Nicole Kidman combines such angelic beauty and pure innocence that in spite of her age and giving birth to two kids, the 45-year-old still looks like a princess from a fairy tale. Everytime I meet her, I am struck by the luminous blue eyes dancing in her china doll face, the golden hair sparkling under the light and the elasticity of her elegantly trimmed figure, without any noticeable trace of imperfection. No one in Hollywood personifies glamour as she does, yet remarkably instead of settling into the comfort of playing queens, princesses and high class characters, the superstar often subjects herself to the hardship of inhabiting broken and fragile personalities that have very little in common with her and fearlessly journeys into their convoluted minds and dark worlds.The Australian actress admits that such roles are seldom offered to her. “I think as you move along you tend to get cast in the way people see you and that’s a frustration as an actor because you’re looking for things that are not what you are or what you’ve done. You’re looking to stretch yourself and work from a place of discomfort rather than a place of comfort,” she stresses.
Indeed, in Lee Daniels’ latest dark drama The Paperboy, which follows Miami Times reporter (Matthew McConaughey) and his brother (Zac Efron) as they investigate the case of violent swamp rat Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), who claims to have been framed for the murder of a corrupt local sheriff, Kidman endures the discomfort of life in a trailer park near a swamp and literally stretches herself in steamy sex scenes that makes Sharon Stone’s antics in Basic Instinct look like a Sunday prayer as she plays death-row groupie Charlotte Bless, who falls in love with incarcerated Hillary.
Though she found Charlotte’s sexuality frightening, Kidman dauntlessly embraced the challenge of expressing it on screen. “It’s my job as an actor to commit to the role and run away from my inhibitions,” she says.
On the first encounter of her character with her lover in prison, Kidman, sitting a few feet from him, opens her legs and rips her underwear while feigning oral sex to his pleasure, in front of the stunned reporters.
To do such emotionally and physically demanding scenes repeatedly in 12 consecutive takes, the Catholic-raised actress recourses to meditation and prayers before she detaches herself from her surrounding, completely immersing herself in the scene, so much so that she had no recollection of what she had done until she saw the movie in Cannes.
“I was like okay, so that’s what I did,” she laughs. “It was far removed from me as a person which is a great place to operate from as an actor perspective, particularly with something like this.”
The hardship doesn’t stop there. When Hillary leaves prison and eventually meets up with Charlotte, Kidman performs another violent sex scene that leaves her physically bruised all over. Occasionally, the bruises seep into her mind. “After the scene in the prison, I went home and I felt strange,” she recalls. “That’s the God’s honest truth. When I do something like that, I just go home and I go to bed and I get up and I do the role. It’s like existing in a limbo place.”
Amazingly though, the main challenge that the Oscar-winning actress often faces is her shyness. “I am very shy, and I have it a little bit right now,” she giggles, her face blushing.
Being surrounded by hundreds of crew members, she says that she could easily become introverted and wouldn’t be able to do her job properly. But her commitment to her work pushes her through. “It’s not a good feeling at first,” she says. “But I have to, and I know if I don’t then I won’t do the best I can do because I won’t give ideas and won’t try things and I won’t be bold and I’ll be letting myself down and I hate that feeling of going home thinking that I could have tried something different there.”
Sometime she seeks the director’s help and guidance, but often she relies on her own instinct. “It’s definitely your job as an actor to keep forcing yourself into these places that you know are in you that are an accumulation of all your emotions and your experiences, and you’ve got to go find them and mine them and if you do then it’s a very satisfying feeling.”
Watching Kidman on screen leasing her body, soul and entire being unconditionally to the shadowy characters she inhabits, and listening to her speaking passionately about doing it, one gets the impression that there is nothing she can’t or won’t do. “Yeah, there is,” she interjects with a firm voice.”There’s times in my life when I have red lines because I’m like I can go there but at the same time it’s like jumping out of a plane for me. I can’t do anything where I hit or abuse a child. There is nothing in me that is able to do that.”
In fact, she refused to hit a child in the movie The Others and threatened to quit. Eventually, the script was altered whereby her character was taking the children out of this world out of obsessive love, not malicious hate.
Such commanding power is reserved for superstars like Kidman, who greatly admires other strong women, who defy the norms and don’t conform to what society expects of them, such as pioneering war correspondent Martha Gellhorn, whom she recently portrayed in HBO TV drama Hemingway & Gellhorn, in which she embarks on a steamy love affair with iconic American writer Ernest Hemingway (Clive Owen) while reporting on the Spanish Civil war and subsequently marries him.
“With Marie Colvin – the Sunday Times war correspondent – recently killed in Syria, that role was very, very important because it says so much about giving voice to the voiceless. So there was a political reason behind choosing it.”
Evidently, Kidman is in awe with Gellhorn, who is the complete antithesis of Charlotte Bless, for when she speaks about her, she fires up with uncontained excitement and unbridled thrill, describing playing her as an intoxicating experience and a tribute to women who make a difference.
“It was her life and she made massive sacrifices because of that,” Kidman enthuses. “There’s something in your DNA that says I have to see and be witness to these things, to then tell the world about these things, and you are willing to die doing it. So whatever you call that insanity, or incredibly altruistic or passionate and political and driven on a much bigger scale, I don’t know.”
Nonetheless, she did know in her teen years that she was drawn to that sort of life. She admits that had she not had the passion for acting, she would’ve pursued that kind of career. “I wanted to do something that was bold and brave,” she enthuses.
Perhaps this is what explains her bold and brave performances on screen, which she evinced in so many challenging roles, such as the histrionic weather girl in To Die For; the troubled author Virginia Woolf in The Hours, for which she won an Oscar; and a grieved mother in Rabbit Hole, which gained her an Academy Award nomination.
Before we wrap up our conversation, Kidman reveals that she is flying off to Paris the following morning to resume shooting her new film Grace Of Monaco, in which she plays the the star-turned-princess, Grace Kelly. Although, this is a character that seems a natural choice and a perfect fit for Kidman, who possess many of Kelly’s qualities, the veteran actress doesn’t take it for granted. “I just am very grateful to have this role to be honest because it’s something I also haven’t done before,” she says modestly.
Frankly, when you first meet Kidman you are initially dumbstruck by her alluring beauty, but as you spend time with her, you gradually forget that you are in the company of an international superstar and become enchanted by her charm, openness, simplicity, humility, kindness and down-to-earth demeanour. At one point, she tells me that the only growing concern in her mind as she ages is not herself but the mortality of her aging parents, whom she still cares for and looks after. Kidman truly has a heart as golden as the colour of her hair.