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Why Nicole Kidman Is a Full-Fledged Badass, Even Before ‘Big Little Lies’ — Career Watch

Nicole Kidman is in her prime, delivering fearless indie film roles while finding a new audience via HBO's hit series "Big Little Lies," which could earn her an Emmy.

Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgaard, “Big Little Lies”


Welcome to Career Watch, a vocational checkup of top actors and directors, and those who hope to get there. In this edition we take on Nicole Kidman, who’s having something of a renaissance moment.

Bottom Line: Nicole Kidman is one of our most fearless actresses. She’s an Oscar perennial who constantly chases challenging material, edginess be damned. Yes, her most recent nomination stemmed from a very mild-mannered role as Dev Patel’s mother in the true-life Australian drama “Lion,” but for Kidman’s career it’s her exceptions that prove the rule.


She broadened her fanbase by producing, with Reese Witherspoon, the hugely popular and topical HBO drama series “Big Little Lies,” in which she co-starred as Celeste Wright, an elegant Monterey mom trapped in a sadomasochistic power struggle of spousal abuse with her husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgard). Critics’ raves and audience reaction will likely push Kidman to her second Emmy nomination after 2012 HBO drama “Hemingway & Gelhorn.” She could even win.

Latest Misfires: Two other biopic roles, as pioneer Gertrude Bell in Werner Herzog’s “Queen of the Desert,” and Hollywood star Grace Kelly in 2014’s “Grace of Monaco,” which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival and then became a Lifetime premiere. Kidman delivered; the scripts did not.

“The Hours”

Career Peaks: Her performance as depressed literary icon Virginia Woolf, complete with fake nose, won her the 2003 Oscar; in addition to her supporting role in “Lion,” she scored Best Actress nominations as a warbling woman of the night in Baz Luhrmann musical “Moulin Rouge!,” and grieving mother in “Rabbit Hole.”

“The Paperboy”

Biggest Problem: Hollywood sees Kidman as a prodigious but remote actress who doesn’t open movies. She’s eager to take on a range of difficult roles, which means taking chances on untried indie talent and uncommercial fare. As a result, she often digs deep into daring but uncompromising films that many stars of her caliber wouldn’t even consider, like Lars von Trier’s “Dogville,” Steven Shainberg’s “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus,” Jonathan Glazer’s “Birth,” sensually charged weirdness like “The Paperboy,” and Australian family drama “Strangerland.” 

“Grace of Monaco”

Assets: The six-foot actress has been a star since her 1989 debut in atmospheric Philip Noyce thriller “Dead Calm.” She can do comedy (“Margot at the Wedding,” “To Die For”), tragedy (“The Hours,” “Rabbit Hole”), villains (“Paddington”), musicals (“Moulin Rouge!,” “Nine”), big-budget studio pieces (“The Golden Compass,” “Batman Forever,” “Australia”), costume dramas (“Portrait of a Lady,” “The Hours,” “The Railway Man”), and dark horror (“Stoker,” “The Others”).

Current Gossip: As kinky as she can be on-camera and as glam as she is on the red carpet, Kidman’s off-screen identity is the doting mom of four children, two with her country music-star husband of more than 10 years, Australian-American Keith Urban, and two with first husband Tom Cruise.

Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban

Next Step: In the can are two auteur films costarring Colin Farrell that will likely put Kidman on the red carpet at Cannes. Yorgis Lanthimos’ boundary-pushing “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is “totally different,” she told me. “I have no idea what we made.” And of Sofia Coppola’s feminist take on “The Beguiled,” Kidman said, “The women are doing fine until a man comes into the equation. Then all hell breaks loose.”

Nicole Kidman in Top of the Lake: China Girl

Nicole Kidman in “Top of the Lake: China Girl”

Sally Bongers/SundanceTV

She goes grey in a role that her close friend Jane Campion wrote for her in Sundance Channel’s returning series “Top of the Lake: China Girl,” as the adopted mother of Campion’s real-life daughter Alice Englert, who Kidman has known since she was a baby. She plays alien Queen Boadicea in John Cameron Mitchell’s “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” (A24), and is currently filming Weinstein Co.’s remake “Untouchable” with Bryan Cranston. Slated for 2018: Rebecca Miller indie “She Came to Me” with Amy Schumer and Steve Carell, and Queen Atlanna in DC entry “Aquaman.”

Career Advice: Don’t change a thing. She’s doing everything right. “I like people pushing, people not conforming,” Kidman said. “I love the widening of the boundaries, pushing through the extremism. I love filmmakers and storytelling. I am not interested in popcorn movies. I go to see them and like to be moved by them, but as an actor I examine humanity and why we’re here.”

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