From her aloofly perfect features to that Tom Cruise past, Nicole Kidman—all 5-foot-10-plus and (reportedly) 132 I.Q. points of her—possesses more than an air of intimidating mystery. Then there’s her film oeuvre, in which she’s played a rare cavalcade of women who are anything but ordinary, be they repressed (Eyes Wide Shut), eerily obsessed (Birth), or scantily dressed (Moulin Rouge!). The lady has played Virginia Woolf, a naughty witch, and a pertly coiffed sociopath. And just try to tell any of her characters to hide who they really are. The real Kidman? A Honolulu-born, Australia-raised women’s rights activist who is infinitely more relatable and warm than her Hollywood image—heck, Barbara Stanwyck probably had an image problem after Double Indemnity. Wry, playful, and curious, Kidman peppers a chat with enough variations on the laugh—naughty Catholic schoolgirl’s giggle, understanding mom’s guffaw, knowing friend’s titter—to accompany a cha-cha band. She’s just the sort of person with whom you’d want to cuddle up under a cozy blanket and watch a deliciously weird movie: her favorite kind. Kidman’s latest offbeat offering is Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus. Her voyager’s turn in the fantastical tale—from the writing and directing team who brought you the sadomasochistic comedy Secretary—paints Arbus as an unsatisfied ’50s housewife, a volcano of desire who takes to her freaked-out hubby’s body hair like a cat to pharmaceutical-grade catnip. So when a neighbor (Robert Downey Jr.) who’s hairier than Cousin Itt pops into her life, all swell breaks loose. Back in the real world, Kidman, 39, lives in Nashville with her new husband, Aussie-raised country music god Keith Urban, and her kids Connor Antony, 11, and Isabella Jane, 13 (the tykes she adopted with Cruise). In a recent chat with The Advocate, the—hyperbole alert—most accomplished actress of her generation lets her own hair down with writer John Griffiths.
Your body of work is like a film noir siren’s. You really take people on a ride, and your curiosity is palpable. It all leaves me breathless.
I’ll take breathless!
What’s your day been like today? Let’s set the scene.
I live in Nashville now. What did I do this morning? I went for coffee with my husband. And then we were chased by paparazzi, which is a little unnerving in Nashville; they converged upon this small town. And then I went for a walk and have come back, had a shower, and here I am!
So you’re clean and ready to go.
Yes, a fresh face and wet hair.
As your “Deee-ane” in Fur likes to say, tell me a secret.
Well, I have a lot of secrets. Where I stand on secrets is that they’re very good for you. I think it’s good to have secrets. My father’s always said, “You don’t have to tell everybody everything.” Partly growing up as a Catholic girl, you have this belief that you have to confess, confess, confess! [Laughs] I think having a father who’s a psychologist has slowly taught me, No, no, it’s all right to keep things that are yours, that you hold close and that you never reveal to anyone.
Although some people do believe that the truth shall set you free.
Well, I think that on a deep level with a partner, the truth is important. But I do think there’s your own private world that is yours. I’m not talking about in the physical world; I think I’m talking more about in the sense of what your mind does and where it goes. I believe in mystery. That’s why I don’t like a lot, I suppose, interviews. I’ve never done the Inside the Actors Studio interview where you sit there and discuss your work.
Why do you think people are drawn to wild freaks?
[Laughs] I think it’s that sense of danger and a sense of compassion. I think it’s about trying to—and it’s how I live my life—always see where somebody else is standing, try to see through their eyes, try and feel what they’re feeling.
Do you like to walk on the wild side yourself a bit?
Well, obviously, I feel curious. It’s so strange you used that word, because probably one of the things I would pride myself on is curiosity. If you keep that, then I think you stay alive. You stay interested and you stay connected.
What do you find intriguing about Diane?
The movie is about somebody finding their creative voice and path, and realizing they can’t conform and be what other people want them to be, and I think that is something that obviously Diane had, and something that I have and a lot of us have. You know, like, Where’s my place in the world? And I have all of these things existing within me and how do I express them? Is it necessary? And for some people, the necessity, like Virginia Woolf, they have to dance differently. It’s just in their blood, and it beats through them in a different way. That sits with me, and I understand it.
You’ve played a lot of repressed women. Have you ever felt repressed yourself?
Yeah. I mean, of course. I’ve felt that I’ve tried to be things that I couldn’t be, I’ve tried to believe things that I couldn’t believe, I’ve tried to change myself. I mean, it’s probably why I really have [affinity with] a gay man or a gay woman. A lot of times you’re dealing with having to have a secret and [thinking] How do I actually embrace who I am and not worry about what everybody else thinks or letting people down? It can really, really harm you when you hold things so tight and feel like you can’t be who you are. It’s devastating to a spirit.
What would you say to your kids if they ever came to you and said, “I’m gay, mom!”
