Pete Hammond

With two movies premiering in  the Official Selection on successive nights and big worldwide market pre-sales announced for an upcoming film in which she plays Grace Kelly, Nicole Kidman ruled the Croisette in the second half of the Cannes Film Festival this week, and though she looked every inch the glamorous movie star on those back-to-back jaunts up the steps of the Grand Theatre Lumiere, it’s hard work invading the world’s most famous film festival. Perhaps that is why when she arrived Friday morning for Deadline’s interview and entered the Majestic Hotel’s 6th floor suite with its sweeping views of the Cote d’Azur all she wanted to do was take off her shoes and relax for a few minutes. No such luck in the crux of this go-go-go festival.

Kidman has been working a lot lately but all she’s looking forward to next is finally getting back to her ”normal” life again before tackling Grace Kelly’s anything-but-normal life in late Fall  here in the South of France. Since making changes in her team a couple of years ago (she signed with Geyer Kosinski who also manages Angelina Jolie), the kinds of movies she’s doing are consistently more challenging and of a risk-taking nature, which is the way she likes it. The Oscar winner (The Hours) has often been drawn throughout her career to edgier material but now it seems to be her mantra. From her role as a Southern trollop in Lee Daniels’  The Paperboy which got Cannes twittering on Thursday to her first big TV project playing pioneering war correspondent and Ernest Hemingway’s third wife Martha Gellhorn in HBO’s Hemingway And Gellhorn directed by Philip Kaufman (which had the rare honor of a Cannes premiere for a TV movie) she has made a lot of noise just as Cannes 2012 is winding down. Add to that the challenge of being one big star playing another in the upcoming Grace Of Monaco and recently completing the great Korean director Chan-Wook Park’s (Oldboy, Thirst) first English-language feature Stoker, Kidman’s plate is full of fascinating projects. Things really turned around in late 2010 when the independently made  film version of the devastating David Lindsay-Abaire Pulitzer Prize winning play Rabbit Hole, which she also helped produce, won her a third Best Actress Oscar nomination along with rave reviews. She was somehow even attempting to fit in a Broadway revival of Sweet Bird Of Youth opposite James Franco but it didn’t ultimately pan out. It’s not as if she needed the work.

So what’s it like being back in Cannes with not one, but two very different roles? “I’ve been here many times but this is my first time to have two. Usually you do one film and go home and say ‘bye-bye’ but now here I am again today, ” she said in this brief respite between premieres as she apologized for the hoarseness in her voice. “It’s unusual because they are so different and that’s what I love as an actor – to try different things.”

Everyone will be able to see her performance as Gellhorn when HBO premieres the 2 ½-hour movie on Monday night. She’s dedicated her work in it to war journalist Marie Colvin who died tragically in February covering the conflict in Syria. Colvin was a modern day Gellhorn along with others like Christiane Amanpour. “She was doing what Martha would be doing right now. And she loved Martha. Martha was such a great woman. In the hands of Phil (Kaufman), because he loves women, I think it is great that he’s told her story now. Not everybody’s story gets to be told but she trailblazed for a lot of female journalists to be sure. She was also a role model for women now and for people,” said Kidman who admits she wasn’t at all familiar with Gellhorn but started researching her and told Kaufman she had to play her.

And as in many Kaufman movies there are also some torrid love scenes with Clive Owen who plays Hemingway. “I said to Phil, ‘I am up for it’. That’s me as an actor. I don’t want to not do things because of my own inhibitions or because I am censoring myself, Nicole. I want to be truthful to the story and the character. But I think the point of those scenes is to show what they had and whether there was a war going on or a bomb going off they made love because they were so physically drawn to each other. That gives the fire to their relationship. That’s the kind of people that they were. They lived hard, they drank hard, they partied hard, they wrote incredible prose and they eventually destroyed their relationship and each other. But they went on to do magnificent work out of that,” she said.

It’s obviously a great role for an actress, the kind that doesn’t come around much outside of places like HBO. “God bless HBO because no one would really do this for cinema now. Without HBO this just wouldn’t get done. I am willing to go on stage, TV, big screen – they are all relevant now. It’s a whole different world. They all have enormous relevance  artistically because how do you get the stories told through different mediums? How do you reach people? You reach so many more people and that is great,” she says of the HBO experience.

It was also an ”experience” playing Charlotte Bless, the Deep South girl next door  (if you happen to live in a trailer park near a swamp)  in her other Cannes premiere The Paperboy which is in competition and co-stars Zac Efron, Matthew McConaughey and John Cusack. She just simply went for it and if the film divided critics, her performance as a bit of a tramp who loves men behind bars was widely praised. “It shocked people. Yes, it’s very polarizing but that’s cool by me. That’s the sort of stuff I do and I am used to that. People love it or hate it (Note: it did receive a 16-minute standing ovation at the premiere – longest of the festival - but there were boos at the morning critics screening). You get the Guardian giving it the most incredible review and then you get other reviews going ‘what is this? I don’t get it’. But that’s me as an actor. I like that high wire stuff because I would rather do that than be bland,” she says.

Bland she definitely isn’t. In Paperboy there’s a steamy, out-in-the-open  sexual encounter between Kidman and the accused killer played by Cusack. Taking place in the prison they are physically several feet apart and never make physical contact, but manage to reach heights of ecstasy anyway in the campy scene that makes Sharon Stone’s antics in Basic Instinct look PG by comparison. But it was the now infamous “peeing” scene that really lit up Twitter after the film was first shown here Thursday. In the movie Efron gets stung by jellyfish in the ocean and a couple of girls nearby suggests that urine is the best thing to provide in order to ease the sting. Kidman who is at the beach with Efron defiantly steps in and screams at the girls, “If anyone is gonna pee on him, it’s gonna be me!” And with that the fun begins (she did it – no stunt pee) in what was perhaps the single most talked about scene in any movie in Cannes this year. Still she seemed surprised when I told her it was all the buzz.

“Yes, I did the scene. That was what Lee wanted. It was in the script. And it’s pretty out there. I mean I love Zac. He’s such a great guy and let me just say I am glad it was him. I feel safe with Zac and hopefully he feels safe with me. Oh my God I can’t believe it’s all over Twitter. Of course it would be all over Twitter,” she laughed.

I’m sure she won’t have to worry about that kind of scene when she stars as Grace Kelly, the elegant star-turned-Princess in a movie bio to be directed by Olivier Dahan who also guided Marion Cotillard to an Oscar for La Vie En Rose, a film Kidman says she loved.  But it will be one big Oscar winning star playing another big Oscar winning star which would seem to present a new set of challenges for Kidman when she begins shooting it in late Fall. It has enjoyed robust pre-sales here at Cannes. “I have been offered things before of playing  famous actresses of past eras but it wasn’t time for me to do that. But this has a great script. I know a little about Grace Kelly. I wasn’t a massive obsessed fan of Grace Kelly but I want to find out who she was and find the truth of that. But now I don’t do anything. I go on a plane and go back to my family and kids and say ‘oh I am a normal person after all’.”

A normal person who just took Cannes by storm.

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