POR­TRAIT OF A LADY

The Aussie su­per­star opens up about how she chased her dreams of be­com­ing an ac­tor, on lead­ing a quiet fam­ily life, and on the im­por­tance of men­tors, luck and love

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Front Page - satarupa.paul@hin­dus­tan­times.com. Fol­low @sa­taru­pa­paul on Twit­ter

An ac­tress at 14, mar­ried at 23 and in­fa­mously di­vorced a decade later, only to find fame, crit­i­cal ac­claim and new love on new terms. Ni­cole Kid­man on the power of faith, luck and fam­ily

TThe first thing you no­tice about her as you en­ter the car­peted, oak­pan­elled room teem­ing with peo­ple dressed in sharp for­mals, is her smile. Then her tall slen­der frame – dressed in a sim­ple, el­e­gant gown, as she ma­noeu­vres her way through the crowd to­wards you. And her warm greet­ing: “How are you? Would you like some tea?”

“It’s her! The sparkling di­a­mond!” was how Ni­cole Kid­man was in­tro­duced as the cour­te­san Sa­tine in the 2001 Baz Luhrmann mu­si­cal Moulin Rouge! Porce­lain beauty she may be, or may possess “that lu­mi­nous thing”, as di­rec­tor John Cameron Mitchell (who di­rected her in the 2010 drama

Rab­bit Hole) said in a Vogue story this July. But what makes Kid­man truly sparkle like a di­a­mond is how ef­fort­lessly she makes you feel com­fort­able. She also seems ea­ger to talk, to par­tic­i­pate – her ses­sion at the Hin­dus­tan Times Lead­er­ship Sum­mit (HTLS) last week was am­ple proof of that.

Kid­man, 48, was born in Hawaii in the US, to an Aus­tralian fam­ily of sci­en­tists and aca­demi­cians, with no ties to film or act­ing what­so­ever. Her fam­ily re­turned to Aus­tralia when she was four. “But even at that time, when I was four or five years old, I had this dream… of go­ing to places far be­yond Aus­tralia,” she says. She be­lieves that it was this dream, and the drive to “work harder than any­body else” that made it pos­si­ble for her to get where she is to­day. “I’d save my money dur­ing the week, and use that money to catch the bus by my­self on a Satur­day morn­ing at 6am to go to drama school. At 13, my par­ents told me that ‘if you want to go, you have to get there

by Satarupa Paul your­self, we’re not driv­ing you’.” And that’s what she did.

By the time she was 14, Kid­man had al­ready se­cured her first act­ing as­sign­ment af­ter be­ing spot­ted by cast­ing direc­tors at her drama school; she made her de­but in an Aus­tralian Christ­mas film called Bush Christ­mas (1983). Be­cause she started work­ing so young, she “was taught to al­ways be on time, al­ways be pre­pared, and be grate­ful that I have a job”. That could be why, she says, she never let fame go to her head: “I have an in­cred­i­bly strong work ethic. I strug­gle more with my own con­fi­dence than I do with an in­flated ego”.

Barely six years into the scene, she was roped in by Aus­tralian film­maker Ge­orge Miller, of Mad Max fame, for Dead Calm (1989). The film brought her in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion, lead­ing to her Hol­ly­wood de­but in the car rac­ing film Days of Thun­der (1990) with her then-boyfriend and soon to be­hus­band Tom Cruise. “I went from be­ing a child in act­ing school to im­me­di­ately work­ing, which can be a bad thing for some­one that young. But for me, be­cause it was my ab­so­lute de­sire to be an ac­tor, I just worked hard, trained and stud­ied,” Kid­man said at the HTLS ses­sion. “And that’s what landed me in Hol­ly­wood, al­though I never saw my­self as just want­ing to star in an Amer­i­can film. I wanted to be an in­ter­na­tional ac­tor, to work in many coun­tries, to play all kinds of roles and tell many dif­fer­ent sto­ries. That’s part of my

“As a woman in this in­dus­try, be­ing a pro­ducer is a way in which we can sup­port other women: give fe­male direc­tors a chance, give fe­male ac­tors bet­ter roles”

drive: the idea of all of us get­ting closer through art.”

In the ’90s, Kid­man starred in sev­eral big films that would bol­ster her rep­u­ta­tion as an ac­tress and a star. Th­ese in­cluded the su­per­hero film Bat­man For­ever (1995), the crit­i­cally ac­claimed To Die For (1995), for which she won her first Golden Globe, as well as the ac­tion­thriller The Peace­maker (1997) op­po­site Ge­orge Clooney.