[Warm, loving sigh] I’d give them a huge hug and say, “What do you want from me, how can I help you, what do you need?” For me, I’ve spoken to a lot of my friends—I recently lost probably my dearest closest friend, Robert [McCann, her makeup artist, who died unexpectedly last year]—you know, we would talk about this a lot, and Robert would always say to me, “This is what you do: You just open your arms and say, ‘Here I am and I love you. What do you need from me, ’cause there are things you’re gonna need.’ ” And I think you offer that to any child with anything that they come to you with. Because you need that unconditional support and love. Because you’re not gonna get it anywhere else in the world.
When I told my mom, I was kind of hedging, and she said, “Well, there’s nothing you could say that could ever make me stop loving you.”
Wow! To me, it’s like a blip, you know what I mean? It would be like, “What, huh? OK, great, well, here we go down this path.” But for the person who’s going through it, which is your child, it’s gonna be a very, very, very difficult path at times. And you have to be there, letting them know you’ve got someone that will listen to you and love you—anything, you can tell them. I had that as a child from my parents. I can tell them anything and they don’t waver. And it’s a lovely thing to be able to offer back.
Why do you think some people in the world want to believe that straight actors are gay?
[Laughs] Um, whyyyy? I don’t know. I suppose, you know, it’s nice to fantasize. [Big laughs followed by naughty laugh] We all have our fantasies! That’s one thing that I love about Diane. She embraced fantasies. Fantasies can exist in your head, and they can be what you want them to be. They’re yours, and they’re nobody else’s. Actions may be different, but you’re allowed to think whatever you want.
Have you ever been attracted to a very hirsute guy?
To a what?
A very hairy guy.
[Rich laugh] To be honest, I’m not that interested in the physical form. I mean, I’ve been, you know, with men that are incredibly attractive, and I’ve also been with men that aren’t. After a very short period of time, I don’t really notice. Yeah, there have been men who have had hairy chests—not as much hair as Mr. Downey. But it’s strange, after a while the face starts to look like a mask on anyone when you see what they really are. That’s when you’re in love.
Does the thought of two attractive men getting it on appeal to you—or is that too much of a secret?
Oh, that’s too much of a secret. I’m very discreet! [Laughs]
What’s your take on gay marriage?
I absolutely believe that anyone should be able to get married. But then a friend of mine, Luigi, who is a gay man who was raised in an Italian-Catholic family, has actually said to me—and we’ve had big discussions about this—that he doesn’t believe in marriage for gay men.
I know! Please, challenge him in this article. “Cuz, Nicole, it’s in the Bible!” And then I said, “But, Luigi, you’re just listening to some sort of old credo that you’ve set in your head of what’s right and what’s wrong. Actually, you should have the right for when, if you break up or if someone passes and they’re your partner, you’re protected. You need all of those rights!” I see straight friends get divorced and I think, Oh, why do we want that? You need the protection, don’t you think? Legal and financial. I mean, gosh, you devote your life to somebody…
Ya sold me!
Maybe I’m not right. I don’t have the answers, but that to me seems pretty solid in terms of an argument. I think everybody deserves the right to be protected.
So it sounds like you kind of have a Will to your Grace…
I’ve never seen it, but I would love to have gone on the show though. They sent me flowers and asked me to go on, but I was working.
Who are your best gay friends?
I’ve too many. I lost Robert, and it was very, very quick, and I’ve never recovered. It was 12 years of every day we saw each other. I trusted him implicity. You know, we just had one of those relationships, and to lose him that quickly was just devastating. And it was devastating for his partner too…seeing that pain. Also, I had Stanley Kubrick, who I was very close to, die very suddenly. I think I have enough of that now.
Do you have a favorite gay icon?
Ahh. Hmm. Dusty Springfield.
You could play her in a movie.
I would love to play her. I would love to. I just love her passion and death. Who’s your gay icon?
Oh, Oscar Wilde, for his wit.
Oh, yeah. OK, I’m stealing him!
Gays love you because you’re one of the rare actresses who actually sang in a successful musical that everybody loved!
I know! I’m so flattered that [guys] dress up as Satine. I love that!
That’s something I’ll never do.
Of all the movies you’ve done, which would you say gays love the most?
I don’t know, Moulin Rouge! probably, right? Or To Die For. I’m hoping [Fur], because it’s very much about people being able to be who they are, and I would love it to speak on that level.
Have you ever taken any naughty photos?
I’m quite shy. Quite ladylike. But, yeah, I have my fantasies. But I also believe in being very discreet. I like people who can keep a secret—that’s important. So, even if I had, I wouldn’t tell you.
Well, I don’t expect to see any Paris Hilton–style videos from you down the line.
No, no, no…no. See, by now most of my life has been either dragged through the tabloids or gossiped about or scrutinized, so if there were that in my path, it would’ve surfaced!
Do rumors get under your skin, or do you take them as a part of fame?
Um, I still can be disturbed by them. But I’ve kind of learned, when you’ve been given a lot of blessings, you have to have a thicker skin. As a child I was incredibly sensitive—and still can move into that—but I’m trying, I suppose, to balance it. My mum’s always tried to toughen me up. And as an artist you have to stay raw, and I love people who are, so I have to believe that ultimately the world is good, and if you give love, it will be given back.
