ad­mirable; Kid­man feels that adult dra­mas such as Be­fore I Go to Sleep need ev­ery as­sis­tance to find an au­di­ence if they are to sur­vive, let alone thrive.

Nev­er­the­less, she is happy she can ex­press some grat­i­tude for such a gen­er­ous re­sponse to her fa­ther’s pass­ing.

“It’s been rough but it was so nice to see how many peo­ple knew him,” she says. “He was an amaz­ing man.”

A small mercy, if it can be called such, is her present hia­tus fol­low­ing a pe­riod of in­tense screen work that has in­cluded re­cent high-pro­file of­fer­ings The Rail­way Man and Grace of Monaco.

Be­fore I Go to Sleep is the least glam­orous of the lot. The tight tale is cap­tured in an in­tense fash­ion stylis­ti­cally and Kid­man is in ev­ery scene. She rel­ished the idea of a thriller fo­cused on a fe­male, with its twists and turns shown through her per­spec­tive.

“That is just very rare th­ese days,” Kid­man says. “And I also just like the idea of do­ing th­ese things straight to cam­era and play­ing with time, and the per­cep­tion of time, and our iden­tity based on what we know and re­mem­ber,” she adds. “I know that has been dealt with be­fore in movies but it’s rare that you get to play it all out with very lit­tle di­a­logue and just with emo­tions.”

Kid­man’s per­for­mance is raw. Her character be­gins to video her­self each morn­ing on the urg­ing of her psy­chol­o­gist, Mark Strong’s Dr Nash.

Kid­man is clearly not wear­ing much, if any, make-up in the straight-to-cam­era shots. Her cin­e­matog­ra­pher Ben Davis (with whom she will work again next month on Ge­nius, Michael Grandage and John Lo­gan’s adap­ta­tion of A. Scott Berg’s book) told her he would shoot it “re­ally, re­ally stark and a lot of it will just be close-ups on your face”. “I re­ally like that,” she adds. And the ac­tress has no qualms see­ing the unadul­ter­ated ver­sion of her­self on screen

“I step into the character and I try not to edit my­self in terms of per­for­mance,” she says.

“And that is why they al­ways say an ac­tor can never be a con­trol freak. The ones that should not be ac­tors be­cause you’ve got to be com­pletely will­ing to move and change and morph and al­low somebody else to morph and mould your per­for­mance as well, be­cause you’re not in the edit­ing room, you don’t choose the way the film looks, you don’t choose the shots, all you do is pro­vide the character.”

That is the cu­ri­ous part of a screen ac­tor’s life. In many ways they are help­less. No mat­ter how com­pe­tent, there can al­ways be an ed­i­tor, di­rec­tor, light­ing per­son, pro­ducer or cin­e­matog­ra­pher who can ma­nip­u­late their per­for­mance. A cu­ri­ous irony flow­ing from that fact is fame demon­stra­bly does turn some suc­cess­ful ac­tors into con­trol freaks.

“I don’t think that’s healthy,” Kid­man says. “And I sup­pose as I get older, I get more aban­doned with that. And you live and die on it.”

Case in point is her per­for­mance in this year’s re­lease, Grace of Monaco. She was good, she looked stun­ning, and the film about the tail end of Grace Kelly’s life had its as­sets but Olivier Da­han’s di­rec­tion and Arash Amel’s screen­play were not among them.

Be­fore I Go to Sleep has worked well al­ready in its Bri­tish home­land, which Kid­man notes is

I LIKE PRO­DUC­ING BUT IT’S NOT ALL I WANT TO DO … I DON’T LIKE DO­ING IT WHEN YOU HAVE TO FIGHT STU­DIOS

NI­COLE KID­MAN

im­por­tant for smaller adult dra­mas. This kind of film is be­com­ing harder to make and harder to find a space for in cin­e­mas.

“That’s why you have to make them quickly, you don’t get a lot of time to shoot them and you do them on a cer­tain bud­get and you don’t get paid as an ac­tor, and you all just go ‘ OK, well this is what it is’,” she says.

“But that’s OK, that is what it is now and at least you can still get them made.

“To get Be­fore I Go to Sleep made was a big deal and it’s done well, which is good, so it stands a chance to find its own way.

“It doesn’t have the mas­sive support of a huge stu­dio but I think sto­ry­wise it’s strong. So I hope it finds its au­di­ence and that way we can keep get­ting th­ese things made in this in­de­pen­dent fi­nanc­ing model.”

Sim­i­larly, the suc­cess of another col­lab­o­ra­tion with Firth ear­lier this year (and last), the Aus­tralian World War II drama The Rail­way

Man, was “a re­lief” to Kid­man in the sense that it jus­ti­fied the belief she and oth­ers held that there would be an au­di­ence for a brac­ing and emo­tional war mem­oir.

“They did a re­ally great job on that be­cause

they re­ally knew who the au­di­ence was and they found the au­di­ence,” she says.

Kid­man will be in front of au­di­ences con­sis­tently dur­ing the next 12 months, with the preChrist­mas re­lease of com­edy Padding­ton —a to­tal change of pace — and next year’s re­leases of her por­trayal of ad­ven­turer Gertrude Bell for Werner Her­zog in Queen of the Desert, Kim Far­rant’s Aus­tralian thriller Stranger­land and the film she only re­cently wrapped, The Fam­ily

Fang, Ja­son Bate­man’s comic drama adapted from Kevin Wilson’s novel.

“Yeah, I’m schiz­o­phrenic in my artis­tic choices right now,” she says, laugh­ing. “But I can ex­plain them all; I know why I choose them.”

Stranger­land ful­filled a long-held de­sire to re­turn to Aus­tralia “and do some­thing I felt was un­usual but was pri­mar­ily a woman’s story”.

Padding­ton was merely “whim­si­cal and fun” and “my kids got to learn about Padding­ton Bear”. Ge­nius, the tale of Max Perkins’s time as an ed­i­tor work­ing with Ernest Hem­ing­way, F. Scott Fitzger­ald and oth­ers, en­thused her cre­ative side, and she took on The Fam­ily Fang as a pro­ducer. It is her first pro­duc­ing role since 2010’s Rab

bit Hole, although she re­cently bought the rights with Reese Wither­spoon to Big Lit­tle

Lies, the comic novel about three mums of kinder­garten kids.

“I like pro­duc­ing but it’s not all I want to do,” she says. “I like do­ing it when it’s easy. I don’t like do­ing it when you have to fight stu­dios and strug­gle and try to con­vince peo­ple the ma­te­rial’s good, be­cause then it be­comes like hit­ting your head against a wall.”

The business side of pro­duc­tion doesn’t “en­thral” her, but the abil­ity to support oth­ers does. For in­stance, Wilson was a writer from Ten­nessee (where she lives) and she told him: “I reckon I can get the film made for you.”

“It’s never easy but you can find peo­ple now in­de­pen­dently to fi­nance things that are pas­sion­ate,” Kid­man says. “That’s what’s ex­cit­ing. There’s a whole dif­fer­ent way to make movies now that’s out­side the box and that’s what I en­joy.”

Be­fore I Go to Sleep is open na­tion­ally.

Kid­man film­ing a scene for

Stranger­land at Bro­ken Hill ear­lier this year

Clock­wise from main pic­ture, Ni­cole Kid­man at Cannes this year; with Colin Firth in Be­fore I Go to Sleep; with Firth in The

Rail­way Man’s Wife; and in Grace of Monaco

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