Kid­man ad­mits that her suc­cess wasn’t all just hard work: there was some luck in­volved too (“Be­ing in the right place at the right time”), and the abil­ity to over­come re­jec­tion. “When you get knocked back – and I’ve had a lot of knock­backs – how do you get back up again? I sup­pose that’s hu­man tenac­ity, isn’t it? As an ac­tor, you need tenac­ity be­cause you get re­jected. A lot! And it’s hap­pen­ing right there to you phys­i­cally, emo­tion­ally. Each re­jec­tion is deeply per­sonal.”

That is why, she says, “you need pro­tec­tors, men­tors” – some­thing she stressed sev­eral times dur­ing her HTLS ses­sion as well as in this in­ter­view. “You need to find peo­ple in your life who can sup­port you, guide you. And if you can find those peo­ple, I really think it makes the jour­ney eas­ier.”

For Kid­man, the cel­e­brated Amer­i­can film­maker Stan­ley Kubrick was one of those peo­ple.

In many ways, the 1999 erotic thriller Eyes Wide Shut by Kubrick played an im­por­tant role in Kid­man’s life to come. The film came at a time when Brad Pitt and An­gelina Jolie weren’t the reign-

“I re­alised that the idea of a huge ca­reer with­out the bal­ance of love and in­ti­macy with fam­ily may be enough for other peo­ple, but it wasn’t enough for me”

ing king and queen of Hol­ly­wood, Cruise and Kid­man were. They’d been mar­ried for al­most a decade, had adopted a daugh­ter and a son, and the ghost of Scien­tol­ogy had not yet be­gun to haunt Kid­man. It was at this time that Kubrick cast the hus­band-wife power duo in his fi­nal film, which probed in­se­cu­ri­ties about fidelity, sex and mar­riage.

Kid­man be­came close to the mas­ter film­maker dur­ing film­ing, and she be­gan look­ing up to Kubrick as a fa­ther fig­ure. How­ever, a few months be­fore the release of the film, Kubrick died in his sleep at the age of 70, leav­ing Kid­man “col­laps­ing to the floor, scream­ing,” when she got the phone call about his death. “He took on a very pa­ter­nal role for me. I would lis­ten to him. We would ar­gue. He would change my mind. He wouldn’t change his,” Kid­man said at her HTLS ses­sion. “Peo­ple say to me, ‘Oh, it must have been so dif­fi­cult to do a film with Kubrick be­cause he was crazy.’ I must be crazy be­cause I didn’t find him crazy.”

Kubrick’s fi­nal film went on to be­come his high­est-gross­ing one. It also turned out to be the last film in which Kid­man starred along­side her hus­band Tom Cruise. They di­vorced a couple of years later.

While the film gave Kid­man a men­tor in Kubrick, it also gave her heart­break in Cruise. Many be­lieve that it was

Eyes Wide Shut that pushed Cruise and Kid­man to break­ing point as a couple. The ac­tress de­nied such pop­u­lar per­cep­tions in an es­say about work­ing with Kubrick that she wrote for The Hol­ly­wood

Re­porter: “Peo­ple thought that making the film was the be­gin­ning of the end of my mar­riage. But I don’t really think it was. Tom and I were close then.”

What really led to the high­pro­file di­vorce was pos­si­bly, and quite prob­a­bly as more ev­i­dence has emerged over the years, the Church of Scien­tol­ogy – of which Cruise is an ar­dent ad­vo­cate. One of the most an­tic­i­pated doc­u­men­taries at this year’s Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val was Alex Gib­ney’s Go­ing Clear: Scien­tol­ogy and the Prison of Be­lief. In what has been called a scathing ex­posé on Scien­tol­ogy “that makes some star­tling ac­cu­sa­tions about its fa­mous mem­ber, Tom Cruise,” the film al­leges that “the Church of Scien­tol­ogy used a num­ber of in­tim­i­da­tion tac­tics to force Cruise to split from Ni­cole Kid­man,” re­ported The Daily

Beast.

Kid­man has so far cho­sen to re­main silent about the dis­rup­tive role that Scien­tol­ogy played in her life and her mar­riage, say­ing re­cently to E! News: “I have two chil­dren [her adopted chil­dren with Cruise] who are Scien­tol­o­gists – and I ut­terly re­spect their be­liefs.” But she talks openly of her own faith. Born and raised a Catholic, she has a strong be­lief

we are us

Ni­cole Kid­man says she has found the love of her life in her hus­band, Aus­tralian coun­try singer Keith Ur­ban in God and “I al­ways pray when I’m in trou­ble,” she told Brunch. “I take my chil­dren [her bi­o­log­i­cal chil­dren with her sec­ond hus­band Keith Ur­ban] to church and I am re­li­gious. But I am very open in my faith – I just be­lieve in be­ing com­pas­sion­ate, kind and good, and I try and live a moral life.”

