“Moth­er­hood brings me enor­mous joy”

Ni­cole Kid­man opens up to Stephanie Rafanelli about her four chil­dren, lov­ing Keith, miss­ing her dad and why she can’t wait to be a grand­mother.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - Cover story -

There is a lit­tle noise that Ni­cole Kid­man emits when she is deep in con­ver­sa­tion: some­thing be­tween a sigh and an “ah” that comes out as a soft “wah” and sig­ni­fies in­ten­sity of emo­tion, ac­com­pa­nied by a tilt back of the head or a swipe of a palm on her brow, her rus­set curls scraped back to­day in a top­knot.

Her com­plex­ion, which can be blood­less on screen, is flushed a wild rose; per­haps glow­ing a lit­tle pinker through the force of ma­ter­nal pas­sion. For she is try­ing to per­suade me to get preg­nant. “Come on, please, have that baby!” she begs, lean­ing in close, her eyes flash­ing with mis­chief. “Ba­bies bring so much joy. Wah!”

Ni­cole is so far from her im­age as the re­gal red­head, a vi­sion of in­tim­i­dat­ing stature who, I ad­mit, I ex­pected to be a lit­tle pinched.

In an old AC/DC T-shirt and jeans, she is hang­ing out at home (ad­mit­tedly, a stately Ten­nessee man­sion set around a pool), with Sun­day, eight, and Faith, six, her daugh­ters with coun­try singer Keith Ur­ban, en­joy­ing time with them be­fore launch­ing into a hec­tic US film sched­ule.

We talk in her slate-grey painted of­fice hung with framed maps, a break in a day in which she ap­pears to be knee-deep in do­mes­tic­ity. Sun­day, who is suf­fer­ing from a cold, peeps her head out from be­hind the door frame. “She’s very shy. How is your ear feel­ing?” Ni­cole says, ten­derly. “And your throat? A lit­tle bit sore? Okay, gar­gle with a lit­tle bit of salt wa­ter.”

Ni­cole has a sen­si­tiv­ity to others that quickly comes to the fore. “As my hus­band says, I’m ‘deeply ma­ter­nal’.” She laughs as if this is the mother of all un­der­state­ments. “I like to take care of peo­ple. It brings me a lot of joy.”

Care­taker per­son­al­ity

If you are look­ing to un­der­stand Ni­cole Kid­man, then moth­er­hood may pro­vide the most pow­er­ful clue. It is, she says, cen­tral to her most im­por­tant per­cep­tions about her­self, her life and even her ca­reer. Her lat­est film, Lion, which has gar­nered her a Golden Globe and Os­car nom­i­na­tion for best sup­port­ing ac­tress, is the per­fect case in point. A pow­er­ful, emo­tion­ally charged drama, Lion is about a five-year-old In­dian boy, Sa­roo Bri­er­ley, who ac­ci­den­tally boards a train and be­comes lost in Kolkata be­fore be­ing adopted by an Aus­tralian cou­ple. The story is about the power of ma­ter­nal love in all its forms, from nat­u­ral to adop­tive moth­er­hood and all vari­a­tions in be­tween.

“For me, moth­er­ing brings me enor­mous joy,” says Ni­cole, 49, who re­cently told a US mag­a­zine she hoped for one more child, de­spite her age and his­tory of fer­til­ity trou­bles, say­ing her grand­mother had given birth at the same age. “I still have the fain­test hope that some­thing may hap­pen to me this year.

“I love moth­er­ing. I just have a strong ma­ter­nal pull, as does my sis­ter An­to­nia, and I’m also the el­dest child in my fam­ily, who I al­ways think takes on that care­taker per­son­al­ity.

“I was the girl that al­ways wanted the white picket fence and ev­ery­thing that comes with that,” she ex­plains, her soft Aus­tralian ac­cent in full bloom. “I just have an in­cred­i­bly com­pli­cated in­ner life, an imag­i­nary, cre­ative life. And those two things can col­lide.”

Af­ter more than 15 years in Los An­ge­les – she was mar­ried from 1990 to 2001 to Tom Cruise, with whom she adopted Is­abella and Con­nor, now 24 and 21 – Ni­cole moved to low-key Nashville in 2006 “to have a life” with her sec­ond hus­band, Keith. Sun­day was born in 2008 when Ni­cole was 41, and Faith was born two years later to a sur­ro­gate mother. Since then, she has eased her foot a lit­tle off the ca­reer pedal, but “I couldn’t give up ev­ery­thing cre­atively be­cause that would cause a frus­tra­tion in­side of me. I’m still bat­tling with it all.”

