Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart Enter the Rabbit Hole
One of the more underrated movies of the holiday and awards season is Rabbit Hole, the new film from John Cameron Mitchell adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his own Pulitzer-winning stageplay.
In the film, Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play Becca and Howie Corbett, a suburban couple who lost their son in an accident eight months prior and have spent that time trying to keep things together, though the cracks in their marriage are widening as things come to a head and they have to decide their future.
ComingSoon.net attended the New York City press conference for the film and were given lots of time to hear from Kidman and Eckhart about their involvement in the riveting drama.
“I think I just immediately connected with the subject matter,” Kidman answered when asked about why she got involved with optioning the rights to Lindsay-Abbair’s play after first reading a positive review of it. “It was interesting to me from the review and then when I actually read the play, the character, the whole story I thought was so available. I could just immediately just jump in and feel.
“I think for me, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to explore,” she continued. “I’ve explored it in other films in different ways. I explored it in a film called ‘Birth’ which was in a whole different way, so I feel like it’s territory that I would even explore again because it’s so much a part of our journey, what we love, what we lose, the fear of that. Those emotions are so palpable and so powerful that I’m just drawn to exploring them and expressing them, but I think that with this film it’s very much about a family as well. It’s about how a family works through it together, about how you can help people and how in some ways you’re just so isolated. I think that’s what Howie and Becca are, completely isolated, and yet they are reaching out and they don’t know how to connect. I find that so touching and it was something that was beautifully, beautifully rendered in the screenplay. It’s a very difficult place to exist in, but also the words came easily and the emotions. Actually, a lot of it was how to keep them in because they were available I think to all of us and all the actors in the film. A lot of it is restraint because as actors those areas are mined quite a lot. We’re asked to mine those things often and a lot of it is up to the editing and to the director about how you modulate it.”
“I’ve never had any serious loss in my life yet, so I just had to empathize and just did research,” Eckhart added. “It’s all in the script really, the script is so beautifully written, and just hanging on to Nicole that takes you through it.”
On her reasons for picking James Cameron Mitchell to direct, Kidman said, “I just think that I work by my gut and Per Saari, he and I optioned the material and we worked on the script with David, when we heard that John had worked on the script we were like, ‘Wow,’ that he was really interested in it I thought, ‘How unusual because of what he’d done and that he was interested in it.’ That’s what piqued my interest. Then I spoke to him on the phone and I just really liked him. I mean, it’s that quick. We shared things, but we didn’t have any extremely deep conversation. I just liked him and I’ve made most of my career decisions based on very quick, spontaneous things. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I like bold directors. I like directors that go against the norm in a way, and I thought mixed with this material and his heart, which he has a big heart, was a good combo. John and I did an interview yesterday an we were saying that this whole film, we didn’t approach it from an analytical point of view. We did it from a sort of visceral place and that’s sort of what it’s been.”
Being a parent helped Kidman jump immediately into the shoes of Becca, imagining how she might react if she lost a child. “It’s one of those that for me I could go right back into the place that we existed in so quickly. So that it means that the strengths of that love, I mean it’s profound. I think from the minute that you have a child or the minute that I’ve experienced taking care of a child, being the caretaker of a little one, the power of that and the responsibility of that and so therefore the fear of the loss of that child is extraordinary. I still can’t even watch some of the scenes because they affect me so deeply and I’ve never had that with a film. I’ve seen this film because I’m a producer a number of times. I probably won’t see the film again, if that makes any sense. I watch two scenes and I’m like, ‘Ugghhh,’ because it still affects me so deeply. So I think that’s the power of parenting and playing this role.
Eckhart was asked about how he and Kidman built the relationship to make Howie and Becca believable as a couple living in tragedy. “I’d have to go back to the writer first of all, and the director,” he told us. “John created an atmosphere of trust on the set, first of all. I think Nicole said it really is the restraint of having feelings and not being able to say them or knowing how you say them or doubting any relationship you’ve had, questioning your love, questioning God, questioning life, doubting yourself, hearing everything you’re saying as if it’s being said by somebody else; that kind of stuff. Not being able to touch a partner that you’ve been best friends with for 20 years or 10 years, 15 years. So all five senses then have to be revisited and reintroduced into your life, and I think for me in terms or approaching this role was how do I touch my wife? How do I talk to her? How do we survive this? It was all in the script really; you didn’t really have to go any further than that. It was only just really playing it. And then John, having gone through this before and being such a good actor himself and being very sensitive to this sort of stuff really guided us and shepherded us through this. He would whisper in our ears adjustments and that sort of thing. And then for me watching the other actors and watching Nicole approach her craft as an actor was extraordinary. The attention to detail, the adjustments that she would make were insane and very challenging and very true. So it was pretty easy.”
