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Ni­cole Kid­man and Sue Bri­er­ley be­came “soul sis­ters” when the ac­tress played the adop­tive mother in the new Aus­tralian film Lion.

Ni­cole Kid­man and Sue Bri­er­ley be­came “soul sis­ters” when the ac­tress played the adop­tive mother in the new Aus­tralian film Lion. Here, the two women dis­cuss their com­mon­al­i­ties: moth­er­hood, adop­tion and be­ing red­heads, with So­phie Ted­man­son. Styled by Chris­tine Cen­ten­era. Pho­tographed by Will David­son.


Sue Bri­er­ley: “When I emailed you I was con­cerned about how you’d come out of a film process like Lion. Hav­ing lived that story [Sue adopted Sa­roo Bri­er­ley from In­dia when he was five years old, then sup­ported him when he searched 25 years later to find his birth mother in In­dia], I knew what it’s like, but I was wor­ried about you, quite hon­estly. When you came into the car­a­van [on set], I could see you were a bit shaky, and you said: ‘Wow, you cried a lot.’ And it re­ally cut me to the core, be­cause peo­ple think that you just go through a process like that, but it’s not quite as sim­ple, is it?” Ni­cole Kid­man: “No, it’s not. Also be­cause I was try­ing to re­ally hon­our you and be a con­duit for your feel­ings, and be­cause I’ve learnt so much about you, I feel un­be­liev­ably con­nected to you. And the way in which you’ve re­ally kept the fam­ily to­gether, how you’re the glue of all of it, I wanted to hon­our that. I’ve seen my own mother do that in our fam­ily. I know that’s what the woman does in the fam­ily: it is the glue, the strength of that ma­ter­nal force. And ob­vi­ously the film fol­lows Sa­roo more than it fol­lows you, so I wanted, in the parts that I’m in, to try to layer in as much as I could with you, be­cause you’re spe­cial. That’s why I’m glad that the world is get­ting to see just a glimpse of you.” SB: “I don’t know about you, but I’ve thought about it a lot, and what I’ve done, I’m hop­ing that the film might reawaken women think­ing about adop­tion, and give them the freedom to say: ‘Yes, I would be a great mother’, or maybe: ‘No, I won’t’, so they can make these de­ci­sions about the child they wish for. To ques­tion if they can help an­other lit­tle child, that doesn’t have to be through birth or oth­er­wise. I’m hope­ful. My hus­band John said: ‘Don’t get your hopes up too high; look at the sit­u­a­tion in Aus­tralia now and how it’s been for so long.’ The adop­tion process is not likely to change dra­mat­i­cally any­time soon. I’d be happy if 10 women thought dif­fer­ently about moth­er­hood and adop­tion.” NK: “It doesn’t have to be bi­o­log­i­cal. That’s what I love about this movie, and what I keep try­ing to say: once the bond is there be­tween a mother and a child, the bi­o­log­i­cal part of it is sort of the least im­por­tant part. I think when that bond forms, it’s as­tound­ing how pow­er­ful it is.” SB: “Do you think the bond forms be­fore you’re even in a sit­u­a­tion where some­thing might come in to play? Say you be­come preg­nant, have a part­ner? I al­most feel that the strength of what [moth­er­hood] I’ve got gripped me very early in my life.” NK: “Yes. That’s why I al­ways said I re­lated to your story. Be­cause I al­ways knew I’d adopt; I just al­ways wanted a child. I think from a very early age, I wanted a child. I knew that I was go­ing to have a child and that it didn’t mat­ter [how], I ac­tu­ally didn’t know if I was ever go­ing to give birth to a child. So that was the least of it for me. And what I did first was adopt.” [Kid­man adopted two chil­dren – Is­abella, now 24, and Con­nor, now 21 – with her first hus­band, Tom Cruise.] SB: “That’s ex­actly how I felt. I hadn’t even started men­stru­at­ing when I started to dream [about chil­dren] and then all of a sud­den, bang, the an­swer came to me. I’m very lucky that I achieved my dream. I’ll never for­get that. I mean, with such ob­sta­cles put in your way …” NK: “But I also love what you said when you got mar­ried. Tell us about that.” SB: “It would never have hap­pened if I hadn’t met some­one who agreed with my phi­los­o­phy of par­ent­ing. John and I met when I was 16, and we talked about these things quite a lot. Our gen­er­a­tion was very in­ter­ested in the world and what di­rec­tion it would take. Even just think­ing about my boys [Sue and John also adopted Man­tosh from In­dia], how they’ve been think­ing of the world and re­lat­ing. At the end of the day, fam­ily cre­ation is just about the only thing you’ve got some sort of say in. So much else is just out of our hands: there are all these crises and eco­nom­ics and wars, there’s a lot of stuff that we can’t do any­thing about, but we can look af­ter chil­dren.” So­phie Ted­man­son: “Sue, you told me that in the early days when you first adopted that peo­ple treated you like you were a dif­fer­ent kind of mother.” SB: “Well, that’s def­i­nitely true, I’m not sure if it was the same for you, too, Ni­cole? Be­cause peo­ple don’t nec­es­sar­ily have a good un­der­stand­ing of other peo­ple’s choices and sit­u­a­tions as far as fam­i­lies go. In those early days, most of my friends had ba­bies and couldn’t get their heads around why we weren’t do­ing the same. Be­cause we had to wait 16 years for a baby, un­til Sa­roo ar­rived. Peo­ple couldn’t un­der­stand it, so they were very awk­ward at times; they ei­ther fell into a de­fen­sive re­ac­tion of: ‘We did this’ or: ‘This is the right way’ or: ‘We won’t go there.’” NK: “Or: ‘We feel so bad that you couldn’t have your own chil­dren.’ That’s what I got a lot of.” SB: “Oh, I have lost count of the times that that was said to me.” NK: “Peo­ple don’t mean it to be of­fen­sive, but it is.” SB: “It is, be­cause they look at it as if you’ve en­dured a tragedy. And you’re over the moon! You’re so happy! So how did you re­spond?” NK: “I would say, ba­si­cally: ‘This is my des­tiny, this is what I wanted, and this is my child.’ And that’s the sim­plest way to han­dle that. And then they would back off and say: ‘Oh sorry. Of course it’s your own!’ [she laughs]. And even some re­ally close friends who I con­fided in were still sort of: ‘Oh, but one day, we re­ally hope that [you will give birth] …’ and you just go: ‘Oh, shoosh!’ It’s very un­usual, but I’m hop­ing now that the world is chang­ing in re­la­tion to that, es­pe­cially through ed­u­ca­tion.

