Career

Nicole Kidman's midlife crisis: 'In my head I was done'

The star opens up in an interview for Bafta’s 'A Life In Pictures'.

She's captivated audiences for 35 years, managing to seamlessly morph into a wide array of characters, despite her unique and unmistakable flame hair, porcelain skin and 1.8m physique.
Nicole Kidman really is in a league of her own.
At 51, she's in hot demand – last December she featured in blockbuster Aquaman and in March she stars as an LAPD detective in Destroyer, with a third film, Boy Erased, also soon to be released.
She's also had a runaway hit on the small screen, starring as Celeste in the top TV series Big Little Lies, for which she also served as executive producer alongside her pal Reese Witherspoon.
As she goes from strength to strength, Nicole talks about life in front of the camera, her fears and finally finding her place.
Image: Getty Images
Hitting your 50s as a female actress is a huge milestone.
"I know! Having people like Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, [Dame] Maggie Smith and [Dame] Judi Dench paving the way is great. But they've paved it so I can cut through the grass myself as well."
Do you ever worry about being typecast?
"It is hard [not to be], so I'm constantly putting my hand up and being willing to try new things. My success was never given to me on a platter, as much as it may look that way. It's never been easy. Sometimes roles have felt a bit too much, but the calling to act has always stopped me walking away from it."
Nicole in Destroyer
You almost did throw in the towel 10 years ago…?
"I wasn't being sent anything that was terribly interesting. It was a time in this industry when they go, 'You're kind of past your due date.' There's always expectation on you as an actor, but even if you have years off, you rise back up. For me, I met an incredible man and had two children and was on a completely different path. I just needed more of a real life. It was my mum who persuaded me to keep my toe in the water, but in my head, I was done."
Are you pleased you took her advice in the end?
"Honestly, I'd just had my daughter, who is now 10. I was living on a farm in Nashville and I'd been growing vegetables and I just wanted to take control of my life a bit. But yes, I am so glad I have a very opinionated, strong mother who's very wise and I do listen to her. I bristle, but I listen."
Filming Big Little Lies with Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley
What changes did you make when you dipped your toe back in?
"I'm determined as I've gotten older not to be so fearful of trying things, because there's still that sense of youthful abandonment within me going, 'Oh, give it a go!' But I've been lucky that I've had directors who have taken massive risks on me."
Surely hiring Nicole Kidman isn't a risk?
"Well, Baz Luhrmann scouted me out for Moulin Rouge! And then I heard it was a musical. I was like, 'Oh no, I can't sing.'"
But you can sing!
"No. I willed myself to sing. I mean, I can sing where I can, in the shower for instance, but I'd never sung publicly. I was not confident. I'm still not, but when I really said, 'Okay, I can do this,' I was able to do it."
Are you proud of the film?
"Very. Learning to dance and hanging from trapezes – it was fantastic and it's one of the great memories of my life. I'll never forget my father, who's not here any more, but I invited him along to the set and I just remember his jaw hitting the floor. Me hanging on a trapeze and about 150 men all with top hats and tails below me. Fantastic, right? I loved the film. It got mixed reviews and I was thinking, 'Why doesn't everyone love it?'"
In Boy Erased
How do you cope when films don't do so well?
"I feel it. Luckily I have a very strong, tight family and I'm also the type of person that expresses myself so I don't hold it in, so if you live with me, all of that emotion comes out. But I've failed many times and that's part of the journey."
Your parents must be proud of how much you've achieved.
"Well, there was nothing in my family that suggested I would be an actress. My parents were both academics and unfortunately I never got my degree, which is for them... well, you get it. But my sister has, subsequently, and I'm so proud of this. She's 48 now and she just got her law degree, so out of their two children, one of them got a degree."
We hear you were quite a voracious reader in your early teens.
"I read War and Peace when I was 13. I had one of those long reading lists from school, which had, you know, the 100 great books, and I was determined to be able to tick it all off. I don't think I have to this day. But I did start voraciously reading when I was little, partly because I was so fair that I wasn't allowed to go to the beach during the midday sun – my mother would keep me out of the sun because she was also fair and she'd had a lot of skin cancers, and so she was determined to protect my skin. I would stay indoors and I would read, and through reading came my love of characters and my imagination grew. My ability to sort of enter into the characters that I was reading was there from a very early age."
Big Little Lies was a punishing experience for Nicole, pictured
with co-star Alexander.
So there's going to be a second series of Big Little Lies?
"Yes! The first series was a huge amount of work, like a seven-hour film. But I'm excited to explore the characters further."
Playing Celeste must be demanding.
"I got physically hurt while filming – very bruised. But I knew it would somehow make the scene better. Lying on the floor in the last episode of season one in my underwear, having been thrown around, I felt humiliated and devastated. I went home and threw a rock through a glass door. There was a lot of anger inside. But me and Alex [Skarsgård] were lucky to be able to play out that relationship."
Have women reached out to you about your character?
"Yeah, on the street, or in restaurants. It's been so interesting to interact with fans like that, and proves how television goes global so quickly now. It's a different world. Big Little Lies reached people further than any other thing I've ever done."
In Aquaman
So is more TV on the cards?
"I don't know. There's something wonderful about going to the cinema and sitting with a big group of people to watch a film. I still do it – my husband, my kids and I. They enjoy it because I have a no-devices household. The general rule is: play – hardcore and outside."
Do your kids watch your child-friendly films?
"They were cheering when they saw me in the Aquaman trailer. It's their favourite. They liked that I ate a goldfish in it and said it was my career highlight. (It was a gelatin goldfish, by the way.)"
Your costume in Aquaman was amazing.
"It was very fun. I was covered in scales and I loved my really long hair."
Do you ever watch your own movies?
"Never – not even the playback on set. I don't understand film lenses and I've done that purposely so I don't become too aware. I have no idea what my best side is!"
Really – after all these years in the industry?
"I know! They'll say to me, 'Oh we're using a long lens,' and I'll say, 'Ooh, okay…' But hey, ignorance is bliss!"

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