To rec­on­cile her war­ring urges, the Kid­man-Ur­ban clan stick to­gether, go­ing on Keith’s tours when­ever pos­si­ble and also ac­com­pa­ny­ing Ni­cole on shoots, tak­ing a trav­el­ling tu­tor with them for the girls’ school­ing. The fam­ily’s re­cent gypsy wan­der­ings have in­cluded a stay in Mar­rakesh while Ni­cole was shoot­ing Queen of the Desert, Werner Her­zog’s biopic of ex­plorer Gertrude Bell. They also de­camped to Lon­don in the north­ern au­tumn of 2015 for the the­atri­cal run of Pho­to­graph 51, in which she played bio­chemist Ros­alind Franklin, whose con­tri­bu­tion to the dis­cov­ery of the struc­ture of DNA was over­looked by his­tory. Her new TV hit, Big Lit­tle Lies – based on the best­selling book by Aus­tralian au­thor Li­ane Mo­ri­arty – was fit­ted into short but in­tense film­ing ses­sions in LA through­out 2016.

Yet Ni­cole does feel the force of

‘the push-pull’. “Oh, my gosh, the in­ten­sity of the emo­tions I feel! It’s not nec­es­sar­ily great for a child to have an in­tensely emo­tional mother. And I don’t want to be a he­li­copter

par­ent, so I’m try­ing to… ” she puffs her cheeks as if about to ex­plode with af­fec­tion, “bal­ance the in­ten­sity of the love. It’s re­ally hard.”

Love and loss

Ni­cole is a woman torn be­tween con­ti­nents. Her fa­ther, Antony, died of a sud­den heart at­tack in 2014 while in Sin­ga­pore vis­it­ing her younger sis­ter, An­to­nia, a jour­nal­ist with six chil­dren.

“My mother is still go­ing through ter­ri­ble grief,” says Ni­cole. “They were to­gether for 50 years. It’s aw­ful to see, so sad. She’s in Aus­tralia, which is why we all go back four times a year. In your 40s, you are grap­pling with all those things: try­ing to be the mother and the daugh­ter. It’s a lot.”

Ni­cole is also still griev­ing for her fa­ther, with whom she dis­cussed Pho­to­graph 51 be­fore tak­ing the role (as a bio­chemist, Antony was aware of Franklin). He never got to see the play. Even so, Ni­cole says, he is still with her.

“I loved my fa­ther very much,” she says. “I’m happy to talk about him be­cause it keeps him here with me. I miss him ev­ery day. I think any­one who was close to their fa­ther would re­late to that, would know that feel­ing. It’s not a mor­bid thing, it’s just that he is very much a part of me still. Ev­ery per­for­mance was for him. Lit­er­ally ev­ery time I was about to go on, I would speak to him. I had this photo of him when he was young in a lab coat with his curly hair.

“So from play­ing in the lab as a girl to go­ing on stage wear­ing a lab coat play­ing a bio­chemist – it was un­be­liev­able for me. I would lit­er­ally cry in my cur­tain calls.”

That’s the thing about Ni­cole – she is very hu­man, open about her vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties. Which doesn’t mean there aren’t places she won’t go. She po­litely de­clines to dis­cuss the health of her mother, who was rushed to a Syd­ney hos­pi­tal in late Novem­ber with sus­pected heart prob­lems. “I don’t want to talk about my mum in those terms,” says Ni­cole. “That’s her pri­vacy. She’s strong, my mum. I’m so grate­ful she’s in the world. I speak to her or text her al­most ev­ery day. She’s an amaz­ing woman and I love her.”

Ni­cole has al­ways main­tained a dig­ni­fied si­lence about her re­la­tion­ship with Tom Cruise and the Church of Scien­tol­ogy, of which he is a lead­ing mem­ber. A re­cent doc­u­men­tary claimed that the church or­dered the break-up of their mar­riage be­cause of Ni­cole’s re­fusal to join. She re­cently bared a lit­tle of her life with Tom, de­scrib­ing theirs as “a beau­ti­ful mar­riage”, and ad­mit­ting she was the loneli­est she has been in her life fol­low­ing their di­vorce. She has also en­dured tabloid spec­u­la­tion about the state of her re­la­tion­ship with her adopted chil­dren, both of whom are ad­her­ents of Scien­tol­ogy.