“You grav­i­tate to­wards the peo­ple who are far more un­der­stand­ing, who have an in­nate un­der­stand­ing, which is what we nat­u­rally had from the minute we met, which is why I prob­a­bly felt so in­cred­i­bly easy with you. And that’s just the natural flow of our re­la­tion­ship.” SB: “You know, you’re a very spe­cial per­son, too. Last week we did an in­ter­view with 60 Min­utes and the reporter, who in­ter­viewed me when we first went to In­dia when Sa­roo found his birth mother [in 2012], re­minded me that back then we were jok­ing about who would play me if a film was made of Sa­roo’s story. And of course I said you …” NK: “Are you kid­ding?” SB: “No!” NK: “Oh my gosh! Look how pow­er­ful your vi­sions are! Golly. That’s amaz­ing! I can­not be­lieve you said that.” SB: “Back then were just so ex­cited about 60 Min­utes and the book! Now the book’s in 15 dif­fer­ent coun­tries and lan­guages, there’s a chil­dren’s edi­tion be­ing worked on. And fur­ther to your ear­lier ques­tion, Ni­cole, I think maybe you could read Sa­roo’s book to your girls.” NK: “Maybe … be­cause peo­ple have been ask­ing me if I’ll show them [her daugh­ters Sunny and Faith with Keith Urban] Lion, and I don’t know … in terms of my own films, I rarely show