What else do you find intriguing about Diane?
Her sense of being able to capture people’s true being, and the way that she had no judgment. And I love her for that. And her dark, dark struggles that she wrestled with.
Why do you think she killed herself?
You never quite know what goes on behind closed doors with anyone, with couples, with people by themselves. It’s the fascinating part of human existence. As much as people want to know…
Oh, yeah. There’s way too much information available. Times are tough for stars in Hollywood these days, with Isaac Mizrahi literally pawing Scarlett Johansson at the Golden Globes. Do you think you could’ve handled the old Hollywood system, or would you have bolted?
I probably… I have a slightly willful nature [laughs]. I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to do the films that intrigued me. I love to make abstract, obtuse films, so I probably would’ve squirmed within it. But at the same time, I loved the idea that they were able to make so many movies, because that’s how you hone your craft. That’s what I love about that era. And also just the glamour. I have to say it. You are very glamorous. I think, why not? If you love beautiful things and you have the opportunity—and I’m talking about buying the most gorgeous flowers that you can see every day for a week, or the most beautiful diamond, you know—and then you’re extremely generous and philanthropic.
Are you still involved with the U.N.?
Yes, very much. I’m working with this women’s rights group. There’s this woman, Noeleen Heyzer [executive director of the U.N. Development Fund for Women], who I heard on the radio, actually, and she has this very strong, angelic quality; she’s such a force to be reckoned with, and she’s all about helping people who need it. I just called her up and said, “What can I do to help you?” So now I’m heading off to Kosovo in three weeks, then I’m going to India, Cambodia, slowly compiling my own research so that I will be educated and see what I can do, so I can speak on certain issues that I feel very strongly about.
Where do you get this drive?
For me, a lot of it has to do with the way I was raised. My parents’ social conscience was very strong. My mother was a nurse, and my father a psychologist. I’ve watched caregivers my whole life. I grew up in hospitals. That’s where we’d go after school. I’d catch the bus, my mom would be working at the hospital, and I would be there hanging out, watching people suffer. That had a huge impact on me. Seeing my mother tending to these people. My father had people walk into a little room with him, and they’d walk out. Their whole focus was about helping people.
As a teenybopper, did you have any crushes?
I loved David Bowie and Lou Reed. And AC/DC. And I even think I had Leif Garrett on the wall. And Abba, of course. I do a pretty mean karaoke of “Mamma Mia” with my sister!
You’ve once said that you had kind of a boy’s body. Is there a female star’s body that you idealize?
I love Sophia Loren. She’s gorgeous. But I just saw Penélope Cruz in Volver, and I thought she was magnificent, absolutely magnificent. I’d give anything to work with Pedro Almodóvar. I would just crawl over hot coals, kiss his feet —whatever’s necessary. I think they have wonderful magic together, Pedro and Penélope. I think I have that with [Moulin Rouge! director] Baz Luhrmann: You’ll basically do anything for that director and you adore them.
Baz wrote it for me. I play an English aristocrat who goes to Australia in the 1930s.
So another woman who is kind of demure at first but gets feisty?
Yeah, well, Baz kind of knows my soul.
And what is it that he gets about it?
I think a mixture of delicacy and strength is what he says. A lot of times I’m not aware I have the strength, but other people seem to think I do, so that kind of propels you forward. I feel incredibly fragile and delicate at times —it’s like I need a wall around me to protect me. And Baz kind of understands that and gives me that.
But your strength comes across in your movies.
Yeah, I think maybe deep down I am. But then there are times when I feel—ugh!—the weakest person in the world, you know? But I suppose everybody feels that.
What are you trying to change about yourself? Are you obsessive in thinking?
I can be obsessive in my work, but you know, if I’m playing chess or tennis, or any of those sorts of things, I couldn’t care less whether I win or lose [laughs]. And I can worry a lot. And sometimes I feel like I care too much, like I have too much love to give, that I had all of this love within me.
But it’d be a little easier if you didn’t fall so hard, right? It’s like, you go, God, I’ve got to hold a little back. But you don’t quite know how to?
Well, a little meditation.
I’m trying to watch the people-pleasing. I know exactly what you mean. I went and meditated this morning. I left that out of my wrap-up of the day. I did a 10-minute meditation on my walk, which isn’t long enough, but…
You also might do The Lady From Shanghai?
I’m not sure. I’m married now, and part of me says, I want to be close to the person I love and that does not mean sitting in China. So you give up a lot so that you can have your love. The people who are really, really close to me, I want them close to me. I’m at a stage in my life now where I don’t want to be away.
Last question: Have you ever seen a gay guy ogle Keith whilst walking down the street in Nashville?
Well, obviously. I’m all for anyone thinking he’s the cutest thing [laughs].
Griffiths is the TV critic for Us Weekly and writes profiles for InStyle and Glamour.
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