Nicole Kidman: ‘I’d wake up sobbing, shaken to the bone’
Nicole Kidman’s latest role took her to far darker emotional territory than she expected.
It takes a lot to get Nicole Kidman out of Tennessee these days. The Oscar-winning actress has settled happily into American rural life and it took a considerable effort by her husband, country singer Keith Urban, to persuade her to leave home and their two-year-old daughter, Sunday Rose, for a month to produce and star in the low-budget Rabbit Hole.
“Keith was pushing me to leave the nest. He told me I shouldn’t give up everything for the family,” she says, talking during a recent visit to Los Angeles. “And I’m so glad he did because every now and then we all need a bit of a push to get out of our comfort zone.”
Her performance as a grieving mother whose son has been killed in a road accident has already earned her a Golden Globe nomination, with talk of Oscar recognition to follow.
It has also, she says, had an indelible effect on her. “I haven’t suffered through anything like this mother did but I understand the feeling of being so remote and so far from happiness that you can be driving and you look into another car and see somebody laughing and smiling and you think: ‘Will I ever, ever know that again?’
“I’m at the time in my life where I was able to access the emotions and the intensity very quickly but I wasn’t able to let go easily. A number of times during filming I would wake up in the night just sobbing and shaken to the bone… It’s somewhere psychologically I never wanted to go, yet for some reason, here I am. I think that’s me with a lot of my work. It takes a lot to get me there but when I’m there I’m completely absorbed.”
During the intense 28-day shoot on location in Queens, New York, Kidman lived together with her co-star Aaron Eckhart and the director, John Cameron Mitchell. “It was sort of weird sharing a house but the great thing was that it became our home so we jumped from not knowing each other very well to a very close, very intimate relationship, which is what you need when you’re trying to create on screen a 10-year marriage that is falling apart.”
The film is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire. As the producer, it was Kidman who slashed the film’s budget to a relatively modest £7 million, put together the cast and hired Mitchell, whose only two previous directorial efforts Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus had both been somewhat off-the-wall affairs.
“He’d never done a mainstream movie but he’s exceptionally talented,” says Kidman. “When I spoke to him I knew he had an enormous amount of heart and that’s what was needed for this film.”
Kidman, now 43, is friendly and open in conversation. She freely admits to having tried Botox, but says with a laugh: “I didn’t like the way my face looked with it so I don’t use it now.” She also gives a glimpse into the life she shares with Urban in Nashville: “It’s a much quieter, slower way of life, which really suits me. We have chickens and a vegetable patch and a berry patch. It’s a very quiet existence.”
She and Urban met at a party in LA in January 2005 and married in June the following year in Sydney. Their two-year-old daughter Sunday Rose is named, not because she was born on a Sunday, but as a reminder of the lonely days they both experienced before they met.
“When neither of us had partners, Sunday was the day we most dreaded,” she says. “If you’re single, it’s a very lonely day, and when we met we went from really dreading Sundays to loving Sundays because they were our days”.
Earlier this week, Kidman and Urban announced the arrival of their second daughter, Faith Margaret, born to a surrogate mother on 28 December last year.
Kidman’s life is a lot more peaceful now than it was during the decade she was married to Tom Cruise, when paparazzi tracked the famous couple everywhere and, later, after their 2001 divorce, when she was linked to a number of men, including Tobey Maguire, rapper Q-Tip, singer Lenny Kravitz, New Zealand businessman Eric Watson and Elizabeth Hurley’s ex-boyfriend Steve Bing.
But if her private life was something of a roller-coaster for a while, Nicole Kidman’s professional career has been mainly an upward climb from the age of 15 when she made her first real impression as a frizzy-haired teenager in the Australian holiday film Bush Christmas.
She made her international breakthrough opposite Billy Zane in the thriller Dead Calm and met Cruise when she was cast opposite him in Days of Thunder. They were married in December 1990 and adopted two children – Isabella, now 18, and Connor, 15 – who both live with Cruise in LA.
She won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in The Hours and her roles in Cold Mountain and Dogville enhanced her reputation as a “serious actress”, but she has had her share of flops, too.
Now she looks back with satisfaction. “I suppose it’s been a long career with many ebbs and flows and I’ve gone off course at times and then I’ve come back,” she says.
“But I would hope that through most of it I’ve championed complicated women and stories and tried to push myself.
“I’ve made huge mistakes and at other times I’ve had massive successes. I think I can look back at a body of work that kind of defines my spirit. And I would hope that my spirit is pure.”
Nicole Kidman’s five greatest roles
(1989, Phillip Noyce)
The first of her films to have found international acclaim, this piano-wire-taut chamber-thriller sees the 22-year-old actress stalked on the high seas by gurning psycho Billy Zane, with only her husband (Sam Neill), wits, and dewy girl-next-door looks to protect her.
To Die For
(1995, Gus Van Sant)
A much more glamorous Kidman – as a delusional weathergirl – enlists the help of a trio of teenagers to murder her husband, whom she believes to be standing between her and stardom. It remains her steeliest role and, to many eyes, her definitive one, too.
(2001, Alejandro Amenábar)
Kidman is a stentorian materfamilias in this immensely atmospheric housebound chiller that also allows her to show a softer side. Enduring proof that there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned ghost story, it is very much her movie.
(2002, Stephen Daldry)
All A-list glamourpusses have to “go plain” at some point. And so, with not-bad English accent and mesmerising prosthetic hooter, Ms K pours her all into her rendering of Virginia Woolf, an Oscar-winning performance.
(2003, Lars Von Trier)
Kidman plays a female outsider subjected to all manner of on-screen torture by director von Trier and (in this case) the depraved members of a small Colorado town. A scarily intense performance, not to mention brave too.