NICOLE KIDMAN - Birth and life
[Acting] is very dangerous. It’s like putting a boxer in the ring and you say, ‘I want you to box, I want you to box really hard, and I want you to kill someone, almost. But then when you step out of the ring, don’t use your hands,' you know? With an actor you’re saying you have to keep everything raw and available and there, and now we’re going to put you back into the world, but now you have to be very disciplined and adult and mature. You know, you’re constantly trying to balance it.
It’s a striking hair cut in the film. It accentuates your character Anna’s sensitivity.
“Yeah, when Jonathan first asked about it he said, ‘How would you feel about this?’ Obviously I’m open to anything. If that’s not apparent by now . . . [Laughs] But I think what that says initially, when you first see me, is it says so much about Anna, you know? And that’s what’s important. It’s about how does it penetrate the film and how does it help an audience to feel or understand her?”
Is there some kind of unconscious aim to try something different for every project?
”No. To me that’s not why you act. You just have to be true and authentic to the character, and also to the director. So you have to be open to whatever they want.”
So you don’t think, ‘I’ve done something similar to this before so I’ll try something different’?
“I don’t, no. Not in terms of a character’s physicality, no. Emotionally I’ll choose things that I feel [are different]. Obviously you don’t want to keep choosing the same thing over and over again, so I’m always looking for different, I suppose, ideas to tackle. But when you’re in a position where you get to make some choices as an actor, which is an extremely fortunate position, yeah, you are turning down one thing that maybe is extraordinary to do something else. Why is that? Because it’s just what you need to put out in the world at this time.”
Jonathan Glazer, the director of Birth, told me that you’d actually read the script and you went to plead your case to do it.
“I sat with him and I said, ‘I read it and it really affected me. I really feel for this woman and for this character and I would really like to be a part of your film.’ But I also have this weird thing where if it doesn’t flow, if it doesn’t happen, don’t force it, because there’s a reason [laughs to herself]. So you’re kind of feeling it out. He was so enthusiastic and we just kind of clicked.”
Obviously Anna must have touched something in you. Was it her sense of grief or loss, or just a feeling about the character?
[Said softly, in a kind of dreamy way] “All of those things. I think the inner life of her, she says very little but she thinks so much.”
Did you identify with that because you are constantly being scrutinized by the media or whatever, so do you have to keep a lot inside, and do you express a lot of what you’re feeling through your work?
“Um, yeah. Your choices for what you do are very personal and you’re very exposed. But I don’t think the detail helps anybody. You know what I mean? For one, who wants to read an article about me going on and on about me and my life? It’s more like choosing things so that they ultimately all come together in whatever weird, strange way. But I do think that it’s unfortunate now because so much of filmmaking is so deconstructed and so sort of exposed. People talk about it and it’s so understood, and those making of films, all of those things [takes a deep breath] I hate them because it takes away the magic and the mystery, and the reason for letting it exist on celluloid.”
And, in fact, there is quite a lot of mystery in the film. Not everything is spelled out.
And do you like that fact?
”Yeah. I think there’s certain types of filmmakers, and you can appreciate both. You sort of go, ‘This storyteller is going to give me their point of view, and they’re going to give it very precisely, and they’re going to give us a beginning, a middle and an end, and it’s all going to be linear, and decided upon, and you will understand it.’ Then there’s the philosophers, which I classify Jonathan or Kubrick as, who actually don’t give you an answer, they give you an idea. They pose a question. Jonathan said a wonderful thing to me. He said, ‘Nic, Nic, we’re making a film about love. They spent thousands and thousands of years trying to answer it, decipher it, write about it, what are we even attempting it for?’ Then he just looked at me and went, ‘Because there is no answer.’ [Laughs] So we both sort of nodded and went about our business. The other thing in this film, you’re dealing with the different types of love, and one of the most important lines in the film was when she goes at the end and gets down on her knee, and she says to Danny, ‘I want peace.’ And with that she’s saying so much. I find that scene incredibly painful, because, you know, it’s saying I’m moving on but it’s never going to be what I had with somebody else and I’m being incredibly honest about what that was, and you should know what that was, but my mind and my soul needs peace.’”
They’re all men who worked on the script. Did you make any additions or any comments on writing for a female character?
“Strangely enough this is why I think Jonathan’s so talented, because if you look at Sexy Beast and then look at this, they’re the antithesis of each other. He sort of constructed it around me as he was writing, he and Milo [Addica] on the weekends. He’d already done the script with [Jean-Claude] Carriere, and then he came in, Milo and he, re-worked it and re-worked it, shaped it for me, and that’s a very, very beautiful thing when it happens. It also helps a character and helps the truthfulness, because then it changes and evolves and moves into whatever you’re bringing.”
Did the controversial discussion about one or two scenes [in one she is in a bath with the boy Sean, in another they kiss] hurt you?
