‘I pre­fer women’

Po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness be damned! Ni­cole Kid­man tells why she not only prefers work­ing with women on set – she’d choose them over men for her busi­ness, too

The Irish Mail on Sunday - TV Week - - PIERS MORGAN - Gabrielle Don­nelly The Beguiled is re­leased on July 14. Top Of The Lake: China Girl be­gins on BBC2 at the end of July.

For Ni­cole Kid­man it’s been the Year Of The Wo­man. She and Reese Wither­spoon teamed up to bring spring’s much-talked-about TV drama Big Lit­tle Lies to the screen; she’s joined Jane Cam­pion and Elis­a­beth Moss for next month’s new se­ries of BBC2’s dark thriller Top Of The Lake and in the cin­ema she’s about to be seen sport­ing a prim ruf­fled blouse, an­kle-sweep­ing skirt and im­pe­ri­ous South­ern Amer­i­can ac­cent in The Beguiled.

This is the story of a wounded Amer­i­can Civil War sol­dier who seeks shel­ter in an all­girls board­ing school, for which Sofia Cop­pola has just be­come only the sec­ond fe­male di­rec­tor in the his­tory of the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val to win the Best Di­rec­tor Award. The story, based on a novel by Thomas P Cul­li­nan, fol­lows Colin Far­rell’s Union sol­dier as he charms Ni­cole’s head­mistress, one of the teach­ers played by Kirsten Dunst and a teenage stu­dent played by Elle Fan­ning, stir­ring up the sex­u­ally re­pressed at­mos­phere of the school and stok­ing jeal­ousy and de­ceit among the women, who be­gin to turn on one an­other. But there’s a twist in the tale.

‘I love work­ing with women!’ Ni­cole tells me when we meet in Los An­ge­les. ‘I’ve been sur­rounded by women at all stages in my life. My mum is very strong and opin­ion­ated. I have aunts, a sis­ter who’s like a twin to me, and three daugh­ters. I have an enor­mous amount of fe­male en­ergy in my fam­ily, and a lot of girl­friends in my life, so I’m very com­fort­able around other women. I feel safe with them. We un­der­stand each other – we have so much in com­mon, we col­lab­o­rate and help each other.’

She says that was a dy­namic that played out through­out the shoot­ing of Big Lit­tle Lies, which had five fe­male leads. ‘We didn’t have to re­hearse to feel like friends be­cause we re­ally are! So much of the time when we were film­ing we were think­ing, “What are we do­ing af­ter we fin­ish? Let’s all have din­ner.” And we’d go out and have these in­cred­i­ble din­ners where we’d share sto­ries and help each other. And we all un­der­stood that we all had a fam­ily, so we were able to di­vide the work­load up to ac­com­mo­date that.

‘None of us were in ev­ery scene, so we worked it out that, for in­stance, Reese Wither­spoon would do a lot of her scenes one af­ter the other, and then we’d say, “OK, off you go, Reese, back to your fam­ily for two or three weeks, we’ll take over while you’re do­ing that.”’

A lot of it, she says, comes down to be­ing a mother. ‘We’re used to tak­ing care of our kids, and we do it for each other too. I have a lot of women work­ing for me be­cause I’m not a ter­ri­bly good busi­ness­woman so I need other peo­ple to take care of that stuff. I love to have women do it be­cause they of­fer some­thing very dif­fer­ent from a man, which is that they take care of peo­ple in a gen­tler way. And in re­turn I try to of­fer them some un­der­stand­ing of what they’re go­ing through.

‘We women are all very good at what we do, and we’re all very good at multi-task­ing – we’re for­mi­da­ble, ac­tu­ally – but still, we all know how hard it is when you have chil­dren and you’re try­ing to do your work and strug­gle with run­ning the home.’

Ni­cole, 50, has been jug­gling life and work her­self for more than 30 years now. ‘It’s in­cred­i­ble, isn’t it?’ she nods. ‘I’ve fallen off the cliff a few times too, but I think I’ve learned things along the way. How­ever much ex­pe­ri­ence I have, I still try to ap­proach my work with the same aban­don­ment I had as a 21-year-old. When you start your ca­reer you’re will­ing to try any­thing, and I still am.

‘At one point early on, I went through a pe­riod where I’d try to fit into a mould. I’d be told to fol­low a for­mula, or be ad­vised in a par­tic­u­lar way, be told to be more Amer­i­can and less Aus­tralian or what­ever, and it never worked out. But when I threw those rules out and just did what I wanted to do, it was very free­ing and that’s what I con­stantly try to do now.’ She con­fesses that the most vul­ner­a­ble she’s felt re­cently was when she agreed to ap­pear on the West End stage in Pho­to­graph 51, the award-win­ning 2015 play about a ge­netic sci­en­tist. It was her first time on stage since her cel­e­brated per­for­mance at the Don­mar Ware­house in The Blue Room in 1998 – the ap­pear­ance dubbed by one critic ‘pure the­atri­cal Vi­a­gra’ – and she ad­mits she was ter­ri­fied.

‘I hadn’t been on stage in 17 years!’ she groans. ‘And when I first signed on to do it I was sure it was go­ing to be fine. Then the real­ity sank in of hav­ing to sell out a West End the­atre, where you’re com­mit­ted to eight per­for­mances a week and you have to walk out onto that stage and there’s an au­di­ence and you have to ful­fil their ex­pec­ta­tions and I thought, “Have I lost my mind? What was I think­ing?” I didn’t re­alise how much stage fright I was go­ing to have and, par­tic­u­larly for the first pre­views, it took a lot to get me out there onto that stage.

