Ni­cole Kid­man on The Beguiled, Big Lit­tle Lies and BMX Ban­dits.

Dur­ing a 34-year ca­reer, Ni­cole Kid­man has worked with ev­ery­one from Stan­ley Kubrick to Lars von Trier. And with four as­ton­ish­ing per­for­mances at Cannes plus Big Lit­tle Lies this year, it’s clear she has no in­ten­tion of slow­ing down. To­tal Film talks the



This month, Ni­cole Kid­man hits that most sig­nif­i­cant of milestones. The Aus­tralian ac­tress turns 50, but she won’t be throw­ing a lav­ish party. “I al­ways say I get enough at­ten­tion,” she says. “The last thing I need is a huge birth­day, hav­ing to talk to a lot of peo­ple.” She’d rather just spend time with her hus­band of 10 years, mu­si­cian Keith Ur­ban. Be­sides, Kid­man is not one for count­ing the rings. “I prob­a­bly don’t mark time with years,” she says softly. “I mark it more with mem­o­ries.”

In 2017, there’s al­ready been much to cel­e­brate, much to re­mem­ber. Os­car, Bafta and Golden Globe nom­i­na­tions for Lion, a hugely mov­ing drama that sees Kid­man play Sue Bri­er­ley, the real-life Aus­tralian who adopted two In­dian boys. Then there’s been last month’s re­turn to the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, with three ma­jor new films and a tele­vi­sion show un­veiled. Plus, the huge suc­cess of the David E. Kel­ley TV drama Big Lit­tle Lies, which she ex­ec­u­tive pro­duced.

It’s typ­i­cal of Kid­man’s eclec­tic jour­ney. Hawaii-born, Syd­ney-raised, she be­came a break-out star Down Un­der in films such as Dead Calm and Flirt­ing; hot Hol­ly­wood new­comer thanks to 1991’s Days Of Thun­der and Far And Away, meet­ing and mar­ry­ing her co-star Tom Cruise; then an art­house con­nois­seur, be­gin­ning with Gus Van Sant’s To Die For and her old friend Jane Cam­pion’s Por­trait Of A Lady.

By 1999, she was work­ing with Cruise on Stan­ley Kubrick’s swan­song Eyes Wide Shut. Di­vorce from Cruise fol­lowed, but so did a new phase of her ca­reer. Direc­tors such as Baz Luhrmann ( Moulin Rouge!, Aus­tralia), Lars von Trier ( Dogville) and Jonathan Glazer ( Birth) flocked. She won an Os­car for play­ing sui­ci­dal writer Vir­ginia Woolf in The Hours. True, there were flops ( The In­va­sion, Grace Of Monaco), but the good far out­weighed the bad.

Just look at her Cannes choices this year. Sofia Cop­pola’s re­make The Beguiled, with Kid­man star­ring as Martha Farnsworth, the head­mistress of a Vir­ginia girls’ school that takes in Colin Far­rell’s wounded sol­dier dur­ing the Amer­i­can Civil War. She’s with Far­rell again in the idio­syn­cratic Greek di­rec­tor Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos’ The Killing Of A Sa­cred Deer, as the wife of a sur­geon who forms a dan­ger­ous at­tach­ment with a young boy.

To show us her light side – we’ve seen it be­fore, most re­cently as the vil­lain­ess in Padding­ton – Kid­man pops up in John Cameron Mitchell’s How To Talk To Girls At Par­ties as a fash­ion mogul who sets her eye on Elle Fanning’s mys­te­ri­ous alien. And then per­haps her most mouth­wa­ter­ing Cannes of­fer­ing: a reunion with Cam­pion in the sec­ond sea­son of her sub­lime New Zealand-set pro­ce­dural Top Of The Lake.

“Never play it safe,” re­marked the New York Times once of Kid­man’s red-car­pet sar­to­rial choices, but it could just as eas­ily be ap­plied to her ca­reer. Next up? The chance to be a “mer­maid war­rior”, Queen At­lanna, in Aqua­man. What a way to mark your fifti­eth…

The past 12 months or so have seen you work with some re­mark­able direc­tors. Do you feel you’ve en­joyed a great year?

Yeah, I do! I worked with Jean-Marc Val­lée [ on Big Lit­tle Lies] and Jane Cam­pion and Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos and Sofia Cop­pola… it doesn’t get bet­ter than that. But I don’t know how that hap­pened – that wasn’t like, “Oh my gosh! I’m go­ing to plan this out.” Things just ar­rived and sched­ules aligned.

Lion was an­other high­light, gain­ing you a fourth Os­car nom­i­na­tion. Did you find it hugely emo­tional to play?

