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EXCLUSIVE: Nicole Kidman On Longevity, Love & Her Latest Role

Legendary actor, sought-after producer, champion for women, proud wife and mum. Nicole Kidman’s CV is studded with glory, but she insists she’s only just getting started.

Last year, every Friday night for five months, the 200-strong cast and crew of mini­series Nine Perfect Strangers were gifted surprise treats after a gruelling week of shooting. Food trucks carrying ice- cream, pizzas and burgers would weave through the picturesque Byron Bay hinterland and park on the lush grounds of Soma retreat (or Tranquillum House, as it’s called in the series), ready to reward exhausted workers. It was a tradition dreamt up by Nicole Kidman, who produces and stars as mysterious healer Masha in the highly anticipated TV drama.

“All the key cast would pitch in to pay, but Nicole took the role of gift-giver to a whole other level,” recalls producer Jodi Matterson, whose company, Made Up Stories, worked with Kidman’s Blossom Films to bring the project to life. “Each week, she’d up the ante by giving piccolos of bubbly, boxes of cupcakes, steamed dumplings from food vans. Then on our last day, Nic gave everyone a special goodbye gift with a personal note. I’ve never worked with anyone who’s gone to such extremes to make people feel appreciated, acknowledged and valued. She’s a class act.”

Nicole Kidman’s generosity of spirit is well-known in the local film industry. When US financiers refused to back “an unknown” to play the role of tormented mum Heather in Nine Perfect Strangers, she fiercely championed Asher Keddie (who got the part). She’s pushed hard for Australian female filmmakers and writers to see their work come to fruition and attract global acclaim. And at the start of the pandemic she moved the entire production of Nine Perfect Strangers from California to Byron, offering a financial lifeline when hundreds faced months of zero work.

When I mention these acts of kindness during marie claire’s cover shoot on a chilly winter’s day in Sydney, Kidman is characteristically humble. “I’m just so grateful to be in a position to give people work and promote so much hidden talent in Australia,” she says, forking a multi-layered sponge cake during her lunch break. “Part of my mission is to give chances to creatives, women especially, who haven’t really had the opportunity; it’s my greatest thrill.”

Photography: Darren McDonald Styling: Naomi Smith

Today, Kidman is here to promote her latest TV offering – the aforementioned Nine Perfect Strangers, another Liane Moriarty book adaptation poised to set the world ablaze like Big Little Lies did five years ago. For the series, which starts on August 20 on Amazon Prime Video, Kidman is joined by an all-star cast including Melissa McCarthy, Samara Weaving, Bobby Cannavale and Michael Shannon. “Each character has their own fully realised storyline which takes these incredible twists and turns; it’s so exciting to watch them.”

Kidman is also in the studio to helm our 25th birthday special issue (hence the cake). This marks her 10th marie claire cover, making Kidman the most prolific cover star in our quarter-century publishing history. For a skip down memory lane, I’ve laid out all nine issues along a wooden table. “Wow – it’s a This Is Your Life moment,” she says with a laugh. “Oh, I don’t like that one,” she says, pointing to 2007’s “over-done” delivery. “I prefer the more natural ones, like that” – she motions towards last year’s cover featuring her famed BMX Bandit curls.

It’s a miracle we’re here, to be honest. After weeks of back-and-forth with her loyal publicist, Wendy Day, and the good folk at Amazon, we’ve finally eked out a few hours in her “crazy-busy” schedule of filming, meetings and another looming lockdown. But if Kidman’s stressed, you wouldn’t know it. She arrives bang-on time, relaxed and upbeat, holding hands with her 10-year-old daughter, Faith, a Kidman carbon copy here to experience “my very first magazine shoot”. Kidman warmly works the room, introducing herself to everyone before enthusing over a rack packed with high-fashion pieces. After a few quick changes, the 54-year-old emerges from the dressing room in a barely there Saint Laurent playsuit that someone like me (the same age as Kidman) would be arrested for wearing. It fits like a glove, perfectly showcasing her alabaster skin and mile-long legs. Faith gives her a sly thumbs up. “Both my girls come with me on production sets, but they’re never that impressed,” she shrugs, explaining that 13-year-old Sunday, her eldest daughter with her husband, country music star Keith Urban, is back home in their North Sydney apartment Facetiming with friends. “They’re super supportive, but with a nonchalant approach to it all. Really, all they want is their mum. They say, ‘Yeah, that’s cool, but now what about me?’ It’s their world and we’re just living in it and thank God for it. Kids keep you so grounded.”

