Nicole Kidman: Nic of Time
So far Nicole Kidman is famous mostly for being married to Tom Cruise. But just wait. At 26, time is on her side--and she just got the plum role in Jane Campion's Portrait of a Lady. Here she talks about not wanting Tom on her sets, about not being cold and aloof, and about not using a body double.
"Do you think I should try and find a new Elvis and remake Viva Las Vegas?" Nicole Kidman wonders, pouting her scarlet lips, tossing back her mane of red hair and looking, in a sinuous black number, like such a '60s sex kitten that I wonder why I hadn't detected the Ann-Margret itching to burst out of the Samantha Eggar all along. "Immediately," I answer, "and if Tom won't be your Elvis, I will." Kidman breaks up laughing, then, waving bye-bye for now, sidles, barefoot, back under the lights for a few more photos. I've been watching her work the camera like mad--acting buoyant and loose while cranking up the heat in a way that critics have rarely accused her of doing in such movies as Days of Thunder, Far and Away, Billy Bathgate, Malice and My Life.
I recall how Kidman's directors Phillip Noyce, Ron Howard, Robert Benton, Bruce Joel Rubin and Harold Becker invariably harp on one theme: Not only is Nicole Kidman nice, but she is going to be a big star. Respect, she's got. Heck, Jane Campion, on whom critics lavished praise for The Piano, just handpicked Kidman to star in the prestigious movie version of Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady with Daniel Day-Lewis and William Hurt.
Having married Tom Cruise in 1990--after Days of Thunder and before Far and Away--Kidman has gotten as much flak as respect. She's been gossiped about. Big time. You know, stuff like she only nabs the big roles because of him. Or, they're a pair of control freaks who use Scientology methods to manipulate the press and to bully studios. Or, he is fanatically protective of her and turns up on her movie sets to make certain her love scenes stay within certain limits. And even juicier stuff.
Who knows whether good looks, acting chops, thoroughgoing professionalism and a zesty personal life will conspire to vault Kidman into the small circle of leading ladies who'll stick around for the long haul? I take a look at the determined set of her jaw and the cornflower blue eyes that gaze out with utter directness, and I feel the jaunty warmth of her handshake, and I think: Not only is she likable, but she strikes me as someone whom I can ask just about anything. So, I do.
NICOLE KIDMAN: [Laughing, looking at my sheaf of notes] What the hell is that, a background report? You've done your detective work.
STEPHEN REBELLO: Oh, yeah, I've really got the goods on you. Let's start by kicking around this Young Hollywood notion. Being 26, you're a part of that group, but do you see yourself that way?
A: It seems kind of foreign to me. I don't think there is enough "Young Hollywood." By that I mean young actors that are coming up. I don't know if that's because they're not writing enough roles for us or not, but I tell you, it's rare that you get to play your age on-screen. I tend to play characters who are past 30. I have to do that because most of the actors who are working are in that age group. Producers and studios are not interested at the moment in doing films with the younger guys.
Q: Unless it's with Tom Cruise. But, if you take it back a few decades, there used to be 20 actors that you could possibly have been paired with: William Holden, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper.
A: Exactly. It seems that every decade, there's less and less. Maybe that means women have to rise higher and say, "Okay, write films for us" or else we have to start writing the projects ourselves. There were big audiences for a Bette Davis movie or a Barbara Stanwyck movie, and there are only certain women now who will draw audiences like that.
Q: On the level of Tom Cruise?
A: Julia Roberts can.
Q: Does it bug you that Tom Cruise makes, like, $12 million a movie when you make much less?
A: We all get paid so much money that to sit here and complain that I'm not getting as much as him ... I mean, in Australia, you don't get paid anywhere near what you get paid here. Even on a small film here, it's bigger than what you'd get on the biggest film of your career there. But I'm willing to do Portrait of a Lady for Jane Campion for practically nothing because, otherwise, you'll never grow as an actor.
Q: We'll talk about that movie some more later. But, again on the Young Hollywood theme, River Phoenix's death was a devastating loss for a lot of people. How much hard living do you see among your peers?
A: I'm not aware of it. Yeah, I go out to clubs and all, and maybe I'm walking around with rose-colored glasses, but I don't see that side of things. It was a real shock to hear about River.
Q: Have you ever really been part of the Hollywood club scene?
A: A lot of these people grew up knowing each other. But I came in from another country and was suddenly, sort of, married to Tom within a year. I was very sheltered, I suppose you'd say.
Q: Is there a casting couch in Australia?
A: I worked from 14 onwards and never encountered it. But friends of mine have. I came to the States after Dead Calm. I was 21 and really lucky, because that film was seen on an international level. When you're in the higher echelon, working with great directors and smart people, it doesn't happen. But I have actress friends who are in their 20s, really struggling, and it happens to them. It pisses me off when they tell me stories.
Q: Of all the actors trying to progress beyond the "hot young newcomer" stage to the "worldwide movie star" stage, Tom Cruise has really done it.
A: Absolutely. The thing that all of us can learn from Tom is to work with great people. That's the key. Don't delude yourself by saying, "Well, I'm going to do this so-so movie, but I'm going to be the star of it." The times Tom has been brilliant are the times when he's worked with great directors. It makes you salivate to look at the list of directors he's worked with.
Q: He also seems to handle the fan adulation pretty adroitly.
A: I'll admit I am more nervous since the baby, but not to the extent where we use bodyguards or anything. Tom isn't an action hero in movies, nor someone who does a lot of killing. That attracts different kinds of fans and energy. I don't remember a time when we've been hassled by the public. People always say, "How do you manage to just lead your lives?" and for us, it's not a big deal. When we were in New Orleans, we went to see the Neville Brothers at Tipitina's, but people came up and were so friendly. When I hear stories about other people, I wonder whether there's something we're not aware of. I heard what Sharon Stone told you about the hassles she has, but I just don't have that kind of magnetism. [Laughing] I don't drive men over the edge like that.
Q: Surely there are things you have to think twice about before doing?
A: I was going to say "skating in Central Park," but we do that. You can do what you want. I remember, though, it was just the two of us and it was nine o'clock at night in New York and we said, "Let's go skating." Not being from New York and walking through the park at night, I did have a moment of, "Uhhhhhh, what are we doing????" But we skated for an hour.
Q: What would you do to someone who really pushed you too far?
A: Kick him in the balls and push in his eyeballs [laughing].
Q: What are some things you didn't know before you came into the orbit of Tom Cruise?
A: That people were so interested in him. That anything is possible. That, despite how terrible people tell you the business is, there are actually amazing people with incredible minds you can meet. That it all can be fun. And that you can still lead a normal life.
Q: What are some things you swore you'd never do before knowing Tom?
A: Get married. Live with someone. Have kids. I considered getting married, but not living with the person. I actually posed that possibility to a guy who I was going to get engaged to, and he said, "I'm not calling up my wife for a date." I come from a family where my parents are together, but I really believed that marriage couldn't last. So, I thought, either don't do it or, if you do it for fun, make sure you don't get trapped. I was going to be like my idol Katharine Hepburn, who said you couldn't have a career and a marriage. Then, I thought, "Fuck it, I'm going to be happy."