When I ini­tially read it, I had that re­ac­tion – but I didn’t know it was a true story even. But then when I found it was a true story, I was like “Oh…” But sub­se­quently get­ting meshed in the whole world of the Bri­er­leys and get­ting to know Sue and the whole fam­ily… they’re pretty spe­cial but she’s just had a very, very un­usual life, and at times trau­matic life, and yet she man­aged to pull it all to­gether and give th­ese boys this beau­ti­ful fu­ture and life. And that’s the thing that touches me the most.

Were you cau­tious about meet­ing her? Maybe meet­ing her would in­flu­ence you in some way…

It was more like I didn’t want to let her down. Ob­vi­ously, it’s a sup­port­ing role, so it’s not her story – and she con­trib­utes to it. But her story it­self – her life story – is so com­pelling. I was like, “Gosh, I hope I can some­how get her essence into the amount of screen time I have so you can re­ally feel who she is and what she is.” So I wasn’t ret­i­cent to meet her, but I didn’t want her to feel that every­thing she shared with me – be­cause I spent so much time with her – was not on the screen, be­cause it couldn’t be. But I wanted to some­how hon­our her life.

You’ve also gone on to do the sec­ond sea­son of Top Of The Lake. Was that due to Lion di­rec­tor Garth Davis, who codi­rected the first sea­son, or more down to Jane Cam­pion?

Oh, to Jane. Jane I’ve known since I was 14. Our friend­ship is re­ally strong. A cou­ple of

years ago, we were at din­ner, and she said, “I’m writ­ing a role for you now and you have to say ‘yes’!” I’m like, “OK!” And then she wrote me a sup­port­ing role in that. That for me is like home; Jane is like home. I’ve known her my whole life. I can say any­thing, be any­thing, do any­thing with her – and I love her! So Garth is… prob­a­bly ini­tially be­cause Jane had cho­sen him to do Top Of The Lake with her, when I first read Lion, and I knew that he’d done that, I knew that he must be great. And Greig Fraser, the cin­e­matog­ra­pher [ of Lion], Jane shot Bright Star with.

We’re all con­nected.

What about Sofia Cop­pola’s The Beguiled? It’s a re­make of the 1971 Clint East­wood film di­rected by Don Siegel…

Yeah. It’s just her re­make of what she en­vi­sioned. She has a very par­tic­u­lar way of do­ing this, Sofia. I love that she’s got such a strong… you know Sofia’s film­mak­ing and it’s not her fa­ther’s film­mak­ing. I re­ally like that! And that’s hard. So I re­ally like sup­port­ing that. When she called me up… she’d of­fered me some­thing else and it didn’t come to­gether and then she said, “I’ve writ­ten this script and do you want do this with me?” I said, “Of course Sofia, I’ll do any­thing with you!” Sofia knows Jane and Jane and I love Sofia. I hate to say but it’s also con­nected.

You’ve en­gi­neered a dou­ble bill with Colin Far­rell, in The Beguiled and Yor­gos

Lan­thi­mos’ The Killing Of A Sa­cred Deer, right?

I did! We would say to each other, we’re in rep to­gether – film rep! A lit­tle two-handed theatre com­pany! We now want to go and do the third thing, but we need some­one to of­fer us some­thing. That would be cool – be­cause they’re so dif­fer­ent, the two films, good lord! As Colin and I said, “How amaz­ing is that – to flit be­tween those two?” And Yor­gos is just a mas­ter.

Were you a big fan of The Lob­ster?

Agh! And Dog­tooth! That brings you to your knees! He and the writer [ Efthymis Filip­pou] he works with – they’re so Greek! And fab­u­lous. I love that he’s so pow­er­ful in his style. What he does cin­e­mat­i­cally has not been done. He’s re­ally to him­self, of him­self. And then John Cameron Mitchell’s How To Talk To Girls At Par­ties… Yes, that I did in Eng­land.

In Croy­don, right? It’s hard to imag­ine you in south Lon­don…

Oh, yeah! [ laughs] When I was young, I lived in Brix­ton for a while! Yeah!

Brix­ton has changed a lot since you were there…

Yes, from when I was there – I was op­po­site the jail!

What did you make of Croy­don?

Cool! Ob­vi­ously I spent so much time in Eng­land and lived all over the place, in all dif­fer­ent parts of my ca­reer – when I had no money, when I did have money, all those things. I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced it many dif­fer­ent ways. And that’s why I went back and did the play [The Blue Room] there be­cause that’s prob­a­bly where I feel the safest. I didn’t choose Aus­tralia, I chose Lon­don – both the plays I’ve done have been in Lon­don.