Photography: Darren McDonald Styling: Naomi Smith

It’s clear Kidman needs grounding given her whirlwind work life. In the 10 months since I last interviewed her to promote HBO thriller The Undoing, Kidman finished Nine Perfect Strangers in Byron, relocated to “bitterly cold” Belfast to shoot Viking epic The Northman, shifted to California for the Lucille Ball biopic Being the Ricardos (“One of the hardest roles I’ve ever played”), scooted back to Sydney to shoot Roar with Judy Davis (“One of my all-time favourite actresses”), and will soon head to Hong Kong to make Expats, the TV adaptation of Janice YK Lee’s best-selling novel. “I’ve now done four stints in quarantine, but I’d never complain – I’m just so grateful to be working. Straight after boiling hot Byron, I was sitting on a horse in real Viking clothes atop a freezing cold mountain in Ireland where they filmed Game of Thrones. I was laughing my head off with Anya [Taylor-Joy, of The Queen’s Gambit fame], saying through gritted teeth, ‘It’s freeeeeezing; what the hell are we doing here?’ It was crazy, but my life is crazy.”

Even after today’s photo shoot, Kidman has a stream of Zooms to discuss ever-shifting budgets, schedules and projects, many of which sit under the banner of Blossom Films, the company she started with friend Per Saari. Since 2010 they’ve developed 11 productions, including Rabbit Hole, Big Little Lies, The Undoing, Nine Perfect Strangers, the upcoming Expats, Moriarty’s Truly Madly Guilty and season three of Big Little Lies (“That’s with Liane at the moment”).  

“I won’t lie – it’s very stressful at times,” she admits of her production role. “I said to Keith the other day, ‘You didn’t realise you were signing up for this when you married me, did you?’ But producing has been a beautiful door to step through.” And it’s a stride that’s seen Kidman come into her power as a true Hollywood heavyweight, a rare breed of artist whose success snowballs each year. With more than 60 film and TV productions to her name, and awards including one Oscar, five Golden Globes and two Emmys, there’s not much she hasn’t achieved as a creative. Does she ever pause to acknowledge that she’s busier and more in-demand than ever? “Yes, I do. I’m shocked and astounded, but also incredibly proud and grateful because I know exactly what it means to get here. Everything is hard-earned; none of it’s handed on a platter. Not for me, nor my husband. Keith always says that every single brick in this house is a gig. We never forget that.”

Hard work and humility were qualities instilled in Kidman by her psychologist dad, Antony Kidman, who passed away in 2014 (“I miss him every day”), and her 81-year-old mum, Janelle, a retired nurse. “I grew up seeing both my parents work incredibly hard doing important jobs, and that’s never left me.” Kidman’s peers, too, applaud her rigorous work ethic. “Without doubt, she’s the hardest working person in the business,” says friend, collaborator and producer Bruna Papandrea, who runs Made Up Stories with Jodi Matterson and Steve Hutensky and worked with Kidman on Big Little Lies. “The more we work together, the better it gets. We’ve been friends for 25 years – gee, I’m really showing my age here! – and we tried to work together for ages. It took 20 years, and now we’ve worked consistently for five years because we all bring different skill sets and know each other so well.”

