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Bewitching, November 30th 2004 [from]

Nicole Kidman has nurtured one of the more comprehensive careers of any working actress. At one time balancing the highest profile marriage in town with the demands of an industry that is repeatedly unforgiving, and soon seeing that marriage dissipate amidst the further rise of her stardom, she is and has been a driven, surviving, ever creatively influenced force among Hollywood’s elite. And it is that drive that has produced the two most accomplished performances of the year thus far.

When you have such a dynamic personality on the other end of the line, numerous queries tend to flood the gates of your imagination. I wanted to ask if it is difficult to remain professionally and artistically focused when your personal life is on public display, or if it is perhaps easier to lose yourself in the work. I wanted to ask about the diversity of her creative choices over the last fifteen years, finding herself in films quite commercially angled, such as DAYS OF THUNDER and BATMAN FOREVER, to cinematic endeavors as artistically inclined as MOULIN ROUGE! and the current BIRTH. But these ponderings did not spew forth. Perhaps it is for the best. Such questions seemingly explain themselves. In the wake of her divorce from bona fide movie star Tom Cruise her pace has quickened, her career moves more carefully considered. Her choices of film roles reflect the diversity in her heart, the self-examined “child who existed in [her] own head.“ No, these questions weren’t to be asked. Instead, the cineaste in me wanted to know most of all what the experience of working with a filmmaker as monolithic as Stanley Kubrick was like. But we’ll get to that.

This year the actress finds herself in two drastically different films that exist quite notably on the periphery of contemporary cinema. Under the fearsome guidance of director Lars Von Trier, she starred in the controversial DOGVILLE, noted in this space as the first true cinematic masterpiece since Terrence Malick’s THE THIN RED LINE. Kidman describes the infamous filmmaker as very harsh. “Lars will say things that hurt you and make you feel like you can’t give him anything. But I would approach that by telling him that ‘I’m here for you‘. ‘I believe in you‘. When you’re working with someone so controlling, you have to be willing to be controlled.” DOGVILLE is one of the most fascinating pieces of political filmmaking we‘ve yet to see, and indeed, Kidman praises Von Trier as “one of the few political filmmakers,” an important aspect of the man, she notes. This viewer has never exactly be in line with Von Trier’s particular brand of cinematic language, but a work like DOGVILLE is so fantastically seminal that the accomplishment cannot be avoided.

Coupled with DOGVILLE, Kidman teams with SEXY BEAST director Jonathan Glazer for one of the more daunting films to be released in 2004: BIRTH. Described as a “metaphysical love story,” BIRTH tells the tale of a woman still bearing the burden of love for her former husband, dead ten years, and the boy who enters her life with the claim that he is this former love - reincarnated would be the term. “It was very intense,” Kidman said of working with Glazer. “We formed a pact where we came to trust each other and developed our own language, really.” Kidman says the film is “a deeply personal movie…It manages to capture grief and loss. How much do you need to know about [a] person to love them?” She remains ever thoughtful about the projects she participates in.

I confessed to Ms. Kidman that I was a definite fan of Glazer’s freshman effort, SEXY BEAST, and that the initial viewing of BIRTH caught me quite off guard. You see, it isn’t just the tone or subject matter that differs from the excitingly GOODFELLAS-esque ruckus of his 2001 effort, but style and method as well. By all accounts, BIRTH is seemingly directed by a completely different individual, not nearly the same man who brought to the screen a character as insanely delicious as Don Logan (as performed by Academy Award nominee Ben Kingsley). And so I told her a second viewing was certainly in order, and that the second look at the film really resonated. “It gets richer the second time,” she responds. “[The process of filming] was about seeking it out rather than knowing, and because of that it slowly takes hold of you.”

To be sure BIRTH is a film that lingers. Harris Savides provides some of the most startling cinematography of the year, giving us long takes (assisted by Ms. Kidman’s fantastic performance, of course) that convey so, so much. The final scene of the film is already considered in some circles to be a new cinematic moment of note, and I’d be quick to agree with them. And in fact, speaking earlier of Stanley Kubrick, I saw much of his sensibilities in BIRTH and am eager to ask Mr. Glazer if there is or was any influence of note there. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that plumbs the emotional depths Kubrick managed in his time as BIRTH does. But those ponderings are for another column, so be sure to check back later in the week as we continue the conversation of BIRTH with Glazer himself.

In the meantime, Nicole Kidman remains an actress unwavering in her commitment to diversity and pursuing that which interests her, always quick to consider herself the sort of girl with a “slightly different view of the world.” She follows up the decidedly less conventional BIRTH alongside Sean Penn in THE INTERPRETER, a political thriller from director (and EYES WIDE SHUT co-star) Sydney Pollock. Currently she is shooting BEWITCHED (talking to me on a set break), directed by Nora Ephron and co-starring Will Ferrell. “I was very much a child who existed in my own head. I discovered the world through literature [and] a family concerned about discussion and politics. I felt removed and spent a lot of time indoors, and my mother would say ‘read a book,” the actress says with a laugh. “Because of that I felt like there was some other world out there to be discovered.” It would seem that that little girl still seeks this “other world,” constantly challenging herself with varied material, never quite settling into a nitch.

I asked my final question as commonly as I could and as unprofessionally as possible. It wasn’t an “interview” question or a leading inquiry or anything of the like. And I’m sure she’s answered it until she was blue in the face, but I wanted to hear first hand what the experience of working with Mr. Kubrick was like on that legendary 15 month shoot of EYES WIDE SHUT. This is what she had to say:

“He was ‘the professor’ as I called him. He was a life literate with a knowledge of the world…He told me that he believed in me and told me not to waste my time, to have a point of view and stand by that…That [experience] changed my life really, and my career…It challenged the way I conducted my life.”

I would’ve expected to hear no less.

I want to thank Ms. Kidman very, very much for taking the time to participate in this interview. I wish her the best of luck as the awards season unfolds and with her future, surely diverse endeavors.

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