them to any­one. Keith hasn’t seen Lion. He’s go­ing to see it at the New York premiere, which we’ll all be at, right?” SB: “I’m look­ing for­ward to that.” NK: “And Dev [Pa­tel, who plays Sa­roo in Lion] is divine. I caught up with him on the week­end, he is hi­lar­i­ous. He’s so ner­vous. And just so gawky and adorable. And ev­ery­one’s laugh­ing be­cause I’m like: ‘Oh my son, my boy’, and he’s so big! Like your Sa­roo, so big!” SB: “Sa­roo sent me a photo this morn­ing, of he and Dev stand­ing to­gether, they’re just hav­ing the best time.” ST: “Is it true that dur­ing the film­ing your fam­i­lies all bonded to­gether in Tas­ma­nia? Were you bar­be­cu­ing on the beach to­gether?” NK: “Yeah! We had a beau­ti­ful bar­be­cue that Garth [ Davis, Lion di­rec­tor] or­gan­ised; what area was that again?” SB: “It’s called Prim­rose Sands. It was just idyl­lic.” NK: “I want to go back and go camp­ing there. I keep telling the world about this part of Tas­ma­nia, be­cause it’s just gor­geous there. We went sail­ing there, we played cricket there. And when we got off the boat, some­one was stand­ing there with wine and oys­ters, and I thought, this is the life! That tells you so much about Hobart and Tas­ma­nia. The peo­ple … just stand­ing there with big smiles on their faces.” ST: “Ni­cole, how im­por­tant is it, when you’re play­ing a real per­son, to spend time and learn from them? Or do you not do that un­til you’ve formed the role your­self?” NK: “For some rea­son when I met Garth, the first thing I asked him was: ‘ Can I meet Sue, can I talk to Sue?’ But I didn’t want Sue to feel put upon, so my pro­duc­ing part­ner [Per] came down, and sat with Sue and they talked and he asked ques­tions and recorded it. Then I watched it and we fi­nally we met in my apart­ment in Syd­ney and we talked and talked and talked about re­ally deep stuff – like, al­most within the first five min­utes – and I cried. I sort of held her and cried, I mean re­ally crazy stuff.” SB: “It re­ally was like we got con­nected at the soul, and it sort of paid off. And the same when Per was here, be­cause he was an ab­so­lute de­light, re­ally. Some of the ques­tions he popped out, well, I cried, too! I guess out of this whole process, for me, the big­gest part of it, was you [Ni­cole] wanted to em­brace and con­nect with this film role and so, for me, it was just like bam! – there you are, straight to my source. And I felt re­ally happy to open up and let it out.”


