Urban Cinefile
10 May 2001
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BEST TIMES, WORST TIMES: NICOLE
By Jenny Cooney Carrillo

On the eve of her trip to the Cannes Film Festival and then on to Sydney for the Australian premiere of Moulin Rouge, Nicole Kidman had a candid chat to Jenny Cooney Carrillo about life after Tom and the movie her director Baz Luhrmann describes as her shining light. ďItís the best and worst time in my life coming together,Ē she says.

While much has been made about the personal dramas facing Nicole Kidman since her split with Tom Cruise earlier this year, the talented actress is keen to shift the focus back to her work. With the world premiere of Moulin Rouge at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival on opening night, the 33-year-old Australian actress can revel in triumph instead of tragedy - unlike her character in the dazzling tragic-comedy whose fate is revealed in the opening moments of the film. Kidman plays famous courtesan Satine, a performer at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, circa 1900. Nicole sings and dances in the film which co-stars Ewan McGregor as Christian, a writer who is introduced to the decadent lifestyle of the times where anything goes - except falling in love.

Q: How do you feel about facing the media after everything youíve been through this year?

A: My hands are shaking and Iím nervous. Iíve always been a very cards-on-the-table person and Iím used to being able to talk about all parts of my life very openly and freely, but I suppose it is about ĎThe Show Must Go Oní, and itís about being professional and supporting Baz and the film. And Iím glad itís a film Iím excited about. Iím excited to go to Cannes and sit and talk about this film but itís strange because itís the best and worst time in my life coming together.

Q: Moulin Rouge is a great love story. What is your attitude to love these days?

A: Iím so glad because Iíve never made a love story before and Iíve made one that Iím really proud of. The message of the film is that no matter what your experience is, no matter what your past, no matter what goes on in your life, there is always the hope of falling in love if you stay open to that. Iím still a romantic and a great believer, I suppose, in destiny and that there is a soul mate out there for every one of us. Iím determined to keep believing. I love the message of the film, which is that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Q: What is your own relationship to music?

A: When I was 17 I was in a band in Australia, on weekends, and we didnít do so well! My mother started me singing when I was little, just around the piano with carols and hymns and stuff, and sheíd say, I wish youíd do a musical. So this is the first time Iíve ever sung on film and singing in front of people is far harder than acting in front of people. Singing the love songs helps though, because viscerally it is so immediate. I use music as an actor. In my trailer I listen to songs to get in the right mood for a scene or sometimes Iíll ask the director to play certain jazz or classical music depending on what is right for the character. This was about using the music in the scene and singing and acting. For this, I learned to read music and did scales and then threw it out of the window because Baz said, Ďno, I want it to come from your heartí.

Q: Were you a fan of musicals?

A: Baz made me watch all the great musicals, studying Rita Hayworth and Marilyn and Cyd Charisse and Ginger and Marlene, and I have the utmost respect for them all now. I used to love Katharine Hepburn but now although I still do, my hat goes off to these other women who could sing and dance and act - they were phenomenal. It also opened up a whole new door for me because before, my parents liked musicals and I thought, Ďoh yeah, rightí but now Iíve watched a lot and I appreciate the talent it takes to make a great musical. I love them now.

Q: How did you balance working on a movie as time-consuming as Moulin Rouge with being a mother?

A: As Baz says, when youíre an actor itís like being in a circus in a weird way, particularly making Moulin Rouge. Weíd work weird hours so Iíd have the kids out there all the time and all my family. I took it for granted, like it was normal, and then my father was in the trailer once and said, Ďthis is weirdí when he saw me in these glamorous costumes cooking tuna melt for my kids! Thatís the thing about being a working mother though. Luckily I have two kids who are very tolerant. They would love to come on the set because it was such a spectacle for them and Isabella knows all the songs. Itíll be great for them to look back in about ten years time and have those memories, I think.

Q: How did you prepare for the physical challenge of the role?

A: I flew back a month early and weíd have dance lessons each day, Ewan and me doing salsa or mambo, and then weíd go to our singing class and then our two hours with Baz doing improv so it was like being at drama school! You have to give Baz six months prior to shooting, where he will not let you work for anyone else, and I was also determined to do my own dancing and trapeze stuff because I didnít want anyone doing my stunts. At one point I was 70 feet up in the air on a trapeze for two days singing to men in top hats below and that was cool! But I called up Baz prior to starting and said, ĎI think you are going to have to recast, youíve made a big mistake, there is no way my voice will be ready so I can pull this offí. But he said, ĎI know you can do ití and if he hadnít pushed me forward, I would have pulled out.

Q: How difficult was it to keep going with two broken ribs and an injured knee?

A: I had the ribs and the knee happen at different times, thank God! They waited for my ribs to heal but with my knee, I had to just keep shooting because George Lucas was waiting, and that was tough. Star Wars was moving into our studio so they were kicking us out. I felt like one of those athletes training for the Olympics, knowing I would have to push through. It was like being a footballer.

Q: Satine is a very sexy character. What did you make of her?

A: She is a high-class prostitute, ultimately. I love the arc of someone who has lived a life but has never fallen in love. I think that is a very interesting arc because with Ewanís character you have an idealist who has never been in love and desperately wants to be and with her you have someone who has seen it all and done it all and says no, I canít fall in love. I saw her as very tragic, a kept woman in a gilded cage. Thereís something very beautiful about playing that in a tragic love story. Of course, Iíd love to do a love story in which I get to live but the classic arc of the woman who finally gets to meet the person sheís waited for her whole life but sheís dying at the same time, itís the classic combination and a great arc for an actress to play.

Q: Whatís next after Cannes and Sydney?

A: Iím playing Virginia Woolf in The Hours, directed by Stephen Daldry and starring Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore, shooting in London next month (June). Iíve taken the last four months off to be with my kids and Iíd like to go back to Sydney and spend time with my family and not think about work or anything else other than taking care of myself. Iím interested in doing a film with Lars Von Trier (Dancer in the Dark) that he wrote and that may happen later this year or next year. The films that interest me are usually not the big budget films. But I also know my priority is my children so that is the No. 1 thing for me.

Q: How do you feel about playing Virginia Woolf?

A: Iíve been doing intense research on her and itís been enlightening because she is one of the great writers of all time and the profundity with which she manages to capture the pathos of life has been incredibly interesting for me at this time. This was a woman who grappled with death and madness and love, the big issues, and Iím very nervous to play her but I also feel right now is such a wonderful time for me to play her because my emotions are so on the surface.