Adds Matterson: “Nicole’s not afraid to get her hands dirty. She’ll call actors, work on scripts, look at locations and manage budgets. But best of all, she has insanely good instincts after so many years’ experience. She really understands the process.”

Photography: Darren McDonald Styling: Naomi Smith

In episode one of Nine Perfect Strangers, which follows a group of damaged city dwellers on a trippy 10-day healing journey, there’s a scene where they meet Russian-American wellness guru Masha for the first time. “Well, that was real,” says Matterson. “You can see the actors look genuinely shocked, because they are! We’d all been in Byron for a while settling in and rehearsing, but Nicole decided to stay away until that first scene to add authenticity. Some of them hadn’t properly met Nicole yet, let alone clapped eyes on Masha. It was genius and that was Nicole’s idea.”

Aside from inspiring this dedication, Kidman’s family also hardwired feminism into her DNA. In the 1970s, her mum made her and her sister, Antonia, hand out leaflets advocating for political candidates who supported women’s rights. This year marks her 15th as a Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women, and her core reason for launching Blossom Films was to support, promote and foster female creatives and stories. “I was surrounded by staunch feminists growing up; it’s made me who I am today and why I’m so committed to supporting women. Even my dad was a feminist, absolutely devoted to the women in his life. He was so kind, but thankfully I have Keith who’s equally kind. They say you find 50 per cent your dad, and 50 per cent not. That rings true for me.”

You soon notice with Kidman that all conversations channel back to Urban, the “love of my life”. In June this year, the couple celebrated 15 years of marriage by grabbing sushi and strolling around the Art Gallery of New South Wales, admiring the Archibald Prize entries. “That’s a nice thing to do, right?” Kidman admits it was “a miracle” that she and Urban found each other. “Two Aussies born in the same year, but living in different worlds and cities: how did that happen? It was meant to be.”

Urban, who’s now back on The Voice judging panel after a nine-year hiatus, is as committed as his wife to unearthing young Australian talent. “He’s obsessed,“ says Kidman, who reveals he wrote the haunting final song on the last episode of Nine Perfect Strangers. “When you get to this point in your career, it becomes your greatest joy. Music is everything to him: he hears the world, I feel the world. He said if he didn’t like my speaking voice, he wouldn’t have been able to fall in love with me. Lucky he liked my voice and my Aussie accent!” 

Photography: Darren McDonald Styling: Naomi Smith

This month’s magic number is 25, which sparks a moment of reminiscence (the year marie claire Australia launched, Kidman scored rave reviews playing a well-coiffed weather girl with a dark side in the black comedy To Die For, now a modern classic). But for all her achievements and accolades since, Kidman pinpoints “finding the greatest love when I did” as her most defining moment over the past quarter century. So what’s her greatest regret? “I wish I’d had more children, but I wasn’t given that choice.” Kidman has spoken openly about her fertility struggles and miscarriages during her marriage to Tom Cruise (they adopted Isabella, now 28, and Connor, 26). I point out that four children is a solid number by modern standards: “Yeah, but I would’ve loved 10! But that’s OK; I get to mother other children. I have six nieces and nephews and I’m godmother to 12. I love mothering, I love kids and what they say: they’re quirky, funny, unfiltered. And then you get to see them grow and send them on their way.”

Her number one tip for parenting is to be able to let go. “I’ve learnt to bite my tongue and say, ‘This is your life, not mine.’ I’ll give you all the wisdom, guidance and advice I can, and when you need to come back, I’m here. And I apologise frequently; it’s a great thing to apologise to your child. We’re as tight as all get-out; we’re very close.” Which marks the perfect place to end our interview given she’s keen to “hang with the kids” before hopping on work Zooms.

Just days after our shoot, Kidman is true to form: a heartfelt note pings in my inbox thanking me and the marie claire team for a “wonderful day”. Class act indeed.

Nine Perfect Strangers is streaming on Amazon Prime Video now.

This story originally appeared in the September issue of marie claire Australia, out now.


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