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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

What directors love about Nicole Kidman



Nicole Kidman in Los Angeles, Nov. 11, 2018. (Magdalena Wosinska/The New York Times)

By Carlos Aguilar


“We come to this place for magic,” Nicole Kidman says in the well-known AMC Theaters preshow advertisement. And who could better welcome back audiences to experience movies on the big screen than an acclaimed artist who’s illuminated stories across all genres?


Kidman has starred in daring art house projects (“Dogville,” “Birth”), awards-friendly dramas (“Cold Mountain,” “Rabbit Hole”), big-budget crowd-pleasers (“Aquaman,” “Paddington”) and everything in between.


On April 27, the Australian American Oscar-winning actress received the life achievement award from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. At 56, Kidman is among the youngest honorees.


But what qualities have kept Kidman consistently in demand for the past three decades?


New Zealand director Jane Campion said via email that “her fierce curiosity has helped her take an audience inside some gnarly women.” American filmmaker Karyn Kusama described her as a “channeler of inchoate energy,” and explained that when this “coalesces into something visceral for her character, you almost feel the molecules in the air shift around her.”


Five directors who have worked with Kidman, including Campion and Kusama, discussed what makes the performer an irreplaceable, shape-shifting talent.



Baz Luhrmann

‘Moulin Rouge!’ (2001), ‘Australia’ (2008)


“You tend to find brilliant character actors, or you find someone who has star quality. What’s quite unique about Nicole is that she is both an amazing character actress — she completely absorbs into the character — but she burns so brightly as a star on-screen as well. She has both qualities, and that’s pretty extraordinary. Because (“Moulin Rouge!”) was a musical, I needed her to do high comedy, almost slapstick like Katharine Hepburn. The scene inside the elephant shows her complete out-thereness, throwing her dress around and making funny noises. I didn’t specifically instruct her to do it. I just said, ‘How far can you go here?’ And she went there. And that’s really true of Nicole.”



Stephen Daldry

‘The Hours’ (2002)


“She is fearless in the characters that she plays, highly original in her choice of material and hugely adventurous in her choice of directors. She always wants to challenge herself and never sewttles on her laurels. She’s constantly wanting to push herself to the limit of whatever she does. That’s certainly what she did when she played Virginia Woolf. At that point she wasn’t the star she is now, it must be said. But we never thought about anybody else. We knew she would plunge herself into it with an extraordinary vigor. She was astonishingly fearless walking into a very fast-moving river and submerging herself underwater for some time to demonstrate the terrible choice Virginia made.”



Gus Van Sant

‘To Die For’ (1995)


“I thought she was incredibly dedicated to making a fantastic performance through study of the script and the part, in a way I had never seen before. There were notebooks, and scene exercises, and voice exercises — it was very thorough. Nicole was so versed in the scenes that she was like having a second director there, who helped with the kids that we had playing her students, and it was a very welcomed help that she gave with them.” Asked why he cast Kidman, who was then early in her career, Van Sant explained: “Nicole called and said she was destined to play the part, so I believed her.”



Jane Campion

‘The Portrait of a Lady’ (1996)


“Nicole’s actor superpower is how she can hold pain, in a straight-back complex mix of heartbreak, sadness, humiliation that is both soft as well as animated. It’s how she gets her characters to be broken and helpless yet not give up, except for poor Virginia Woolf who did not have Nicole’s astonishing resilience. Nicole is the most famous person I know, but we still go for walks anywhere we want. Nic in a not very good disguise (cap and sunglasses), which is touching to me, most people we pass recognize her, but she doesn’t seem to notice. She is extremely open about her life, we both are. Socially she is relaxed, generous and easy going. About work she is intense, serious. I loved working with Nic because she is daring and knows how to invite all sorts of potent energies to live and quarrel inside her.”



Karyn Kusama

‘Destroyer’ (2018)


“On the set of ‘Destroyer,’ Nicole was incredibly prepared and centered, and I could feel the intensity and gravity of purpose vibrating off of her. At the same time, her assistant was often nearby with a Ziploc bag full of apple slices and almond butter, and during breaks she would hustle to her trailer to nap for whatever moments she could. Something about those details of her practice really affected me — to see that she’s this extremely intense, disciplined artist who also needs a snack and a rest every now and then. You can feel how important it is to her process that she cares for her mind and body as she works, and how that inner attention allows her psychic access to all kinds of people.”

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