Is it im­por­tant for you to do projects back in Aus­tralia when you can?

Yeah. I’ve done smaller sto­ries in Aus­tralia, like Stranger­land – I was sup­port­ing a first-time fe­male di­rec­tor there and it was re­ally low bud­get. So that was a dif­fer­ent type of film to make. To do some­thing like Lion, which is ac­tu­ally be­ing seen world­wide, and be­ing ac­knowl­edged as an Aus­tralian film that works in­ter­na­tion­ally, that’s re­ally grat­i­fy­ing. And that’s rare in our in­dus­try; we’re try­ing to al­ways build our in­dus­try. I love go­ing home to shoot, re­ally be­cause I know the whole crew. Ev­ery­one I work with, pretty much, I’ve ei­ther known since I was young or they’re the chil­dren of peo­ple I work with!

Does that make you feel slightly old?

Yeah! Yeah, of course! I’ve been in that in­dus­try since I was 14 years old and it built me! And then I jumped over into some Amer­i­can films but then I moved into the Bri­tish films and stage plays. Even Eyes Wide Shut, we shot in Eng­land, so a lot of my twen­ties were spent be­ing a part of the Bri­tish film in­dus­try and also do­ing theatre there. So prob­a­bly the place I’ve worked least is Amer­ica. And I’ve shot a lot in Europe, like with Lars [ von Trier]. I’ve just not shot a lot in the States.


De­spite start­ing in your teens on films such as BMX

Ban­dits, do you re­mem­ber what it was like to be a fan?

Yeah! I was a kid who waited for Abba! So I’ve been in that po­si­tion. I was taken to the set of The Year Of Liv­ing Dan­ger­ously, and I re­mem­ber see­ing Mel Gib­son from afar, and I thought “He looked at me!” But he had no rec­ol­lec­tion! It’s im­por­tant that you al­ways re­mem­ber that; try to have some con­tact with peo­ple, it’s what I like to do. It’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber where you’re at, and where you’ve come from, so you never get trapped in the world that you ex­ist in.

You pre­vi­ously men­tioned shoot­ing

Eyes Wide Shut. Work­ing with Stan­ley Kubrick must’ve been one of your great­est mo­ments…

Yes, and I learnt from him. I ab­sorbed him like a sponge. One, I liked him and two, he was just a great teacher – even though he would never say that he was teach­ing you. To just ob­serve him and be around him… I re­ally just liked him. And I re­ally en­joyed him. I was dev­as­tated when he [ draws breath] died. That was just so… aw­ful.

Kubrick’s pass­ing was rather like David Bowie’s. They fin­ished their work and then passed away…

Yeah… Bowie was just a tragedy for me too. Re­ally. That’s a sound­track to my child­hood, Bowie. I think mu­sic is… film­mak­ers, yeah… but when mu­sic dies, you still have the mu­sic. Gosh, it re­ally hits you – your mor­tal­ity.

You went from Eye Wide Shut straight into Moulin Rouge! as Sa­tine. Did you al­ways want to sing?

No! [ laughs] I could sing as Sa­tine. When I put on a char­ac­ter, I can sing. I wish my voice had been bet­ter. I wanted to be Mariah Carey or Ce­line Dion as Sa­tine, but I had to use what I had. But I also think peo­ple have call­ings in life. My call­ing isn’t to play mu­sic; my call­ing is to act.

Was there any­thing that in­spired that when you were young?

I read. Not just plays. I read a lot of lit­er­a­ture, which was how I de­vel­oped my sen­si­bil­ity re­ally and es­caped a lot of my child­hood. I would just read, and I loved read­ing – and I still do.

You played Vir­ginia Woolf in The Hours. How did you feel when it won you the Os­car?

When I won my Os­car, it was a mix of pop­ping a cham­pagne bot­tle but at the same time feel­ing in­cred­i­bly lonely. Just be­cause I didn’t have what I have now. And those sit­u­a­tions when there’s an enor­mous amount of pro­fes­sional suc­cess, that can only mag­nify some­times the things you don’t have in your real life. When ev­ery­body goes home, the party’s over. And that was very ap­par­ent then. That was prob­a­bly the most, through that whole time, from when we first took Moulin Rouge! to Cannes all the way through to win­ning the Os­car for The Hours… that was a very strange time in my life. It was the collision of pro­fes­sional suc­cess and per­sonal fail­ure. And a lot of times, I know that hap­pens for a lot of peo­ple – the collision of two things. And it’s prob­a­bly ul­ti­mately the bal­ance of life.