“We rehearsed. We talked,” Kidman concurred. “Part of the preparation that I do as an actor is that I create from birth through now, which is sort of like my homework, of where we met, how we got married, all of those things, what happened to my father because you never see my father, just all the details of the performance. Then you come to the rehearsal period and then you do scenes and then you sort of slowly layer the performance. That’s what I find very beautiful about this film, that this is not about five days after. This isn’t the day of the loss. This is eight months. This is life. This is how do you stay alive, how do you choose life when you feel like everything to live for has been taken away. How do you then live? That’s the subtlety of the film. How do you live with someone that you used to have moments of great joy with and a normal life with when suddenly you’ve been completely destroyed. That’s why I wanted to make the film because there are so many people in the world existing in those places. I’ve certainly been in a place of extreme depression and pain where choosing life everyday is a choice, if that makes sense.”
The counseling sessions the couple attend play a large part in the film’s lighter moments and both actors commented on their own experiences:
“We both had different experiences,” Kidman stated. “I tried to and I was told, ‘Unless you’ve actually lost a child or a loved one you’re not to come into the room.’ I completely respected that because they said, ‘It’s just too raw and it’s too dangerous and it’s a very sacred place and we can’t let you in to observe.’ I’m glad that they didn’t now, when I look back, because the way that the emotions came to me in the character were through just my own, the way that I vibrate and the rawness of loving my children. I was able to leap there very quickly. I was amazed at how deep that well is and how available it is. It’s probably as David [Lindsay-Abaire] said, that he wrote about this thing that terrifies him the most and as an actor I played the thing that terrifies me the most. Aaron has a different story.”
“I did attend one of those,” Eckhart said. “It was a grief counseling group like we had in the film, and like Nicole said, it was raw. People had just lost their child the day before, two days, three days, a week before, and there was a lot of emotion in it. I gave my story in the character and all that stuff, which was interesting. I only went once and that was it; I didn’t feel like I needed to go back. I thought it was a little unethical and somehow duplicitous.”
Both actors also talked about the atmosphere on-set between scenes and how they dealt with it. “We had a great AD, and we had a lot of interns on the film,” Kidman began, “which is nice because you have people that are new to filmmaking so they have an enormous amount of enthusiasm and energy and curiosity. It’s a good energy.
“We also lived in a little neighborhood, a beautiful bay,” Eckhart added. “We took walks around. Nicole one time was in her pajamas walking around the neighborhood.”
Kidman laughed at Eckhart’s comment but patently denied walking around in her pajamas, before saying, “The other thing is that when you have the writer on the set you can be very nervous because the idea of not pleasing him holds. It’s like, ‘David is here!’ But he was so supportive and encouraging and he came to some initial rehearsals as well. I’m always asking questions of the writer. I just love it because they have the key. They usually have the key.”
“With someone like Miles [Teller] I purposely didn’t have any conversations,” Kidman said about preparing for scenes with her younger co-star, who plays the teenager who accidentally killed their son. “I didn’t want to rehearse the scenes. John and I talked about it and you sort of want to keep the tension and the way in which we were relating which was through some nervousness and those things. That’s good for the performance, and I think that I probably stay a little bit in character for the whole film. I’m kind of half aware and half not aware. For this sort of film, it’s not like you have to be called by the name of the character, but certainly there’s the presence of the character at all times. Aaron and I would talk, but a lot of our conversations were about our lives. That was good because there was an intimacy to the conversations that I probably wouldn’t have had with him if we weren’t in a deeply intimate film together. That’ll always remain secret. We had a lot of interns and stuff on the film which is nice because you have people that just absolutely want to be around that are new to filmmaking and so they have an enormous amount of enthusiasm and energy and curiosity. That’s a good energy.”
“You work so hard to get it close to you that it’s a shame to give it away, and so you want to keep it pretty close to you,” Eckhart agreed. “It’s interesting what Nicole said because you do end up talking about things within the parameters of the film. If you play a sexy romantic part you usually dwell on that and all the ladies on the set like you and stuff, and if you’re playing a psycho killer everybody hates you on the set. It’s usually because those are things that you dwell upon, so I remember Nicole and I would talk about marriage and family and kids and all that sort of stuff, which helped a lot. But we did have some laughs. Because we lived in this house together for I don’t know how many weeks Nicole would often be in the kitchen chuckling it up with everybody and ordering everybody around. You’re a producer; that’s what producer’s do. The crew was very sensitive; everybody was there for the right reasons and put their heart and soul into it. I felt like it was a pretty light set for what was going on. I think the great thing about this movie was the crew understood that when we needed the time that they were there with us. They knew it was going to happen that day and we didn’t have to fight them. It was a very respectful, reverent set, I thought, which really helped a lot.”
When it was suggested Kidman may have had the toughest job in making the movie, she denied it. “I don’t know if it was the toughest job, but she’s in so much pain and so unable to let it out and trying desperately to move on and cannot move on. So that’s why she lashes out at herself and then hurts other people and then there’s regret. I mean it’s so complicated, each little [aspect] and that’s why I wanted to make it a really sort of detailed performance, so I hope that it makes people feel not so alone. That’s the point of it.