Decades from now, 2017 could well be remembered as The Year of Nicole Kidman. Sure, the Aussie actor has won fans, and even an Oscar, in a career spanning more than 30 years, but in 2017 she has finally managed to exorcise a persistent ghost – a nagging doubt about her acting prowess.
So far this year, there’s been an Oscar nod for her supporting role in Lion; the huge international success of HBO’s Big Little Lies, for which she won universal critical acclaim; her domination of the Cannes Film Festival, where she starred in no fewer than four films, and won a special award; rave reviews of her lead role in The Beguiled; and a part in Aquaman, the latest addition to DC’s burgeoning cinematic universe.
She’s also front and centre at Melbourne’s own international film festival, which kicks off this week, starring in two of MIFF’s biggest draw cards: Yorgos Lanthimos’ hotly anticipated psychological thriller The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and a special screening of the next instalment in Jane Campion’s television masterpiece Top of the Lake: China Girl.
At 50, it seems Nicole is finally cementing her place as a serious, and multitalented, power player in the film business.
But while it’s tempting to think it’s all part of a mature master career plan, she says it’s actually quite the contrary.
“I’m completely spontaneous and random in my decisions,” she says, laughing. “Never let it be said that I don’t have diverse taste – I love jumping into the deep end. Why not? That’s my favourite saying, I think it has such potential and choice – why not?”
Nicole admits she has “maybe played it a little safe” in the past.
“I went for work that I thought I was meant to do, which spoke to the idea of what and who an actress is supposed to be. But, for the most part, I’ve followed my own spirit, which motivates me to go against the grain.”
It was that spirit, she says, that led her to Sofia Coppola, and her latest film project The Beguiled, which snagged the best director award at Cannes. Nicole says she had seen Sofia at parties, but had never worked up the courage to actually speak to her about a part.
“I’ve been ready and waiting for years,” Nicole says. “She came to see the play [Photograph 51] I was doing in London, which was nerve-wracking. Then we went to dinner afterwards, and she told me about The Beguiled.
“As soon as I heard the name of the film it did exactly what it says – I was beguiled.”
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In the film, a remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood classic but told from a feminine point of view, Nicole plays Miss Martha, the morally ambiguous headmistress of a girls’ boarding school during the American Civil War. Trouble brews after the arrival of a wounded soldier, played by Colin Farrell.
Nicole thrived working with Sofia. “I hope this isn’t the only time we work together, I really hope it isn’t,” she says.
“The quiet, elegant power in her direction is like nothing I’ve worked with before. It’s so subtle, and she allows you to discover your own objective and emotion. It’s a remarkable gift.”
Another gift, she says, was the rare opportunity to work with a mostly female cast. An outspoken champion of equality in filmmaking, Nicole says she loved Wonder Woman so much that she “came out of the theatre grinning and punching the air”.
But she reckons there’s more work to be done to level the playing field.
“All I’ll say is, ‘Look at the statistics of women in film and you’ll see that there’s still a gross imbalance’. There’s no getting away with it. I’m always going to support female directors, I’m not going to go a year or two without working with a female filmmaker,” she says.
“We have to support each other. We are at such a significant moment now that we need to capitalise on. We can’t rest on our laurels, we can’t ever get complacent because it will revert back to what it was. So I’m going to keep talking about it, keep pushing, keep promoting women, create opportunity for women.”
Her experience working on The Beguiled immediately followed another female-dominated project, Big Little Lies. “To be working with such a strength of women, in two casts back to back, is a sacred gift,” Nicole says.
She was delighted by the response to the HBO miniseries, and has fingers crossed for a second season.
“We want it. I want it. I love that I’m being asked about it, it makes my heart sing.”
“We’re a way off if anything does happen … it’s down to the writing, and the quality of the characters, it has to be the same quality as before. There’s a lot to discuss, and we’re in the discussion stages.”
Her portrayal of domestic abuse was one of the biggest talking points surrounding Big Little Lies; nevertheless, she says her husband, Keith Urban, was an avid fan of the show. “He was glued to every episode.
“I know those scenes weren’t comfortable for him to watch, I don’t think they were comfortable for anyone to watch but especially when it’s your partner in them, it’s tough. But he gets how important it is to have authenticity in telling these stories, to get the message out there and maybe help others in similar relationships.”
Next up, Nicole is excited about her role in Aquaman, and working with her “good friend” and fellow Aussie, director James Wan.
“It shoots in Australia, so it’s the perfect excuse to be close to my mother for an extended period, and it’s definitely an excuse to have fun. There’s been a lot of intensity recently in my work, I just want to have fun on this.”
But while blockbusters are fun, Nicole says she’s mostly drawn to indie projects.
“It’s art to me, and art is never about money. It’s also about working with new minds, fresh talents, who usually have no money to play with – and if I can help in whatever way I can, bring my weight to it, I will,” she says.
“There’s so much talent out there and I want to constantly mine that reserve, unearth these rare gems. I like to help new arrivals because I was in the same position, someone gave me a chance.”
- Top of the Lake & The Killing of a Sacred Deer are both screening at the Melbourne International Film festival miff.com.au
- The Beguiled, rated M. In cinemas now.