Did you sense you wanted some­thing else in life?

I des­per­ately wanted to have a baby [ she even­tu­ally had two with Ur­ban, Sun­day Rose,

now eight, and Faith, six, born via sur­ro­gate] and I wanted to have a real life, I wanted a full life. I had the op­por­tu­ni­ties to live my life through char­ac­ters, which is very com­pelling and can be ful­fill­ing to a de­gree, be­cause you’re chang­ing ev­ery few months into some­thing else. You’re meet­ing new peo­ple, you’re form­ing very, very strong bonds with direc­tors and they be­come like fam­ily. But then ev­ery­one goes home to their fam­i­lies and then you’re like, “Well, I’ve got my kids and I’ve got noth­ing else in my life.” I didn’t even have a home then. I was rent­ing and just mov­ing around, very gypsy-es­que. So that’s when I went: “I just want some­thing… I want some­body who’s go­ing to share that with me.”

You were also tak­ing in­creas­ing risks in your ca­reer with films such as Birth and

Was that de­lib­er­ate?


I don’t see it as risky. That means at some stage I’m go­ing to crash and burn, be­cause I re­ally don’t see it as risky. My make up is not able to de­fine what’s a com­mer­cial hit movie or what’s not. I mean, with Dogville I walked on and saw there was no set – oh, my gosh. I’d seen the tests, but when you walk on and see it, you go, “Gee, is this go­ing to work?” But know­ing [ Ber­tolt] Brecht, and know­ing the way in which you can achieve some­thing through theatre and go­ing, “Well, can we achieve this in cinema?” and hav­ing seen things in the ’70s at­tempted like that… if you can re­ally cre­ate a world, then any­thing’s pos­si­ble. It’s about cre­at­ing truth on screen. But, yeah, I didn’t see work­ing with Lars as risky, be­cause he has great taste in per­form­ers. I think when you work with some­one who has only made medi­ocre movies… that’s the risk!

What first drew you to Lars von Trier?

I saw Break­ing The Waves years ago, and I re­sponded to it in such a strong, strong way. I said in an in­ter­view to a jour­nal­ist, who asked me which di­rec­tor I’d like to work with, that I’d like to work with Lars, and ob­vi­ously he heard about that. Years later, that’s how the script ar­rived.

What about Birth? How did you find work­ing with Jonathan Glazer?

I think what’s lovely about Jonathan is that he sets a bar, in terms of where he wants you to go, and then he al­lows the cam­era to just cap­ture things. The scene where I’m lis­ten­ing to the mu­sic, in most films that scene would be cut, be­cause there’s no dia­logue, there’s noth­ing. It’s just a re­ac­tion. And he doesn’t do that, but lets it play out. The film has its own pace, has

its own qual­ity, which I think is dif­fer­ent to the pace of a lot of films.

Is go­ing deep into char­ac­ter some­thing you like do­ing?

I had that chance a few times. I had it with The Hours. I feel like I had it with The Oth­ers. It’s frus­trat­ing as an ac­tor when you do work and you know you haven’t gone there – and you maybe haven’t asked for it or it’s not needed or the role is not com­plex enough to re­quire it. All of those things. Or you at­tempt to reach some­thing and you don’t get there.

Rab­bit Hole won you a third Os­car nom­i­na­tion, play­ing a mother who loses her child. What took you down that path?

I think I was drawn to the ma­te­rial be­cause it’s the thing I most fear. That sounds very strange, to want to go there, but that’s what I can get from it as an ac­tor – to go to places that are ter­ri­fy­ing to you. That’s very rich. And it’s wor­thy. I feel like if peo­ple can ac­tu­ally be liv­ing this, then I should be able to act it. And if I can’t act it in this deep­est pos­si­ble truth that I know, then I’m frus­trated at my­self and get an­gry at my­self.

What about Stoker? Was it awk­ward work­ing through a trans­la­tor with South Korean di­rec­tor Park Chan-wook?

Strangely enough, once you get the rhythm of it, it isn’t that jar­ring. And par­tic­u­larly be­cause Park con­structs his shots… he had two, three-minute shots, which would take maybe half a day, some­times all day to shoot. So you’re do­ing it very slowly. But it’s very spe­cific. It’s not like Lee Daniels, who is the com­plete op­po­site and is very brazen and he’s “Try it!” He’s yelling off cam­era, and it’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent kind of film­maker. And for me, I got to make Lee’s film The Paper­boy and Stoker back-to-back, which was re­ally weird. From Louisiana and Lee to Nashville and Park, they were very dif­fer­ent sets. But as an ac­tor that was amaz­ing.