Yet she talks warmly about her older chil­dren as we dis­cuss Lion. In­cred­i­bly, the film is based on a true story. Sa­roo Bri­er­ley, played by Bri­tish ac­tor Dev Pa­tel, still lives in Tas­ma­nia. He spent much of his young adult­hood search­ing for his In­dian birth fam­ily. Ni­cole, who plays Sa­roo’s adop­tive mum, Sue Bri­er­ley, says the film is about the emo­tional power of moth­er­hood. “Noth­ing comes close. See­ing Bella and Con­nor grown up and still hav­ing a six-yearold in the house.”

I’m happy to talk about my dad be­cause it keeps him here with me.

Now that Bella is mar­ried, Ni­cole might even be a grand­mother soon. “I hope so!” she cries, im­me­di­ately. “I’m not meant to say that, am I? My sis­ter’s friend, who is 43, just be­came a grand­mother. My sis­ter and I were say­ing, ‘Oh, she’s so lucky!’” But moth­er­hood, she says, should be with­out ex­pec­ta­tion.

“The fact is that this film, when I first read the script, reached out to me in a way that few scripts ever have,” Ni­cole says of Lion. “It was like a love let­ter to all my chil­dren, Sun­day and Faith as well as Bella and Con­nor. I think it’s beau­ti­ful and pow­er­ful, like po­etry. It’s all about un­con­di­tional love, for me. Ob­vi­ously, I am an adop­tive mother, so the strength of that re­la­tion­ship is what I re­lated to.

“There’s a line in the film where my char­ac­ter, Sue Bri­er­ley, says, ‘I want your mother to see how beau­ti­ful you are.’ She holds her adopted son’s face as she says that and, to me, that is un­con­di­tional love in its purest form, the most pure form of moth­er­ing that there is. There are adop­tive moth­ers, bi­o­log­i­cal moth­ers... what­ever the mother re­la­tion­ship is, the cen­tral idea is that as a mother you want your child to be loved. I love that.

“Moth­er­hood is about the jour­ney. There are go­ing to be in­cred­i­ble peaks and val­leys, whether you are an adopt­ing mother or a birth mother. What a child needs is love.”

Big break

Ni­cole al­ways saw her­self as a young mother. Grow­ing up in Syd­ney, she had de­cided to be­come an ac­tor by

14, a ca­reer her mother wor­ried she was too thin-skinned for. Her big break came at 22, in the thriller Dead Calm, cat­a­pult­ing her into a lead­ing role op­po­site Hol­ly­wood’s young gun Tom Cruise in Days of Thun­der. The pair mar­ried when she was just 23 and adopted Is­abella and Con­nor af­ter Ni­cole suf­fered an ec­topic preg­nancy. “I was so young when I got mar­ried,” she says. “I look back now and I’m like, ‘What?’ You look at Tay­lor Swift, I mean how old is she? She’s 26. I had two kids by the time I was 27 and I’d been mar­ried for four years. But that’s what I wanted.”

Ni­cole had a solid act­ing ca­reer through­out her mar­riage to Tom, but it was not un­til their break-up, shortly af­ter a mis­car­riage, that she showed the world her true range. Griev­ing and de­pressed, her turn as Vir­ginia Woolf in The Hours landed her the Best Ac­tress Os­car in 2003.

Could she have bur­rowed so deeply into Woolf’s tor­tured spirit if she had not her­self been suf­fer­ing?

“I don’t know,” says Ni­cole. “Would I have done Ros­alind the same way if my fa­ther hadn’t just passed away? Prob­a­bly not. Some­times it all comes to­gether. And some­times it doesn’t.”

She has never been a strate­gist, al­ways choos­ing films im­pul­sively. “Well, it has worked and not worked for me,” she says, chuck­ling.

One of her other rather im­pul­sive de­ci­sions was to

wed Keith, who had a his­tory of drug and al­co­hol prob­lems, in June 2006. She says they barely knew each other at the time. Ev­ery­one thought was a huge mis­take. Not least when Keith went into re­hab four months later. Nev­er­the­less, they cel­e­brated their 10th wed­ding an­niver­sary last year.

“That’s re­ally big for us,” she says. “It was re­ally up and down for the first three months. We’ve been through a lot in the past 10 years, but we’re stronger than ever. I say that while touch­ing wood and no way in a boast­ful way. I just say it with won­der. Ab­so­lute won­der.”

She gig­gles a lit­tle woozily. It’s easy to feel the strength of their con­nec­tion.

