Nicole Kidman is one of our greatest living actresses who, after three decades in Hollywood, is just now getting the most exciting roles of her entire career. From stealing the show at Cannes 2017, to making her mark in Sofia Coppola’s female-led The Beguiled, and Yorgos Lanthimos’ family horror The Killing Of A Sacred Deer, the femme fatale from Moulin Rouge! has come a very, very long way.
Kidman is a reserved, well-spoken woman whose status as a public figure has never really informed her star power. Although her high-profile marriage to Tom Cruise broke down very much in public, Kidman chose not to discuss it in the press. Likewise, her four children remain resolutely out of the spotlight, as does she, save for the usual press obligations. She doesn’t even live in L.A. There are many facets to Nicole Kidman, many untold truths. The real her is simply a wife and working mother who wishes to keep her life as normal and low key as possible.
Her first movie was about Christmas in the Aussie bush
Most actors start young, whether it’s in commercials (because they’re just that cute), or throwing fits on soap operas. Kidman’s first onscreen role was a bit different. Her first starring role in a project was in a 1983 film called Bush Christmas. As the title suggests, it’s a festive film set in, of all places, the Australian bush. The plot centers on a close-knit outback family who are facing foreclosure on their beloved farm. Banking all their hopes on their prized horse winning an upcoming race, they’re distraught to learn he’s been stolen and band together to save the day, and Christmas.
In an interview with W magazine, Kidman explained that the flick shot out in the bush in Queensland, in the middle of nowhere. The actress is most proud of eating "witchetty grubs," which are essentially white worms that live in the earth, as part of her role as the daughter, Helen.
"Give me a cockroach, I’ll eat it!"
Eating weird things seems to be a bit of a pattern for Kidman. While discussing her willingness to tuck in while roughing it on the Bush Christmas shoot, the Aussie actress also admitted to being a totally fearless eater in general. She even described herself as being "excited" to eat the grub worms.
It should be unsurprising for a performer who’s so open to taking risks in her work to be brave elsewhere, but Kidman described her ability to eat virtually anything as a "secret skill." She also hypothetically put herself forward for reality show Survivor as a result, revealing she’d be totally up for eating whatever nasties were put in front of her (though she doesn’t think herself capable of the more demanding physical elements). "Give me a cockroach, I’ll eat it! Spider, I’ll eat it! You name it, I’ve tried it. I’m adventurous," she enthused to W magazine.
She learned to be fearless from her very provocative mother
Kidman’s fearlessness came from a rather unlikely place. Her desire to throw herself headfirst into her work, regardless of whether the part calls for her to play dead for a waiting husband (as in The Killing Of A Sacred Deer) or to urinate on co-star Zac Efron (as in The Paperboy), the actress credits to her mother. She told Vogue in a career-spanning, tell-all interview that her mother’s consistent challenging of conformity at every turn informed the person Kidman grew up to be.
The actress’ mother taught nursing and edited her husband’s books, in a time when, as the actress acknowledges, women were told to get married, settle down, and that was that. Although the young Kidman sometimes found herself wanting a maternal figure who coddled her, she can now appreciate how her mother challenged not only herself, but her daughter, too, to be the best person she could possibly be. "She was determined to push us [out of that conformity]," she told Vogue.
She’s been best friends with Naomi Watts since high school
Michelle Williams and Busy Philipps aren’t the only actress BFFs showing up on red carpets together, spreading the love. Kidman and fellow Aussie Naomi Watts have been best friends since high school, and continue to be very much in each others’ lives. In an interview with The Telegraph, Kidman enthused, "Naomi Watts and I are very, very good friends and have maintained that through so many things. I think that’s really rare, particularly for actresses, and I take a lot of pride in that."
Vulture has a super-sweet, and very thorough, rundown of their lifelong friendship from first getting close in 1991, on the set of the film Flirting, to attending each other’s premieres, Kidman presenting Watts with an award for her breakthrough performance in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, and much, much more. They also note that, although Kidman keeps her private life private, the one person she will happily gush about (aside from husband Keith Urban) in the press is Watts. Remarkably, the two have yet to appear onscreen together since Flirting. Make it happen, Hollywood!
Big Little Lies wouldn’t exist without her
There was actually talk of Kidman and Watts starring together in TV mega-hit Big Little Lies, as Watts told The Guardian back in July 2017. The two discussed doing the show together, but unfortunately their schedules didn’t line up. In the end, Watts, like everyone else on the planet, devoured the show from the comfort of her couch. But it’s worth noting that it would never have existed in the first place without Kidman’s considerable influence.
She and Reese Witherspoon both co-produced (via their production companies) and co-starred in the series. The duo managed to get it made just two and a half years after it was initially conceived — record time in Hollywood. Witherspoon encouraged Kidman to read the novel on which it’s based and then, through pure serendipity, the Aussie actress chased down the author and convinced her. They found the right director (Jean-Marc Vallee), the right co-stars (Shailene Woodley and Laura Dern), and the right network (HBO) all through tireless effort and, quite literally, making endless phone-calls.
Len Amato, president of HBO Films, enthused about their approach to the New York Times. "It’s very unusual when you have a megastar who’s also a producer sitting around the table doing their homework. It’s meaningful when it comes from people who found the project, who put all the elements together and who are also going to put themselves on the line as actors," he said.
