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Interview: Nicole Kidman
How Will the Woolf Survive?
By Jeffrey M. Anderson
December 19, 2002—Just hours ago, Nicole Kidman received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress for her performance as Virginia Woolf in the new film The Hours. It's a home-run performance, dazzling from tip to toe. And yet Kidman is nervous that no one will see the film.
"People keep saying it's a tough film, but it's a smart film," she said during a recent phone conversation from Los Angeles. "I was at the premiere last night, and we all just care about it so much."
Based on Michael Cunningham's novel, The Hours traces and interweaves the lives of three women: Virginia Woolf writing Mrs. Dalloway in 1923, a housewife (Julianne Moore) reading Mrs. Dalloway in 1951 and contemplating suicide, and a modern-day woman (Meryl Streep) who cares for her ailing poet friend (Ed Harris) and throws him a party, just like Dalloway does in the book.
"This one is important to all of us," Kidman continues, which makes one wonder about how important the other great films she's made recently must have been.
Born in Honolulu but raised in her parents' native Australia, Kidman, 35, became a star as early as 1989 with Dead Calm, but her breakthrough came in 1995 with a knockout performance as a murderous TV anchorwoman in Gus Van Sant's To Die For, followed by a role in Jane Campion's gorgeous The Portrait of a Lady.
She spent three years honing a pitch-perfect performance in Stanley Kubrick's much misunderstood masterpiece Eyes Wide Shut, shocked everyone with a Broadway turn in "The Blue Room," then had all of 2001 in the palm of her hand with her one-two punches in Moulin Rouge and The Others.
She even nailed her role as a Russian mail-order bride in this year's underrated thriller Birthday Girl.
So Kidman's passion for The Hours should not be taken lightly. "We're all over 30," she says of herself and her two co-stars, "and it's not like there's an abundance of roles for women. These are all really complex, wonderful women."
As Woolf, Kidman doesn't look a bit like herself -- her stunning beauty is gone behind a field of movie magic. Though Kidman insists that she wore only a prosthetic nose. Other than that she did not wear makeup of any kind.
She began by reading and researching Woolf, consuming Hermione Lee's 1996 biography. ("That was my Bible," Kidman says.) After adding the nose, she began to transform herself physically.
"My voice and my lips, everything just changed in terms of how I held them. I put on these shoes and started to walk differently. And then my voice starts to change as well. And slowly it all just came. But it doesn't happen immediately. It can be a little frightening."
But at some point, the actress had to go in front of the cameras with a final product. "As much as you do all that research, you suddenly stand up and become a real person. And that's when you throw everything out."
"She was intimidating. She's so well known and so iconic. I thought, this could really be a disaster!"
Kidman's performance is all the more spectacular because of the number of sheer quiet scenes she has. Woolf is in the middle of trying to decide if Mrs. Dalloway will live or die, and Kidman spends long minutes lost in thought, just gazing.
For Greta Garbo's 1933 film Queen Christina, director Rouben Mamoulian wanted a memorable final shot of Garbo standing at the bow of a ship. He ordered her to think of absolutely nothing; the result has mesmerized audiences for decades.
Kidman says that she didn't think of nothing, but "lots of things."
"It's all about the face," she says. "There has to be life. I love the inner life of a writer. Because when do you get to go onscreen and think? How do you show a writer coming up with an idea? And then it's almost like electricity occurs."
One good thing about The Hours is that it was much easier for Kidman to watch the finished film at the premiere. Since she's only onscreen for about one-third the running time, she had the pleasure of watching Streep's and Moore's segments with fresh eyes.
The passionate Kidman has more exciting projects coming up, including maverick director Lars von Trier's Dogville, Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain and Robert Benton's The Human Stain, based on Philip Roth's famous novel.
But for now she plans to take a long Christmas holiday with her family and especially her two adopted children, Conor and Isabella. They will spend a month on a remote island, doing nothing but "eat and rest and read and swim," Kidman says. "We're very boring," she says, adding that her family loves playing ferocious "Scrabble" games.
"For me, it's about being back with the people that keep you in line."
However, the Christmas holidays have a dark side for Kidman, specifically when her very first film, Bush Christmas, airs on Australian television.
Kidman was just 14 when the film was made. "Oh my God," she says. "My children watched it last Christmas Day. They were shocked that I had freckles. I was in the sun so much I got freckles all over my nose."