When I caught up with Nicole Kidman in May near the end of the Cannes Film Festival she just wanted to take off her shoes and relax. It was a grueling schedule as she had two films on successive nights in the official selection doing press conferences and walking up the Palais’ fabeled red carpeted steps two nights in a row. With her powerhouse portrayal of journalist Martha Gellhorn who also engaged in a tumultuous marriage as Ernest Hemingway’s third wife, Kidman had the rare opportunity of premiering a movie in Cannes that would debut on HBO just four nights later. And before this Oscar winning star (The Hours) showed there is practically nothing she won’t do for her art as the trampy Southern trollop in Precious director Lee Daniel’s first film since that triumph, The Paperboy, in which she stars opposite Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron and John Cusack. The movie divided critics but everyone seemed to agree Kidman nailed it. Clearly this major movie star is on a roll and as she told me she goes where the interesting parts are now whether it’s the movies, theatre or even television, which in Gellhorn gave her one of the roles of a lifetime.
AWARDSLINE: Were you familiar with Martha Gellhorn?
NICOLE KIDMAN: I didn’t even know who she was. Then I started researching her and called [director] Phil [Kaufman] and said ‘I have got to play her.’ And to play her old and looking back. She had that perspective. And the final images of the film are her looking back and on the phone and saying ‘I will pay my own way.’ I had to tell that story: I’m going, throwing that backpack on and going out that door … She is such a great woman in the hands of Phil because he loves women. And I think it’s great that he’s told her story. She trail-blazed a lot of female journalists, but also she was a role model for women.
AWARDSLINE: You’re right when you say Gellhorn was a trailblazer. Now we see Christiane Amanpour and the late Marie Colvin.
KIDMAN: Yes, Marie Colvin. I dedicate the performance to her. She loved Martha. She was doing what Martha would be doing right now. She was the Martha of this time. It was devastating. But she was saying ‘Look what’s happening here. People have to know about this.’ And then she was killed.
AWARDSLINE: Is there a special challenge or a feeling of responsibility to get it right when you play a real person?
KIDMAN: I just go in. I go deeply in. I just do research and then I just try to find who she is. I change the way I walk, talk and the way I sound. Phil helped me with that and I just try to find it. The thing was because Martha is almost a paradox. She says one thing. She says ‘I was the worst bed partner, in how many continents’ and she doesn’t like sex. Then you see her with Hemingway and they’re wild together. That is what was interesting to me, because what we say we are and what we actually are can be very different. The reasons for Martha are: She didn’t want to be defined by Hemingway or looking at it through rose-colored glasses. That was her way of dismissing it or saying ‘It was a very small part of my life’ which is what it actually was even though Hemingway taught her or inspired her to be what she became which is one of the greatest journalists of all time. And yet everyone always says ‘Oh she was just Hemingway’s wife’. And I think that was incredibly frustrating to her. And that was fantastic because in the interview in the film, when she snaps at the reporter and doesn’t want to answer — I love that feisty woman that she is, that she still is. And I studied a great BBC interview she did when she was older. It’s great because there are elements of that in there. But I didn’t want the accent to be the slightly British accent she had when she was older and I thought that would be confusing for the audience.
AWARDSLINE: You have some hot scenes in this with Clive Owen.
KIDMAN: I think it’s relevant. I said to Phil, ‘I am up for things.’ 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 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 then went on to do magnificent work out of that.
AWARDSLINE: What was it like doing scenes where they put you in the actual archival footage?
KIDMAN: They show us the footage and then show us where to go. When I am sitting down, I am talking to Eleanor Roosevelt. I mean that’s crazy but I love that. I have got that now for the rest of my life. I spoke to Eleanor. When Phil first said he was going to do it I thought, ‘God, that’s really tricky’ but he’d first done it on Unbearable Lightness of Being and now there’s the technology to do it at a far greater length with more complicated shots. I think the way he bleeds in and out is really fantastic, and to give it that kind of scope and sort of cover massive moments in history the way he did, that’s really hard to do. And God bless HBO because no one would really do this for cinema now. So without HBO, this just wouldn’t get done.
AWARDSLINE: I thought you brought real passion to the life of a writer.
KIDMAN: Which is why I love that scene where she sees Hemingway typing at the typewriter and the pages are flying and she can’t write and she says, ‘How can you do it and I’ve got nothing. Nothing is coming and I don’t know how to do this’, And I love his line where he says ‘Come on Gellhorn! Get in the ring and start throwing punches for what you believe in.’ I mean that’s probably my mantra. Get in the ring and start throwing punches for what you believe in. As a person have an opinion and try stuff that is bold. And if you fail, you fail. But at least you tried.
AWARDSLINE: And obviously you are here in Cannes with The Paperboy and that’s a risky role.
KIDMAN: It shocked people. 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. You have 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. I don’t work well in the ‘girl next door’ thing. I mean Martha isn’t the girl next door and certainly Charlotte (in The Paperboy) isn’t the girl next door. Well maybe she’s the girl in the next trailer.
AWARDSLINE: The budget was so low on The Paperboy you had to do your own hair and makeup?
KIDMAN: Well we ended up getting make-up artists and hair because we were losing too much time but yes, I created the look for my own hair and make-up and sent it to Lee Daniels. It was just a different type of filmmaking. And now to go and do something like Grace Kelly which is a different kind of filmmaking as well and now I did Stoker with Park Chan-wook who is really a master and that’s totally different. And then I take time off where I don’t work at all. So I am erratic, unpredictable and erratic. But I think people know that by now. But I will live and die by that. That’s OK by me.
AWARDSLINE: And you are going to shoot Grace Kelly story right over here in Monaco?
KIDMAN: Yeah. With Olivier Dahan who did La Vie En Rose and I loved that.
AWARDSLINE: That’s a big star playing a big star. You haven’t done that before.
KIDMAN: I’ve been offered to play famous actresses before, but it wasn’t the 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. We start in late fall. But now I don’t do anything. I go on a plane and go back to my family and say ‘Oh I am a normal person after all’.
AWARDSLINE: I have to ask about the scene in Paperboy that is lighting up Twitter — where you pee on Zac Efron after he gets stung by a jellyfish.
KIDMAN: Yes, I did the scene. That was what Lee [Daniels] 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! [Both of these films] are outrageous. That, for me as an actor, that’s what I want to do. I want to be stimulated as an actor, challenged and stimulated.
Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.