You played Dr. Chase Merid­ian in

Bat­man For­ever and you’re about to star in Aqua­man. But you’ve not done too many sum­mer block­busters…

I’m not great at just play­ing the girl. I can’t do it. As Baz [ Luhrmann] would al­ways say to me, you’re not the girl next door. I’m like, “Is that a com­pli­ment or is that an in­sult?” I re­cently was hik­ing with Jane [ Cam­pion] and she said, “You have to play char­ac­ters – that’s what you do best.” And Stan­ley Kubrick said it to me: he would

al­ways say, “You’re a char­ac­ter ac­tress. That’s ac­tu­ally what you are.”

Do you have a strat­egy for your ca­reer?

I’d love to say it’s a strat­egy but there’s no strat­egy. It’s ran­dom, spon­ta­neous choices, and a lot of it is where my psy­che is at the time. I think my heart – and I’ve said this – is prob­a­bly pulled more to­wards in­de­pen­dent film­mak­ing, but you don’t even know what in­de­pen­dent film­mak­ing is any more, be­cause there are so many dif­fer­ent forms of it. Where the fi­nanc­ing comes from and all that sort of stuff. But I sup­pose what that re­ally means is that I’m just in­ter­ested in things that are not so main­stream; I like things that don’t con­form. I used to try to con­form more and fit into an idea of what you’re meant to be in terms of a film ac­tress, but now I don’t bother! And I think my spirit prob­a­bly tends to be a ‘buck the sys­tem’ spirit any­way. So I’ve al­ways had that. I dig my heels in ev­ery now and then, and think, ‘I’m not go­ing to do what’s ex­pected or what peo­ple think is the right thing.’ So I have a lit­tle bit of that in my per­son­al­ity.

What about pro­duc­ing? How did you start do­ing that?

I pro­duced In The Cut, be­cause it was a book I read years ago, and I just used my own money, bought the rights, and took it to Jane.

Is it be­com­ing more im­por­tant for you?

I just want to sup­port writ­ers and direc­tors who are not able to get their projects made, and find new tal­ent and put my weight be­hind peo­ple that need op­por­tu­nity. Be­cause I had that. As an ac­tor, peo­ple men­tored and be­lieved in me – and I’m very much about cul­ti­vat­ing and help­ing peo­ple do that.

One of your re­cent suc­cesses is Big Lit­tle Lies, which you ex­ec­u­tive pro­duced along­side Reese Wither­spoon. You’ve not done much TV. Is there any rea­son?

No, but I don’t have any snob fac­tor in re­la­tion to it. It’s be­come the thing, al­most more than film. I think when you have seven hours or 10 hours or six hours to de­velop a char­ac­ter, any ac­tor would rel­ish that. With Big Lit­tle Lies, we could’ve made it as a film – but we wouldn’t have been able to give five women re­ally good roles. We would’ve had to have nar­rowed it down and we were re­ally com­mit­ted to each one of the char­ac­ters be­ing ex­plored and be­ing able to get great ac­tresses for each role, and we got great ac­tresses.

Has the in­dus­try wo­ken up to the fact that we need good fe­male roles?

Yeah, but any time you rest on your lau­rels with that stuff, it will go back 10 steps. So it’s more about just con­stantly talk­ing about it, sup­port­ing, push­ing for it, so that it gets trac­tion – far more than for just a cou­ple of years.

What about in­equal­ity in pay? Have you ex­pe­ri­enced this?

Prob­a­bly. I don’t ever find out. I wouldn’t know what other peo­ple are paid and I feel I still have that slightly old-school thing where I would never ask. A lit­tle em­bar­rassed and shy – which is prob­a­bly the wrong ap­proach to money, but I get a bit awk­ward with it all. Of course I be­lieve in equal pay but my abil­ity to ad­vo­cate for my­self isn’t that strong. It should be bet­ter. But that’s just the gen­er­a­tion and me be­ing who I am and the way I was raised, and then a prod­uct of be­ing a woman as well. Not good!


Lion is avail­able on DVD and Blu-ray now. The Beguiled opens on 14 July. Top Of The Lake Sea­son 2 be­gins on BBC2 in late July. The Kill ing Of A Sa­cred Deer and How To Talk To Girls At Par­ties open later in the year.

be­guil­ing Star­ring with Colin Far­rell in Sofia Cop­pola’s lat­est.

Kid­man watches back a scene with di­rec­tor Baz Luhrmann on the set of 2001’s Moulin Rouge!.

be­side the sea Out for a run with Shai­lene Wood­ley and Reese Wither­spoon in Big Lit­tle Lies.

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