“I remember being told there was some controversy over some bathtub scene and it sort of baffled me. And at the same time I knew the film we’d made. I mean this film is not about sex, it’s not about trying to exploit something, it just isn’t. If you see the film and understand it, I think that becomes apparent very, very quickly. I think the discussion came before anyone had seen the film and had heard one line about what it was about.”
Are you still affected by these things?
“No, I mean I haven’t really heard them recently.”
Do you believe in reincarnation?
[Said quite flatly] “Doesn’t matter what I believe. I think, I mean, I don’t know, maybe it’s not that interesting, but I think there’s times in your life when you’re very, very able to believe things. So it’s the difference between a person who, at 22, is told someone’s trying to contact you from the other world and then loses their parent and, two weeks later, someone comes and says exactly the same line, ‘Listen, your mother’s trying to contact you through me,’ and the person you would have dismissed immediately and gone you’re a fool, suddenly becomes the conduit for some huge metamorphosis. So you’re, what would you call it? Open, gullible, susceptible . . .”
“Yeah. And Anna is extremely vulnerable and needs this child to be her husband.”
You have said before that you’d be prepared to quit acting because it’s so emotionally draining. Is it a dangerous game?
“Yeah, it’s very dangerous.”
In what way?
“Because you’re dealing with emotions. It’s like putting a boxer in the ring and you say, ‘I want you to box, I want you to box really hard, and I want you to kill someone, almost,’ and then you step out of the ring and don’t use your hands, you know? With an actor you’re saying you have to keep everything raw and available there, and now we’re going to put you back into the world, but now be very disciplined and adult and mature. You know, you’re constantly trying to balance it.”
Do you feel damaged by it?
“I feel that in the weirdest way, acting has saved me, because it has given me an outlet to pour things into and express myself, and at the same time I wouldn’t wish it upon my child.”
Now wait a minute . . .
“Oh no. [Laughs]”
Is that why you work so much?
“I actually don’t see it as work. Yeah, if I was going to have to sit in an office and sit in front of a computer, and work nine to five, that’s work for me. This [doing press] is work. Not meaning to offend you but this is the work part of it. On the set, that is the thing I love. That is the thing I love and cherish. All of the other stuff is the work.”
What about festivals and awards ceremonies, the parties and the glamour?
“To be totally honest, I think anyone who has really gone through and seen it, it’s not that glamorous. Yeah, you get a night of walking around in a beautiful dress, and then you go home. I was talking to somebody about this the other night – even the night you win an Academy Award, you go home, sit in your hotel room, and you’re kind of alone, and you go, ‘Who can I call now?’ It’s very strange. It’s extreme. And I’ve had it at Cannes at times where you’re surrounded by people and then you go home, unzip the dress, step out of it, and it’s kind of like Cinderella went to the ball. It really is that extreme. So I work on trying to enjoy those moments. But the biggest joy is standing there with someone like Jonathan and creating a character. You may say, ‘Oh yeah, sure,’ but it is like that. I have seen a lot now in my life and my career and it’s still not . . .”
Do you read a lot of the things written about you?
“No, I try not to. Unfortunately you do get things where people give them to you. I try not to read too much because I think it ends up shaping you in a way you do not need to be shaped. It’s like you’re on an adventure, an exploration, a journey and you don’t want someone telling you where it’s going to end up, or how or who or what. You’re sort of trying to find it yourself.”
Do you know what the percentage of stuff that is written about you is about your beauty and your relationships and so on, compared to the fact that you’re an actress of considerable talent?
“No [Laughs]. I don’t know. Well then I go from the frying pan into the fire, because I go and do something like promote Chanel No. 5. But I did that because of Baz [Luhrmann] and I wanted to work with Baz. Now they’re going to write a lot about the dresses from that.”
There’s some great work in this film, particularly you and Danny huston, but do you think the film is going to be too freaky for the Academy?
“I don’t know. It will be interesting to see. I’m just glad I made it. I’m glad I had a chance to make it. But you know it’s all kind of timing. Luck. You never quite know where something ends up. I just hope a few people go see it, I really do. And I also think with Jonathan, this is his second film and, you know, wow! I can’t wait to see his next one.”
Did you know you were going to take up so much screen time because in some scenes the camera just stays on your face for what seems like an eternity? At least it must have done to you.
“No. We didn’t discuss that. I come in and stay pretty much in character and just do it. I never see dailies. I try not to control or be too aware of the camera. Sometimes the DP says, ‘Which is your best side?’ and I go, ‘I would have no idea.’ The last thing you need is . . . you leave that, for me, in the hands of the person watching you, observing you. They’re there to capture you, to capture the character. And if I wanted to direct, then I would have to step into far more responsibility, but it’s strange as an actor because you move in there and you go, ‘Okay, here I am, now you can shape it, mould it.’”
You worked with Lauren Bacall before this on Dogville . . .
“You’ve spoken to her?”
[Bursts into laughter]
You’ve become friends. What broke the ice?
