Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Stars I Love: Nicole Kidman

Actress Nicole Kidman
Since I was a teenager head over heels for Moulin Rouge, Nicole Kidman has always been a star that I've loved. Known for her eccentric, classy red carpet style and longstanding career, she's never been far from the limelight or committing to various projects.

From a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination in Lion to her praise-worthy performance in HBO's Big Little Lies,  and festival support for Sofia Coppola's remake The Beguiled, 2017 has been quite a fabulous year for the acclaimed actress. Since today is her birthday and has been on my fangirl heart lately, it's time to rave about the Australian native.

From comedies to dramas, epic westerns, and musicals, her filmography ticks off a lot of boxes. Critics have often considered her career unexpected and hard to pin down, and by all means, it really is. Since breaking out from smaller Australian roles to international waters by fighting off Billy Zane in Dead Calm (1989), she continued to up the ante with a tremendous performance in Gus Van Sant's To Die For (1995) and then changed tunes with Moulin Rouge (2001). She's churned out captivating characters ever since, causing her career to ebb and flow like the rest of Hollywood, hitting all the right notes as well as low.

So if you talk about a box-office career, then I'm a disaster. But somehow, you know, I still manage to find my way to work.

Often when we consider great actresses, Hollywood would like us to believe we can only think of a few. A measuring stick for women puts them squarely in the classics like Bette Davis or Audrey Hepburn, to today, where Meryl Streep stands alone as the most heralded Oscar-nominated star in film history. Like Naomi Watts, Amy Adams, Kate Winslet, and countless others, Kidman has had her own durable, colorful career not often praised enough except when truly exceptional work catches the media's attention.

Her credits dip into every genre, the whimsical sisterhood Practical Magic (1998), ghostly horror The Others (2001), to straight dramas Birth (2004) and the eccentric biopic of photographer Diane Arbus in Fur (2006). A four-time Oscar nominee (one-time winner), and eleven time Golden Globe nominee (three wins), she hasn't navigated a thorough plan of the roles she'd like to helm; only to keep taking chances and craft a character that is neither wholly good or evil, but struggling with their identity, mental health, motherhood, marriage, relationships, and even the supernatural.

To me, the strength of Kidman's work is usually determined by the director. If they don't know what they're doing, she can still make a salvageable performance but is capable of doing more. If she's in a bad movie, it's not that she's bad; the production value doesn't translate from filming to the final product i.e. Nora Ephron's Bewitched or Chris Weitz's The Golden Compass. But when the director is good, she's amazing: Rabbit Hole, Stoker, Dogville, Birth, Lion. If the movie fails on some level either critically or box office, she's rarely the one to blame unlike a lot of other celebrities who are on the receiving end of complete flack. She always seems to be subtly on the cusp of reinventing her own talents and seeing how far she can go.

I think someone said my career defies all logic [laughs]. Because I choose the sort of strange little films, and somehow they're the things that make my career.

As much as Kidman branches out with the women she'd like to play, equally, it seems, she's surprised when directors use her as part of their vision. Her turn as Virginia Woolf in The Hours was an opportunity to not only challenge herself again, but champion writers and directors to create interesting roles for women. Critics, at the time, wrote off her sharp, pleading portrayal as an iconic author stuck in the deep depression and turbulence of her mind. The prosthetic nose she bore gained more traction instead of the brilliant performance she mastered. Nonetheless, Kidman held onto "the game plan" of playing meatier roles and recognized as much as she loves to disappear into a character and express her full range, fellow co-stars should have the same opportunities.

The chances she takes isn't just limited to acting. Off-screen she throws fear aside to skydive, drive 200mph around a race track and swim with the sharks. Her hobbies and appearances are a surprising contrast to the demure, chameleon persona established during her thirty-year-plus career. Her honesty is refreshing, in the sense, that it doesn't feel like a brand, from admitting that she used Botox, and admitting her experiences with miscarriage, adoption, and infertility. Some of her golden moments include admitting Jimmy Fallon blew his chances on going on a date with her to pointing out prepared food on Ellen with Chef Giada De Laurentiis isn't good. By journalists, friends, and co-stars, she's often been described as surprisingly down-to-earth, candid, funny, and spirited. She has as much modesty and grace as she does eccentricity and wit reminding me of the timeless stars from classic Hollywood.

[on receiving her star on the Walk of Fame] I've never been so excited to have people walk all over me for the rest of my life.

Her looks, described as anything from delicate to fiery, and her work as "a thoroughbred", was one of the first longstanding hurdles she's faced, especially during her marriage to Tom Cruise. In love and ready for world box-office domination in the early 90s, profiles often referred to her as "Mrs. Cruise", insinuating more than anything else that she married him for money and fame. Often losing roles for speculation about her private life, Kidman's desire to be taken seriously for her talent kept her going when the torrid dissolution of their relationship could've been disastrous for others.

Like the fiery red hair she naturally sports, Kidman scorched any chance of Scientology ruining her to persevere in her own way and eventually rekindling normalcy with second husband Keith Urban and their two daughters. Hardly ever disappeared completely from the spotlight, she takes genuine delight in motherhood, even acting as a matriarch to co-stars, as much as acting. It's always fascinating to see where she's going to go next. She doesn't necessarily know, and that's half the fun.

5 Favorite Roles

There's plenty of roles I'd love to add here, but decided to limit it down to five. What are your favorite Nicole Kidman movies? Feel free to share in the comments below!

To Die For
Though she had already received critical praise for Dead Again, she had to truly fight for her performance as Suzanne Stone-Maretto. Breaking from the publicity known as Tom Cruise's arm candy, Kidman plays an ambitious media monster committed to doing anything to get the next big news story. She's absolutely magnetic in her first Oscar-worthy performance.

Moulin Rouge
Kidman stars as cabaret actress and courtesan Satine caught in between her first love affair with a young English poet (Ewan McGregor) and being sold off to a Duke (Richard Roxburgh). The romantic jukebox extravaganza directed by Baz Luhrmann earned her a first Academy Award nomination. Animated, naive, sultry, funny and tragic, it's hard to not fall in love with this role that comes completely out of left field.

Like glimpsing into a keyhole to another world, Kidman portrays photographer Diane Arbus, who is known for her fantastical portraits of dwarves, circus performers, nudists and transgender people, in one of the more quiet roles of her career. It's not so much of a biopic, as a unique fictional account with Kidman journeying through Arbus' intimate connection to people too often depicted as surreal.

Cold Mountain
In a modern-day Gone With the Wind epic, Ada Monroe learns to survive the brutalities of the Civil War as the love of her life (Jude Law) fights to come home from the frontlines. Kidman beautifully reminds me of fellow do-it-yourself Scarlett O'Hara, naively but voraciously picking life up by the hoop skirt and doing everything she can to build a future for herself when all seems lost.

Big Little Lies
From one of her biggest roles of 2017, Kidman lays it all on the line as Celeste Wright, a former lawyer stuck in an abusive relationship. Physically and emotionally, it's one of her most raw performances yet. Exploring female friendships in a confessional drama centered around a murder, the HBO hit connected between motherhood, marriage, and self-worth. Kidman delivers a poignant, complex portrayal of abuse and strength, surely putting her on the Emmys radar come next season.

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