Talk Wide Open, urbancinefile.com.au, 2000 (?)
Nicole Kidman has started filming the musical, Moulin Rouge, for Australian director Baz Luhrmann
(Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet) at Sydney's Fox Studios. SUE VERMILIONS talked to Kidman
about how she got the role, what it was like working with Stanley Kubrick on Eyes Wide Shut and
the directors she would love to work with in the future.
Q: How did you come to be in Moulin Rouge?
A: Baz came and saw me in (David Hare stage play) The Blue Room in New York and sent me a dozen red roses after the performance and said 'call me, I think I have a great character for you'. So I called him and I auditioned and he said, 'you've got to come and sing for me.' And then I went and sang for him, which was terrifying. There was no script - he just gives you an idea.
Q: You haven't sung on stage or film before - what's your singing voice like?
A: It's not Whitney Houston! He wanted actors who could sing.
Q: And you dance in the film?
A: Yeah, a lot of dancing. I did ballet when I was a kid. As an actor, it's fantastic to have the opportunity to sing and dance.
Q: Will Moulin Rouge be like an MGM musical where people suddenly burst into song?
A: Well, Baz won't let us reveal anything about it. I always work on films you can't reveal anything about! [laughs] He's just exploring all areas of doing a musical. It's a risk. Baz knows that and he's willing to take that on, and that's what's so courageous.
Q: Baz is incredibly energetic; do you find that inspiring - or does that intensity also become tiring?
A: I flourish with people like that. I don't work well with people (directors) that are more (laidback voice) 'weeell, we'll see what happens'. I love it when people are so obsessed with what they're doing, and Baz is obsessed, and in some ways Stanley (Kubrick) was obsessed. Gus Van Sant is far more relaxed when he works - he kind of ponders things and he doesn't say much, and that was good for me at that time (making To Die For). But I think, having come off working with (Blue Room director) Sam Mendes, who was also obsessive, I realised that's what I gravitate towards.
Q: How does Jane Campion fit into that?
A: The same! Just (one of those) people that expect you to get lost in the film and the role. I don't like working with directors that ridicule you for that, that think it's stupid or somehow make you feel foolish. We (she and her husband Tom Cruise) have worked with directors who don't have a clue what they're doing, basically, so therefore if you come in and bring in these ideas...So much of being a director is being able to understand the process of an actor and use that, and take it; and Baz was an actor. Jane just loves actors. Stanley (Kubrick) was a strange fish because he just wanted 150% commitment and anything less was not good enough, and then Gus (Van Sant) understands actors.
Some filmmakers seem to think that actors who work hard at getting into their roles are slightly mad. They
don't see it as a good thing, they see it as something that's intimidating, I suppose.
Q: Before starting work on Moulin Rouge, you made a film called The Birthday Girl in Sydney and London for UK
director Jez Butterworth. Preparing for the role of a Russian mail-order bride, I understand you spent two
months studying Russian and then became somewhat obsessed with the language - much of your dialogue is in Russian,
though the film is set in the British town of St Albans - which happens to be close to where Kubrick lived.
A: Yeah. But I think it's also why I really loved the script when I read it and that's partly why I responded to it, because we'd spent six months living in this house just near St Albans. We were in this huge house that Stanley found for us. I hate living in big houses. Somehow they just seem too big. It was sort of like the house out of The Shining.
Q: Music plays a big part in Kubrick's films, from Dr Strangelove through 2001: A Space Odyssey to Full Metal
Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut. What kind of music did he listen to at home?
A: Opera was his favourite, and classical music and jazz. The classic forms of music. Even when we were at his funeral you could see how much he loved music. His daughter is an opera singer, she got up and sang. His nephew plays violin and he got up and played and it was all as a tribute to the things that Stanley loved. He would always be listening to music. And yet, he only found the Ligeti [Gyorgy Ligeti's Musica Ricercata II, the doom-laden piano piece used repeatedly in Eyes Wide Shut] only four days before he sent it [the completed film] out for us to see.
Q: Why was Stanley Kubrick so reclusive? Did he have a nervousness about going out and having to mix with other people?