“She’s very funny. She has an incredibly dry wit. She’s incredibly strong. I mean she held my hand. We just all had lunch together and she was making me laugh. Then she came over and held my hand, and she gave me a little kiss and a big hug. That’s a woman who’s very warm. So she has this incredible tough exterior, and then she has a heart of gold. She really does. I speak to her on the phone and she bosses me around, and she gives great advice. She really does. She’s a survivor.”
What kind of things did you ask her?
“She deals it out, usually. [Laughs] And she says that I don’t listen to her and gets angry at me for not listening to her. I say, ‘I am listening, Lauren.’ She says, ‘Well why don’t you do what I say?’ Then, you know, she’s my New York mother, and I’ve been in New York for the last two years. I get the messages on my answering machine saying, ‘You haven’t called me in a week.’ [Laughs]”
Is the advice usually professional or personal?
“It’s personal most of the time. But she’s dear, she’s really dear. She’s amazing. She’s come all this way to Venice [for the film festival], she goes over and works with Lars [von Trier] on Dogville. I mean, you know, she really is a great, great woman.”
You’re the world’s number one actress . . .
“No! [Said with a smile]”
Oh yes, and everyone wants to work with you. How do you withstand the pressure that must be on you?
“I don’t accept that, because I don’t ever feel it. You just go, I don’t know how the hell this happened, there’s no sort of rhyme or reason to any of the decisions, there’s no strategy, there’s no master plan, so it’s all going to fall apart at some stage. And you can watch it happen. It’s truly that bizarre. I’m going to do a film with Wong Kar Wai next. Who knows, I may never come back from Shanghai. But hey, I’m lucky to have the chance to be around these people.”
We know there’s no script.
“Gong Li’s in it.”
Did you meet him in Cannes when he was promoting 2046?
“No, not in Cannes. I have always admired him and we sort of had a mutual friend who put us together, and we went, hm, okay.”
You work with some interesting directors, don’t you?
“Yeah, I love them. And I love to be able to support them.”
You know he never has a script?
“Oh, yeah. That’s fine. He’s incredibly strong and he has a strong sense of where he wants to take things.”
Which of your films would you like to become classics?
“I don’t know.”
Is it true that Francois Ozon wanted to work with you?
“He emailed me and we sort of email occasionally.”
He said you called him saying you wanted to work with him.
“Well, he emailed me. But alright, yeah, I called him. [Laughs]”
Who would you like to work with that you haven’t worked with?
“Oh, um, I’d love to work with Spike Jonze, I’d love to do a Charlie Kaufman script at some stage, have the chance to say some of his words. Copious amounts of words.”
Would you work with Lars von Trier again?
“Oh, I’m going to go back to Lars. I’m not sure what for yet, but I have said yes.”
Have you become more interested in theatrical type films since doing The Blue Room at the Donmar Warehouse in London? Dogville was theatrical and Birth is kind of, too.
"It’s a harder thing, theatre, when you have children. You’d think it would be easier but it’s not."
You said there’s no method but do you make the choices personally?
“Yeah. I talk to people, I see something. The influences to how you meet somebody or end up choosing something always change. There’s never one particular method. It happens due to a number of circumstances.”
Do you see many films?
“I go see films, yeah. I try to see them in the theatre because I like to see them in the theatre.”
With paying audiences?
“Yeah, I like it. I like being with a group of people watching a film. I fall asleep if I have to watch it on video or DVD. I really don’t like it. It’s too small and yeuch. Obviously I will do that if I have to, but even with old films I’d rather drive to go and see them in the cinema. And I love to sit with other people because that’s something that’s unique about the art form; that you’re in a room with other people. You read a novel, you’re alone. So to sit there and hear other people laugh, suddenly something that maybe wasn’t funny is funnier; it’s weird how you get caught up. I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 on the opening night in New York and I heard this cheering and yelling and I thought, ‘Yeah, this is great. I’m so glad I’m not sitting in some little screening room at home watching this.’ It’s about being a part of life, really.”
Is it easy for you to do or do you have an entourage?
“[Answers as if the question is silly] No, I just go to the theatre. New York’s New York, they really don’t care. You walk in fast, you sit down, and people sort of glance at you. But, to be honest, it’s not like a big hoopla. I pull my hair back and sit there. If I’m with my kids and someone comes up, I say, ‘I’m with my kids now, now’s not the time’ or whatever, and people are pretty respectful. I also purposely don’t have a lot of people around me. If it’s something like this it’s different because it creates the hysteria in a way. But when you’re just walking around the streets and stuff . . . It’s how you approach it, I think. You know, if you want to go and create all of that you can. You know, twenty people walking in front of you going, ‘Get back everyone!’ You feel like a fool, though.”
Is it true that you once considered yourself the ugliest person Earth?“There was a time, yeah. But I think that’s what you struggle with as a little girl. You look in the mirror and go, ‘Who is that person looking back at me?’ You know, there’s so many different emotions that are involved with growing up and your life; rejection and all of those things. But as my mum says, it gives you character [Laughs]. Let’s hope.”