“It’s be­cause we are Aus­tralian,” says Ni­cole. “Even though Keith was born in New Zealand, he’s still an Aus­tralian. I met and fell in love with an Aus­tralian man in Amer­ica – what are the chances? He was born the same year as me. That’s so serendip­i­tous and it’s ob­vi­ously part of why we fell in love be­cause we are both Aus­tralian.

“I think when you have all that his­tory that’s the same – the shared love of good cof­fee, the mu­sic, Cold Chisel, the beach, the sun. We share all of that be­cause we both ex­pe­ri­enced that as teenagers, even though we met much later in life. Yet we have that to­gether. He still calls me his ‘Aussie girl­friend’. That’s how he in­tro­duces me – ‘That’s my Aussie girl­friend,’ he says. I love that.”

The shared ex­pe­ri­ence has also bonded them. “When you’re older,” says Ni­cole, who turns 50 in June, “you’ve been through things, you’ve made mis­takes.

“So you come into it [a sec­ond mar­riage] still giddy, but want­ing it to last. We al­ways con­sider the ‘us’. We say, ‘Is this go­ing to be good for us?’ It’s the sim­plest phrase, but it works.”

Ni­cole and Keith do not dis­guise their af­fec­tion for each other at pub­lic events and he pro­vides sup­port for her on the red car­pet.

“I’m not a pea­cock,” says Ni­cole. “It’s not in my na­ture. I think peo­ple get frus­trated with me be­cause you’re meant to be, but I’m just not.”

She has, how­ever, shown a lit­tle more of her fun side lately – danc­ing on stage with Keith at one of his con­certs and re­leas­ing an un­of­fi­cial video of the pair singing his lat­est hit The Fighter in their car.

But there is lit­tle she likes more than a quiet night in with Keith and the girls. “I don’t have that FOMO thing: fear of miss­ing out. I can stay home and not go to the party. It’s so much nicer at home in my jam­mies.

“I had a girls’ night out re­cently with five of my Nashville girl­friends. We eat re­ally early, se­nior hour. We get there at 6pm in this empty restau­rant and we have the best time and, at the end, we looked at our watches, ‘Oh, 8.30pm! Awe­some!’”

Ni­cole also works with friends. The new TV se­ries Big Lit­tle Lies, which she co-pro­duced with Reese Wither­spoon, deals with a group of school moth­ers and their in­volve­ment in a mur­der. “Reese and I are a good team,” Ni­cole says. “She got mar­ried and had chil­dren re­ally young. I think that’s why we get on. She’s mov­ing to Nashville and we have beach houses next to each other in the Ba­hamas.”

Ni­cole will also ap­pear in New Zealand di­rec­tor Jane Cam­pion’s se­ries

Top of the Lake this year. “She’s cham­pi­oned me since I was 14,” Ni­cole says, “and now we go hik­ing on Sun­days and have long din­ners and watch the sun­set. I said, ‘Janey, it’s amaz­ing that we have this friend­ship. Wah!” Her eyes are brim­ming with emo­tion again. “As Janey al­ways says, ‘The real life is so much bet­ter.’”

And with that it’s time for Ni­cole to dose her daugh­ter up with cold medicine and eat some smashed-up wa­ter­melon. Do­mes­tic­ity is her happy place.

He calls me his ‘Aussie girl­friend’. I love that.”

Lion is at cin­e­mas now. Big Lit­tle Lies screens on Sky’s SoHo chan­nel, Sun­days at 8.30pm, .

Ni­cole Kid­man says her lat­est film, Lion, is “a love let­ter to all my chil­dren”.

With Faith and Sun­day last year on one of their fre­quent trips home to Syd­ney.

FROM LEFT: Ni­cole’s adopted chil­dren, Con­nor and Bella. The ac­tress with her first hus­band, Tom Cruise, with whom she says she had “a beau­ti­ful mar­riage”. Ni­cole and her fa­ther Antony, who died in 2014 – the pair had a close bond.

FROM TOP: Ni­cole and Reese Wither­spoon in Big Lit­tle Lies. A grey-haired Ni­cole in Jane Cam­pion’s Top of the Lake. In the movie Lion, Ni­cole is the Aus­tralian woman who adopts the lost In­dian boy Sa­roo, played by Sunny Pawar (above) and Dev Pa­tel (right).

Ac­tress Ni­cole Kid­man joins her hus­band Keith Ur­ban on stage in Nashville on New Year’s Eve, 2016.

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