She called #TimesUp on waiting for female roles
Kidman’s production company, Blossom Films, began in 2010 through pure tenacity. Their first project was Rabbit Hole, a movie in which the actress herself starred as a grieving mother alongside Aaron Eckhart. In the wake of Big Little Lies, and the growth of the #TimesUp movement, Kidman’s decision to take things into her own hands seems even more shrewd, and necessary. Hollywood is an industry that frequently tosses women over 30 out, but when they start their own production companies it opens up the possibilities for older actresses to carve their own career paths, too. The mission statement of the company, tellingly, is to "support filmmakers and writers with interesting things to say about the world".
"It’s allowed me to shape my career in terms of being able to find things that I may not get offered, that I wouldn’t get the opportunity for," Kidman told the New York Times. Now in her 50s, she’s doing some of the most exciting work of her career thanks in large part to the fact she’s been able to option stories she finds interesting. In her acceptance speech for Big Little Lies at the 2018 Golden Globes, Kidman made sure to thank actresses such as Meryl Streep for clearing the way for she and her contemporaries to continue pushing the boundaries in Hollywood.
She’s a voice for women survivors
The Aussie actress’ support for women doesn’t begin and end with Hollywood, either. Her Golden Globes speech was a call to arms, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that Kidman has been a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador since 2006. Unlike her contemporaries, such as Angelina Jolie, who choose to do their charity work in the public eye, Kidman is content to quietly make a difference behind the scenes. She approaches this work in much the same manner she does her career and personal life.
Kidman was appointed in January 2006. Her role involves raising awareness on the infringement of women’s rights worldwide. Her spotlight is on violence against women (something she’s spoken out about in relation to playing Celeste on Big Little Lies, too). As UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Kidman has traversed the globe, raised vital funds, and lent her voice and celebrity to the cause. "I have seen that there is no limit to what women can achieve when given the opportunity. Working with UN Women, I have met women who had to overcome enormous obstacles, yet who went on to help others and organize to achieve social change. To me, these women embody resilience, strength, dignity — and hope," Kidman said in relation to the role.
After utter embarrassment at Cannes, she was pretty scarred
Kidman’s inner strength as a woman came to the fore once again when she returned to Cannes in 2017 for the first time since the disastrous Grace Of Monaco, which received near universally bad press back in 2014. After widespread booing and a raft of bad reviews, Kidman found her spirits at an all time low.
While many actresses would have refused to return to the Croisette, Kidman came back with a vengeance. In 2017, she made her big comeback at Cannes with four major projects in contention. Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled and Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake were just two of the much talked-about (and proudly female-focused) Kidman vehicles at the festival. And, much to the Aussie’s eternal delight, she became the undisputed Queen Of Cannes. "I was terrified to go back," she admitted in an interview with Vogue, "but both Jane and Sofia said, ‘Go, and it will be a whole different experience. We’ll hold your hand; don’t worry.’" And, in yet another showing of female solidarity, it was.
She suffered crippling stage fright
It seems doing what scares her the most, then confronting and understanding those fears, is perhaps what drives Kidman’s tenacity both as an actor and in her life in general. Theater, a first love for her, was something she dabbled in midway through her contentious first marriage to Tom Cruise. Making her West End debut in David Hare’s The Blue Room, Kidman received an Evening Standard Award and widespread acclaim for her performance.
But 17 years later, when it came time to return to the London stage for Photograph 51, she found herself crippled with fear. "I was standing in the wings, feeling like my heart was going to jump out of my chest. My mouth was so dry I’d drink about two bottles of water during the show," she told the Evening Standard in the UK.
The reviews, once again, were great. And Kidman was in an interesting position as, almost 20 years after her London debut, the play actually needed her celebrity to get made. She felt a connection to the material, having grown up visiting her father, a biochemist’s, laboratories. The play concerns DNA pioneer Rosalind Franklin, with Kidman noting how she "felt her [Rosalind’s] presence every night and was so glad to be able to be the conduit for her to be recognised."
She takes her young daughters on the road with her
The typical actor or actress lives and works in Los Angeles, where the nucleus of the business is, or maybe New York at a push. Not Kidman. The Aussie actress’ home base with her and Keith Urban’s two daughters (she also has two, grown, adopted children with Tom Cruise) is Nashville, Tennessee.
The actress frequently takes her daughters on the road, either on film sets, or, if husband Urban is touring, then the whole family will load onto the bus with him. "[T]hey’ve been a lot of places. They’re very well traveled. My daughter can go to school and say, ‘I’ve been to Paris. I’ve been to Morocco. I’ve been to Italy and China and India," she told Town & Country. This is a very deliberate choice on the part of the parents, who don’t like to separate the family for too long at a time, and who try to have family dinner together as often as possible.
She rebels through fashion
Although Kidman is fearless when it comes to eating cockroaches and jumping out of planes (by her own admission), her red carpet appearances are usually without too much fuss. Kidman isn’t necessarily a safe red carpet choice, but she’s not going to turn up in a meat dress or with one breast exposed any time soon. In fact, the actress sees fashion as yet another form of self-expression.
In an interview with InStyle, she gushed about how there are "dreams attached to fashion." Unsurprisingly, Kidman sees what she wears as another extension of who she is, and who she wants to present to the world.
"It allows me to express what I’m feeling, as in, I want to wear that because that’s actually my rebellion right now. Or that’s my way of fitting in. Or it’s my way of saying no. Or it’s my way of saying I’m different," she explained. Kidman credits her mother and grandmother with giving her a love of dressing up. She also revealed that donating her Balenciaga wedding dress to an Aussie exhibit called "Love" was itself an act of love. "I’ll support anything that supports love. Truly. Isn’t it the essence of everything?"