A: He would go out; I mean he came and saw me in the play (The Blue Room). Would he go out to dinner, or go to dinner parties? No, he wouldn't do that. He'd say, `no, come over to dinner'. You'd ask him but he wouldn't go. He liked people coming to him. He'd love people to come to his house to come and talk. When Paul Thomas Anderson (director of Boogie Nights) came and visited us on set, or (Australian director of The Well) Sam Lang, a friend of mine, came and visited, I'd bring them to meet him, he was more than willing to meet people. I think he had anxiety about venturing out. But then he came and saw me in The Blue Room; and then he was talking about going to New York in the last month. He wasn't reclusive in the sense that he didn't want to be around people, he just didn't like travelling. He was such a strange mix of confidence and fear.
Q: How did you react when you first saw Eyes Wide Shut?
A: I hadn't seen any of the dailies. The first time I saw it was at 11 o'clock at night and I just was overwhelmed. I couldn't articulate my response to it and my feelings were slightly disconnected because the stuff (scenes) that I was in, I was aware of everything that we'd done to get that stuff. Then, the heads of Warner Bros. arrived to see the film. Ha ha! Typical Stanley, you've got to come at 1am to see a screening in New York! And Tom said 'you've got to sit through it again', and I said I've just got to take a walk, I've got to get out. And he said, 'no you MUST sit through this movie again'. So I sat through it again and the second time I saw it I went 'wow'. It hit me. I couldn't talk. I've never sat down and seen a film I'm in twice. I hate sitting through it (most films) once, I find it almost painful, I hate it.
There's films I've been in that I will not see, that I just haven't seen - that's partly because I hate them. But this one I sat through and I was so glad that he made me sit through it again because then I actually started to see the film, and it's hypnotic, I think, what he did in terms of the lighting and the rhythm - because he'd always get us to speak slower. He had this thing about rhythm and the way you speak. I would do it and you kind of start to get into his rhythm of speech and you think, 'OK, well this is now normal'. But when he was first pushing us toward that, it seemed very odd. I don't know if people notice it when they see the film but I think it lends to that whole dreamlike feeling. And I thought (voice lowers) 'he is so clever'.
Sam Mendes, who directed the Blue Room and has just directed his first film (American Beauty) went to the premiere and came out - he was staying at our house - and he sat in the kitchen and he spoke to us for an hour and a half about the film. It's amazing the way directors react to the film. Scorsese came up to me at the premiere - (Martin) Scorsese, (Sydney) Pollack and (Steven) Spielberg all came to the premiere. Scorsese kept talking (she goes into a perfect impersonation), 'This is amazing, this is amazing, this is the great master, this is the great master, you don't have to cut, you don't have to cut, you can just do everything in one shot, what am I thinking, what am I thinking?
Then Steven (Spielberg) called and just said to me, 'it's the best thing you've ever done', and spoke to me for half an hour and asked me so many questions. You know, 'what did you do there, and what did you do there?' And then Gus Van Sant. Every director that I know who's seen the film has loved it - (whispers) I think it's that they all learn from him. Whether they think it's his best film or his worst film, all of his films give something, I think, to the craft.
It's strange now, being in that, and then also knowing him personally and knowing his nonchalance. As obsessive as he was, he was also completely relaxed. He never worked to a time frame. You'd say to him, `Stanley, we've got to get this tonight'. If you said that, you'd really not get it tonight, because he'd slow down.
Q: Why did the film take so long to make?
A: Because we'd work from 11am till 7pm, or 6pm - not long hours. If you were tired, he'd say 'go home'. He bought time. Also because he'd light (the scene himself) - he'd spend so long . . . we'd spent five days just sitting around while he lit, and then we didn't rehearse. We rehearsed on set. So you'd spent two days rehearsing then he'd go away and light it, videotape it, look at it. We only shot for 10 months. We'd take Christmas break for four weeks, six weeks. He'd take two weeks off for summer. It was very strange. He wouldn't pay you over the break; I mean he hardly paid anybody anyway. We just got paid a very minimal fee and that's it. I didn't think it would take that long, but I knew we were in it for quite a period of time.
Q: Is it difficult at times working like that?
A: Yes, it becomes frustrating at times because you think 'come on! I'm ready.' You'd become so tired sometimes - but with that comes a relaxation.
Q: What would you do while he was lighting?