NK: “And I learnt so much, just even talk­ing to you and be­ing around you also felt very sooth­ing, which is very un­usual for me. So to an­swer you, So­phie, this is com­pletely un­usual for me. Sort of not the nor­mal ap­proach, but I knew that. I felt a pull to­wards Sue and I felt a pull to­wards the role, and I fol­lowed those in­stincts. I just nat­u­rally fol­lowed them and I’m so glad I did.” SB: “Me too, me too. I feel very proud of that fact. Be­cause some­times so­ci­ety is sort of pos­tur­ing and you get the feel­ing you’re be­ing judged more than you de­serve … and not that I’m say­ing I’m haughty in any way, but, you know, some­times it takes a spe­cial per­son to re­ally recog­nise a cou­ple of women like us, who ac­knowl­edge that. This is a pow­er­ful thing. Do you feel like that, Ni­cole?” NK: “I just love that, yeah. I just love when you said we are like sis­ters of the soul: that’s what it felt like, and I’ll feel like that for­ever. That is in­cred­i­bly spe­cial. And it’s un­usual, be­cause a lot of times we’re all guarded, we all have a way of ap­proach­ing sit­u­a­tions and when that just falls by the way­side … that’s the kind of peo­ple I seek out and want to keep in my life. And that was fa­cil­i­tated di­rectly, be­cause there was this amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity through the film, the bridge was built for us very eas­ily and very quickly, oth­er­wise we never would have found each other. Act­ing has given me the most ex­tra­or­di­nary op­por­tu­ni­ties to meet cer­tain peo­ple in my life, who I stay con­nected to for­ever: that’s prob­a­bly the great­est thing that act­ing has given me.” SB: “And fur­ther­more you can share that with your chil­dren, too.” NK: “My chil­dren [daugh­ters Sunny and Faith] get to travel; they get to see things that they would nor­mally not. I some­times feel bad they’re taken out of school, and they’re trav­el­ling around and do­ing these things, but then we all have dif­fer­ent parts and I want to keep us to­gether.” ST: “Ni­cole, in a re­cent in­ter­view, you de­scribed this film as ‘a love let­ter to your chil­dren’. And there is a pow­er­ful scene in Lion where, as Sue, you are talk­ing to Sa­roo and ex­plain­ing why you chose to adopt. I can only imag­ine it was such a per­sonal scene for you with your own ex­pe­ri­ence as a mother – through adop­tion, birth and sur­ro­gacy – so did that strengthen your bond with Sue? Be­cause you’re both Aus­tralian moth­ers, you’ve both adopted chil­dren, you’re both ex­tremely ma­ter­nal. Was that scene spe­cial in that sense, as well?” NK: “Def­i­nitely, and it vi­brated within me for that rea­son.” SB: “I feel it’s the most pow­er­ful scene of a mother-child re­la­tion­ship; to show how pre­cious your child is. I’ve of­ten felt sad with the way adop­tion is por­trayed in the me­dia, be­cause it of­ten comes over as adop­tion is the sec­ond-best thing, and deep down I cry for the chil­dren who get trau­ma­tised by that, by know­ing that there are other is­sues, that they’ve come into a fam­ily be­cause of a sad­ness; it’s such a del­i­cate thing. To help chil­dren who are adopted through that process, we all know peo­ple who have strug­gled with it, and even with the fact that Sa­roo felt re­ally driven to find his first mother, that was so pre­cious to me, be­cause he felt he was able to. I’m still very cu­ri­ous and haven’t got to the bot­tom of it … I think it’s ac­tu­ally a natural in­stinct. Just like the mothering is this need to know … we talked about his first mother and fam­ily a lot, and I tried to en­cour­age him, say­ing we were send­ing mes­sages by the heav­ens, so his mother would know he was okay. When I first met Kamla [his birth mother], all I wanted to know was did she get a feel­ing from the heav­ens that Sa­roo was still alive? That was the mes­sage I was send­ing her for 25 years.” NK: “Isn’t Sue amaz­ing? This is how she talks! I’m cry­ing here!” ST: “Do you feel the same way, Ni­cole?” NK: “Yes! Be­cause I think when you view it in that way, the love is so pow­er­ful for a child, for the birth mother, the fa­ther, for ev­ery­one in­volved. There’s such a unity, which ul­ti­mately is a gor­geous mes­sage to the world. Love is the strong­est, most pow­er­ful emo­tion that ex­ists in the whole make-up of the fam­ily. It’s not: ‘Oh, I don’t want you, I’m so threat­ened, oh my gosh’; it’s not that, and I think that’s what is so spe­cial about the way this is por­trayed in this film and why Luke Davies wrote such a beau­ti­ful screen­play, be­cause at one point Sue [in the film] says, in such a con­cise way: ‘I can’t wait for her to meet you to see how beau­ti­ful you are.’ And I don’t know if you ac­tu­ally said that [Sue], but ob­vi­ously what you’re say­ing right now, that that’s the feel­ing and love for me is one of the most pro­foundly beau­ti­ful, un­con­di­tional love, and that’s the way to say it.” SB: “You’ve hit the nail on the head, be­cause, you know, to meet Kamla and show her this most beau­ti­ful boy, I’m proud. And then it turned around when I knew she cer­tainly did feel that con­nec­tion and that was why she’d never moved house, hop­ing he would re­turn. You know, I felt giddy, and I started to cry, and she started to com­fort me. She was com­fort­ing me! That I was so wor­ried she had lost a con­nec­tion with the child she’s given birth to. I’m just so lucky I had that life ex­pe­ri­ence.” NK: “It’s far deeper than so many re­la­tion­ships, and then he ends up with hav­ing both of you, and a child only pros­pers from that, I think.” ST: “Sue, what did you think when you first saw Ni­cole, in the flesh or on screen, in char­ac­ter as you? And Ni­cole, vice versa?” NK: “Well, I don’t look any­where near as good as Sue! She has ex­quis­ite skin, let me tell you, I love it. It’s like baby-soft skin.” ST: “Sue, you have red hair as well, don’t you?” SB: “Yes! I was told that the wigs that were made for you [Ni­cole] were made from Eastern-Euro­pean hair, so it would be the same tex­ture as mine.” NK: “But your hair is much bet­ter in real life.” SB: “It’s very dif­fi­cult in that re­gard, I was a bit con­cerned about those things … but I was mes­merised.” ST: “What were your re­ac­tions when you saw the whole film?” NK: “My first re­ac­tion was: ‘Is Sue okay? – Was she okay when she saw it?’” SB: “I was blown away. We were al­most shocked … we couldn’t be­lieve our own lives be­ing por­trayed so ac­cu­rately. I had to get some­one to get me a glass of wa­ter … I couldn’t walk very well.” NK: “Oh, my dar­ling …!” SB: “What I needed was your arm around me, Ni­cole, like you do when we are to­gether.” NK: “I saw it with my sis­ter [An­to­nia]. It was fan­tas­tic, be­cause she’s got six chil­dren and she said: ‘This isn’t a film, this is an ex­pe­ri­ence.’ She was en­rap­tured, she’s a mas­sive cham­pion of the film. Let’s change the per­cep­tion of adop­tion, Sue!” SB: “I’ve got a great team­mate for that.” NK: “We’re soul sis­ters.”

Vin­tage jacket, $400, from Route 66. Alexan­der McQueen dress, $4,800, and har­ness, $10,190. Eres bra, $255, from a se­lec­tion at Sylvia Rhodes. Stet­son boots, $470. All prices ap­prox­i­mate; fash­ion de­tails last pages.

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