‘Women take care of peo­ple in a gen­tler way’

But I did it. And I did it the next night. By the end of the run, I felt as much as it was the most fright­en­ing thing I’ve done lately, it was the most ful­fill­ing too.’

It was also a roar­ing suc­cess, for which she won the 2015 Lon­don Evening Stan­dard The­atre Award for Best Ac­tress and re­ceived of­fers to reprise the role on Broad­way. How­ever, these were firmly scotched by her two bi­o­log­i­cal daugh­ters Sun­day, now eight, and Faith, six (she also has an older adopted son and daugh­ter), who, ap­par­ently, have strong opin­ions on when they will, and will not, be moved from the home they share in Nashville, Ten­nessee, with mum Ni­cole and dad, coun­try singer Keith Ur­ban. They’d been with her for the Lon­don run.

‘We had a fam­ily meet­ing,’ Ni­cole says. ‘Which we al­ways do for im­por­tant stuff, be­cause do­ing the play on Broad­way would have meant tak­ing the fam­ily away from home to New York and me work­ing in the evenings, and that does af­fect them. Some­times we have a meet­ing and the kids will tell me and Keith, “Yeah, this is OK, can we bring the cats?”, which is al­ways a ques­tion with them. But this time they let me know they didn’t want to go to New York for four months, and I un­der­stood that. So I didn’t do the play.’

While she was in the mid­dle of Pho­to­graph 51, she had a call from di­rec­tor Sofia Cop­pola, daugh­ter of Os­car-win­ning di­rec­tor Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola, who wanted to make The Beguiled with her. ‘She showed me the script and that was it. I loved it. It’s hard to have your own vi­sion when your fa­ther is a fa­mous film di­rec­tor, but Sofia has that.’

Ni­cole ad­mits that, in male-dom­i­nated Cannes, she was as sur­prised as she was pleased when not only did Sofia win the Best Di­rec­tor Award, but she her­self was given a spe­cial award for her gen­eral work in act­ing. ‘I didn’t ex­pect to win any­thing at all!’ she says. ‘And they don’t tell you in ad­vance, so I’d gone home. I was back in Nashville, and when they called me it was seven in the morn­ing, and some­one in Cannes said, “You’ve won a prize. Can you come and ac­cept it?” but I couldn’t.

‘If I’d known I was go­ing to re­ceive it I’d have moved moun­tains to get there and thank ev­ery­one, but I had to say, “The cer­e­mony is hap­pen­ing in four hours’ time in France and I can’t make it.” Then they said, “OK, can you go into hair and make-up and record a mes­sage?” Hair and make-up? It was Sun­day morn­ing in Nashville – there’s no hair and make-up! Be­sides, I was tak­ing my kids out in a few hours. But I did pull my hair back and record a mes­sage be­cause I wanted to ac­knowl­edge how much the award meant to me. But I have no idea what I looked like on it.’

When she ac­tu­ally does have the time to dress up, her red car­pet ap­pear­ances are leg­endary. ‘I like fash­ion,’ she nods. ‘It’s funny be­cause af­ter Sun­day was born and I was liv­ing on our farm in Nashville, I went through a pe­riod when I was just not in­ter­ested in clothes. But now Sun­day is that bit older and she’s fas­ci­nated with what I’m wear­ing and has strong opin­ions, it’s ig­nited my love of fash­ion again.

‘I did no­tice that af­ter Cannes some peo­ple were talk­ing about the films and some peo­ple were talk­ing about my dresses. I went to see my mum in Aus­tralia and her friends were say­ing, “I liked the dress with the tutu”, and my niece was say­ing, “Oooh, I loved the sil­ver dress with the fringe”. And I re­alised that that’s what we do on the red car­pet, we cre­ate magic for a mo­ment. And then I went back to Nashville! But that mo­ment of magic is a lot of fun.’

She’s lived in Nashville ever since she mar­ried Keith in 2006. ‘I like it there,’ she says sim­ply. ‘Keith has lived there for 25 years and when I met him he said, “How do you feel about mov­ing to Nashville?” And I said, “Ab­so­lutely. I’ll move there.” And I did, and I’ve been very much in­vited into the com­mu­nity and I’m very happy. But you know, mov­ing some­where would never be a deal breaker for me. I’m the kind of per­son who could live pretty much any­where if I loved some­body enough. I’m far more at­tached to a per­son than I am to any en­vi­ron­ment.’

And Keith Ur­ban is one per­son she’s very at­tached to. ‘I’m pas­sion­ate about rais­ing my chil­dren and be­ing with my hus­band. I get a lot of at­ten­tion in the out­side world, and my favourite thing to do when I’m not work­ing is to get into bed with my kids and my hus­band and snug­gle and watch a movie. My daugh­ter said some­thing won­der­ful the other day. She said, “You and Daddy kiss all the time.” Isn’t that the most fan­tas­tic thing to have your daugh­ter say to you?’

South­ern com­fort: Ni­cole with Kirsten Dunst and Elle Fan­ning in The Beguiled

Girl power: Ni­cole with Reese Wither­spoon and their co-stars Zoe Kravitz, Shai­lene Wood­ley and Laura Dern in TV’s Big Lit­tle Lies and (above right) with her hus­band Keith Ur­ban

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