A: I'd read. Tom and I had a trailer that we shared, we also had a smaller room and I would go into that room a lot. We could take the kids to school and pick them up. I look back on it and I think, we were existing in a strange, cocooned world.
Q: Almost like the world of the film?
A: Yeah. It was odd. That was exactly how we lived. And we didn't see many people. And we had this little house right near Pinewood, a tiny little English cottage. I look back on it and I think, how did we exist for about a year and a half? He (Kubrick) wouldn't want me to leave the house. He would get anxious if I was going (out) - because I'm only in a third of the film, he would want me to wait in the house...I think he wanted you to be so dedicated - I mean as every director does, they don't want to think that any other directors exists in the world, other than the (film) you were working on. But I loved him. I had a great affection for him.
Q: You often visited him and spent quite a lot of time on the phone with him after you'd finished making the film.
What sort of things would you to talk to him about? Personal things?
A: Yeah, anything. I would tell him anything because he would not judge you. I told him one story once about something that happened in my life and he said, 'oh you've got to make a film about that, this scene there should be the opening scene of the film'.''
Q: Your father is a psychologist . . .
A: (interjecting) He loved the film!
Q: Did you talk to him about Eyes Wide Shut much, and did you read much Freud in preparing for the role?
A: Stanley didn't want us to read anything. He just wanted us to get lost in the roles and in our own experiences together. I never let my parents read the script, but I did talk to my father about (it) - and I've also read quite a bit about Freud, and then when I was doing The Blue Room, I read more about [late Viennese novelist and playwright Arthur] Schnitzler [whose writing both The Blue Room and Eyes Wide Shut are based upon].
It's funny how everyone takes something different from this film. Everybody has a different reaction. My mother thinks it's a film about how men don't understand women. Whereas my father has a completely different reaction to it, and I think it's completely different as well.
Q: And what you think is...?
A: I'm not allowed to say, because Stanley didn't want us to define it in a sentence or two, and I think that's very clever of him - because then people latch onto that. If you're in the film...you're going to latch onto that, and say that's what I'm meant to feel and think, because that's right. And it's not right. He was originally planning to make this film 28 years ago, and his wife said don't make it now, it's the 60s and people won't understand it; there're a lot of films being made about sex, but they won't get it now. And if she hadn't said that, then I wouldn't be here. It's amazing the way in which it's just timing.
Q: Have you had many work offers as a result of Eyes?
A: I've had a couple of directors call up who I think previously may not have wanted to work with me, who now (do). Quite a few, actually. I think because they see it (Eyes): a lot of times they don't go and see films. I'm amazed at how many directors don't go and see others' work. And it's such a different role for me as well. It's strange, though, because choosing films is kind of hard because you match them against that experience. That's why I'm excited to be doing Moulin Rouge, because I think I'd be very depressed now if I didn't. Because of Baz's enthusiasm and because of what the role is and how unusual that film, Moulin Rouge, appears to be. It's inspiring.
Q: Well, it's getting harder and harder for you, isn't it, because you're running out of top directors to work with?
A: Yeah, and you sort of say, 'do I really want to spent five months doing this film? For what reason?' ''
Q: Which directors would you like to work with?
A: People like Scorsese, Spielberg and Emir Kusturica. I met Kusturica (Underground, Black Cat White Cat) when he was planning to film an adaptation of D.M. Thomas's novel, The White Hotel, and he was thinking of casting me. He struggled with it and struggled with it and then everything happened with Kosovo - and then he went back (to Serbia). I speak to him on the phone quite regularly. He's a fascinating guy. He brought Black Cat White Cat to London for me to see and showed me in my hotel room on video and it was not subtitled yet, and he sat there and translated for me. It's very funny. I'd love to work with Emir. Most people, when I say 'Emir Kusturica', go, `huh'? And I'd love to work with David O'Russell [director of Flirting with Disaster and Spanking the Monkey]. In fact there're a lot of directors I'd like to work with, but there's not a mainstream American director that I'd go, 'Ohhh!''' (feigns a swoon). But for someone like the late Polish filmmaker Krzyzstof Kieslowski, I'd have gone down on my knees and begged to work with him. The Decalogue series is one of the best things I've ever seen on film.
"I want to walk through life with grace and dignity and generosity and never take it all for granted."
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