Nicole Kidman: On Cruise control, the Aussie redhead kicks up her heels in Moulin Rouge.
by Stephen Schaefer
A constant cover girl since her bitter split from Tom Cruise earlier this year, Nicole Kidman hasn't allowed personal upheaval to dampen her hopes for the risky musical Moulin Rouge, which premiered to strong reviews at the Cannes Film Festival last month. Much like the film itself, Kidman at Cannes was a wild mix of glitz, attitude, and, occasionally, genuine emotion.
Filming Moulin Rouge was an endurance event that rivaled the two years she spent on her previous film, Eyes Wide Shut. In spite of Kidman's thorough preparation, the shoot had to be halted when she broke several ribs. Then she injured her ankle but gamely carried on — even while rumors of an affair with Ewan McGregor preceded the very public breakup with Cruise.
When Mr. Showbiz caught up with her in the midst of the craziness at Cannes, a weary but game Kidman understandably expressed a desire for some rest and relaxation. From the vintage Chinese-style dress she wore at the opening night press conference to the black Can Can-inspired Tom Ford frock she showed off at the premiere and the lacy, midriff-baring top she wore during our interview at the Hotel du Cap in Cap D'Antibes, France, Kidman adhered to the first rule of being a movie star: Look good no matter what.
I heard you were in the booth at the Moulin Rouge party.
I was a DJ. I did some stuff with Fatboy Slim.
Up all night?
I've only had three hours sleep.
You're brave to face the press, given your very public break with Tom Cruise.
Obviously, it would not be my choice to sit in front of everybody, having to answer questions about my personal life. But I feel really proud of this film and it's important because it's not something the public says, "Yes, we want to go and see it." We sing a lot in the film, and it's hard to describe in two sentences. People have said they've never seen anything like it, yet they enjoy it.
How do you respond to the reports that have linked you romantically with Ewan McGregor?
Ridiculous! His wife is a very good friend of mine. She's a lovely woman and she's pregnant with his child. Ewan and I, we're good friends. That's absolutely ludicrous. She was there the whole shoot, so we can laugh about it.
Did you really break your ribs during a dance number with Ewan?
I'm physically more fragile than I think I am. I think I'm stronger than I am, so I push myself. We had to [stop filming] when I broke my ribs for a few weeks. When I hurt my knee, which was at the end of the film, we just kept shooting. We didn't shut down because Star Wars was coming into our studios and we had to move out.
Did you ever feel, given the injuries and turmoil, that this was a cursed film?
No, I think [director] Baz Luhrmann was my angel.
Baz said that what happens in the film — your character breaks with one life and chooses a new road — parallels your own life. Do you feel that's true?
I don't know. [Chuckles] I think that's too complicated.
You're struggling to keep your divorce private, and now suddenly you're on every magazine cover. How does it feel?
I've never been in this position before and I've said it's slightly surreal. I'm looking forward to going home and just resting. You feel very exposed. It's strange, very strange. I know I'll look back on this period and think I'm not sure quite how I got through it. I believe in this movie and that's why I'm here. But yeah, to be honest, it's slightly sort of surreal. This is so extreme. It's a strange time.
Would you rather be in Australia now?
I'm going home to Sydney in four days. I got a fax from Jane [Campion], who said, "Can't wait to see you. I'm going to kidnap you and take you up to New Zealand." She has a beautiful sort of hut up there with the kids and stuff. That's where you go, "Good, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and some privacy where you can get away and just walk and see the trees and swim." Just get back to what's real.
Is Moulin Rouge your kind of film?
I like the controversy, I think that's important. The films that don't interest me are the slightly safer films, I just don't respond to them. [Laughs] I just like the idea of shaking things up. I like that in filmmaking, in literature, and in art. I think that's important.
There's a whole range of pop songs in the movie, from Elton John to Madonna, and you're really singing them.
What is interesting [is that] you have to get rights to these songs and it's very expensive and most of the artists who gave us the songs were incredibly generous to do so. They did not rake us over the coals and they could have. "I'm Not in Love" from 10cc was [a choice of] mine.
What did you find about using a song for a love scene?
I found it much easier to play the love on-screen through the song because it extends the emotion and allows you to get lost in it. When Ewan would sing to me, it was like magic. When he's singing Elton John's "Your Song" — and I've heard that 600 times — every time he does, it evokes an immediate sort of adoration of him. I'm an actor that uses a lot of music anyway. I loved singing all the songs in the movie.
Do you have a favorite love song?
That changes, depending on who I'm in love with. Not one particular one.
Have you ever been seduced by a love song?
I've been emotionally moved by music many, many times. Music is comforting and can produce immediate emotions. I'm someone who loves music, I grew up with music, my mother is a pianist and my father — they love jazz and opera, and so I'm glad I was able to do something that uses music.
Didn't you persuade Stanley Kubrick to use "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing" for Eyes Wide Shut?
That's song's really sexy. He said, "Who is this?" I said, "Chris Isaak." He'd never heard of Chris Isaak and said, "Let's put that in the movie."
Would you consider a Broadway musical?
Um, vocally, Broadway is tough on your voice. I'd really have to train up for it. I'd actually like to. Even doing a film of this nature, physically, you have to take care of yourself so much more. You can't smoke. With the dancing, you constantly have to keep your body warm. Physically, it's much, much harder than a straight play and that's the thing that scares me about it.
Your career has been marked by many unusual choices, like this one.
I basically choose my projects based on the directors, and I like directors who are bold and brave in their visions. With this, there wasn't even a script originally. Baz asked me and showed me pictures and ideas, but there was no script. I can still say yes without even reading a script because I know chemistry-wise it will be a good match between me and the director.
Was that how it was with To Die For?
With Gus [Van Sant], there was a script, by Buck Henry, one of the great American writers. That was a very strong script, but I loved Drugstore Cowboy and I loved My Own Private Idaho, so that was the reason I really wanted to work with Gus. And now I'm going to do one with Lars Von Trier. It's a very short shoot, only six weeks. I'm in a position now where I need to take time for myself and my children. It's been a big year for me and I want to just take some time.
Is the challenge of each film to become someone else?
Yeah, and that's probably one of the things about working with a very strong director. They choose things about you that they draw out. You're not quite aware until you see the movie and say, "Oh, this is what the director obviously chose in my personality to sort of augment or discover." With Stanley or Jane it had to be very different than someone like Baz. I also tend to become very close to the director.
Do we become close, then, to the real Nicole Kidman?
No, I think you create a character.
Not even Portrait of a Lady?
Sorry, no. Parts of me. When I played Isabella, I identified with her. All of them you put huge elements of yourself in. It's the only way in which you can find what's real about the character. You work from the inside out. You change the way you walk, the way you speak, vocally. When I did the play [The Blue Room], I was playing five different characters. You have to be able to find the truth so that it's not just a caricature.
You told The New York Times, "If Moulin Rouge doesn't work, nobody will want to touch me." Were you joking?
Maybe. I mean, ultimately, I have a life and part of me is drawn to other things besides just acting now. I mean, I love to act and it's a means of expressing myself, but there are other things I really want to do as well.
I would like to write; I'm working on something at the moment, I like to write short stories. And live my life in terms of traveling. There are just many things I enjoy. Acting is fulfilling, [but] I find it exhausting because emotionally it takes a huge commitment. Now I'm in the position where I'm willing to make that commitment far more infrequently because I find I have to take care of myself.