For Kid­man, while one land­mark film may have proved stren­u­ous for her re­la­tion­ship, an­other proved ther­a­peu­tic for her life and ca­reer. In 2001, the year that Cruise and Kid­man’s mar­riage fell apart, she starred in the grand Baz Luhrmann mu­si­cal

Moulin Rouge!. Dur­ing her ses­sion at HTLS 2015, she looked back fondly at how “we stole a lot from Bol­ly­wood on Moulin Rouge!” She re­mem­bers Luhrmann screen­ing Hindi films to pre­pare them for their roles, “and that was when I fell in love with them. We tried to do a lit­tle bit of it in the movie but it is very hard. It is an in­cred­i­bly hard art form to emu­late.”

She may seem chatty about it now, but at the time, the wounds from her di­vorce were still raw and she had found a clo­sure of sorts in Moulin Rouge! In a 2013

Van­ity Fair story, Luhrmann de­scribed her per­for­mance in his film as “a chrysalis ex­pe­ri­ence – she went in as Mrs Tom Cruise, but like Sa­tine on the trapeze over the heads of clam­our­ing men, she emerged as her own per­son. She was no longer the king – she was Ni­cole Kid­man, icon.”

Kid­man went on to re­ceive an Acad­emy Award nom­i­na­tion for her role in Moulin Rouge!. She would clinch the award a year later for her role of English writer Vir­ginia Woolf in the Bri­tish Amer­i­can drama The Hours. A few years later, she would re­ceive her third Os­car nom­i­na­tion for her role of a mother who loses her son to an accident in the heart-wrench­ing drama Rab­bit Hole (2010). She also turned pro­ducer with this film. This year, she re­turned to the stage af­ter 15 years with Lon­don’s West End pro­duc­tion Pho­to­graph

51, in which she stars as the Bri­tish sci­en­tist Ros­alind Franklin.

For now, when she is not shoot­ing a film or re­hears­ing for a play, Kid­man likes to lead a quiet fam­ily life at her home in the Amer­i­can city of Nashville. She mar­ried Aus­tralian coun­try singer Keith Ur­ban in 2006, just a year af­ter the two met at an event. “With no dis­re­spect to what I had with Tom, I’ve met my great love now,” she said in a Van­ity Fair in­ter­view. “I had a lot of time alone, which was really, really good, be­cause I was a child, really, when I got mar­ried (she was 23 when she mar­ried Cruise). And I needed to grow up.”

Kid­man now has two daugh­ters with Ur­ban and she loves her close, warm fam­ily life with

“While act­ing, I get to take on a whole dif­fer­ent skin and way of think­ing, and then I get to shed that. It makes me more un­der­stand­ing”

them in Nashville. “I think I’m just very ma­ter­nal. I like to sleep with my kids, take them to school, go and have din­ner, go to the movies, play with them… and I don’t want that to hap­pen in a pub­lic arena,” she says. “I like go­ing to New York or Lon­don to see a play. But I also need some­where where I can med­i­tate, walk, sleep and have good food.” She likes to gar­den – she grows roses. “I may sound like an old woman, but I grow th­ese roses, I watch them bloom, I watch them die, I smell them. They’re my pride and joy.” With so much to keep her oc­cu­pied in Nashville, does she miss Hol­ly­wood when she’s away? “No! Not at all,” she ex­claims.

Per­haps it is this need to es­cape from the fame and pa­parazzi that makes her keep a low so­cial me­dia pres­ence, only oc­ca­sion­ally putting out pho­tos through her pub­li­cists on her of­fi­cial Twit­ter han­dle. “It’s a dilemma, isn’t it? In terms of how much do you share with the world and how much do you keep for your­self ?,” she says. “The all-per­va­sive na­ture of tech­nol­ogy wor­ries me. The fact that, in some way, tech­nol­ogy is draw­ing us away from hu­man con­nect wor­ries me. So many things heal through con­ver­sa­tion. The power of the phys­i­cal is a heal­ing tool. The fact that that con­nect is go­ing away fright­ens me.”

Which is per­haps why, when I ask her to choose one emo­tion that she re­lates to the most, with­out miss­ing a beat, she replies, “Love!”. She elab­o­rates, “You can choose so many dif­fer­ent emo­tions, but the most pow­er­ful emo­tion you can choose to stay in is love.” Just like one of the best di­a­logues to come out of her film Moulin Rouge!: “The great­est thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in re­turn.” Kid­man says she has a phrase for it, “It may sound corny – but I call it ‘to stay in the love’.”

Kid­man's films in the '90s like Bat­man

For­ever (left) es­tab­lished her as a star

PAST PER­FECT

Photo: gEtty iM­agEs

On a rOle Kid­man has played dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters in her films: (clock­wise from above) a mar­ried woman in Eyes Wide Shut, a cour­te­san in Moulin Rouge! and writer Vir­ginia Woolf in The Hours

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