Oscar and Emmy winner Nicole Kidman took part in a wide-ranging BAFTA Life in Pictures event in London on Wednesday in which she discussed her varied career, the significant impact of HBO hit Big Little Lies, and the time she almost called it quits on acting.
The Australian star revealed behind-the-scenes details about her glittering career — such as how she called Gus Van Sant to ask if she could audition for To Die For, and how she had to “hit the floor” on the LA set of most recent film Destroyer due to an active shooter in the area — and also discussed the current state of the industry.
Kidman, whose career has been as diverse as it has successful, told the audience that variation has been key to her continued motivation and that after To Die For she had to fight against being typecast, “It’s hard as a woman in this industry and it’s hard to keep forging ahead to not then get typecast in that kind of role, you know. So it’s constantly sort of stretching and putting your hand up and being willing to try things and change.”
When discussing gender imbalance in the business, Kidman said, “I made a pledge a couple of years ago to work with a female director every eighteen months because you’ve got to act to change the statistics; I have to do something. We can talk about it and we can all talk about it or I can actually just get out there and do it. So that’s what I’m sort of at this stage of my life and in my career trying to do is change the statistics.”
The feted actress discussed the anxiety she experienced before filming two of her most celebrated roles, Virginia Woolf in The Hours and courtesan Satine in Moulin Rouge.
“I willed myself to sing,” Kidman said of preparation for the latter. “I mean, I really — I can sing where I can, you know, sing in the shower but I’d never sung publicly. I was not confident, I still am not confident with my voice, but when I really go ‘ok, I can do this, I can do this,’ and having him [director Baz Luhrmann] believe in me and believe I can do it, that’s how I was able to sing. And I kind of discovered my voice on that film.”
Of The Hours, for which she won an Oscar, Kidman said she was “eternally grateful” for David Hare’s script and that she was excited to work with director Stephen Daldry, but also admitted she nearly pulled out of the film, “It was interesting because I got very, very scared and tried to pull out of it because I was going through things in my own life and I just felt ‘I’m completely overwhelmed and is there any way you can cast somebody else?’ To which they said ‘no, get on the plane. Get here.’ And then I just got so immersed in her. I started to — she just came into me, I don’t know any other way to explain it.”
Kidman said of feminist icon Woolf, “I think something in me deeply relates to the idea of we do have the right to choose our own destiny, we have the right to choose what we want to do with our bodies and to choose our own prescription. And I think that just vibrated incredibly deeply with me.”
When discussing how she became an actress and what continues to motivate her, Kidman revealed that she considered quitting the profession ten years ago, “There was nothing in my family that suggested to be an actress, which is why I’ve always said it’s in my blood, I don’t know where it came from, how it appeared, but it’s like a pull and a calling, and as much as I’ve tried to move away from it and there have been times where I have and particularly after I gave birth to Sunday Rose I was like ‘I’m done, I’m going to live on this farm in Nashville and I’m done,’ and it’s like this slow thing that pulls me back and I love it.”
She continued, “I’ve now reached the point where I say ‘this is what I do, I’m incredibly grateful for the life and the journey it’s given me so far, I can’t believe I’m still here doing it like this,’ and it gives me enormous joy but it also puts me in a place of being able to communicate and be in the world and participate in the world and have a greater understanding of people in the world and I learn so much from it.”
In recent years, among her most revered performances has been as Celeste Wright in HBO’s lauded Big Little Lies. Kidman, who also produces films and TV, discussed the significant impact the series has had, how she views the rise of TV today and the ongoing power of cinema.
“I think a lot of people watch television now but there’s something wonderful about going to the cinema and sitting with a big group of people and watching a film together,” she said. “I still do it. My husband and I, my kids and I, we go, we pay our money and we go to the theatre in Nashville and we watch a movie together. I hope that survives because it would be such a pity for that to get lost. But at the same time for stories to be told and for stories to reach audiences — I mean Big Little Lies reached probably further than any other thing I’ve ever done and the response that I’ve had from people, particularly women, is wider than anything I’ve done. But you know, I don’t think you have to choose, I think there’s still a huge love, people who love film and love to go and watch film. I will keep giving myself to filmmaking and doing film.”