Nicole Kidman’s 13 Most Transformative On-Screen Roles, From Big Little Lies to Eyes Wide Shut

Nicole Kidman had already been acting for nearly a decade in her native Australia when she landed the part of Dr. Claire Lewicki in Days of Thunder, the Tony Scott-directed sports drama that found Kidman starring opposite Tom Cruise for the first of three times. But it wasn’t until To Die For five years later—a film Kidman later revealed she pleaded with director Gus Van Sant to get—that she ascended to mainstream notoriety, winning her first Golden Globe (for Best Actress, Musical or Comedy) and kicking of a streak of wildly varied, critically acclaimed projects under the guidance of many of contemporary cinema’s most sought-after directors, including Stanley Kubrick, Baz Luhrmann, John Cameron Mitchell, and, most recently, Jean-Marc Vallée of Big Little Lies. “Nicole acts all the way down,” director David Hare once said of the actress, who starred in his 1999 play The Blue Room. What that means is this: Kidman is a cipher. She gets under her character’s skin so thoroughly, it’s nearly impossible to distinguish the actress from the role. It’s why she has become so synonymous with a few key roles—Virginia Woolf in The Hours, society lady Ada Monroe in Cold Mountain, the art curator wife in Eyes Wide Shut—and why those films are so defined by Kidman’s presence in them. As Big Little Lies draws to a close, we look back at her most transformative on-screen roles, spanning thrillers, comedies, musicals, and even an action flick or two.


In 1990’s Days of Thunder, Kidman’s first role opposite soon-to-be husband Tom Cruise, she plays Dr. Claire Lewicki, a doctor charged with nursing Cruise’s NASCAR driver character to recovery in the aftermath of a horrific crash. Though a critical flop, Days of Thunder marked Kidman as one to watch — and it still has a cultish fan base nearly three decades later.


Kidman and Cruise’s second co-starring effort was Far and Away, the Ron Howard period piece about two Irish immigrants in turn-of-the-century America. Another film that was a popular success but a critical non-starter, Far and Away nevertheless found Kidman once again utterly transformed into the Irish émigré Shannon Christie.


Arguably Kidman’s most important role to date came with To Die For, the darkly funny crime comedy about an aspiring television anchor (Kidman, as Suzanne Stone). It earned the actress her first Golden Globe (she had previously been nominated, but lost to Mercedes Ruehl in The Fisher King) and, as a bonus, also features a 17-year-old Casey Affleck in his first role.


Kidman is luminous in the already overstuffed Batman Forever, which premiered later in 1995 with Val Kilmer as the titular Batman. She plays Batman’s love interest Dr. Chase Meridian, a psychologist — and though Batman Forever was far from Kidman’s most complex or lauded role, it still finds her again transformed, this time into the quintessential damsel in distress (albeit one with a PhD).


In the last of Kidman’s three roles opposite Tom Cruise, she plays his art curator wife Alice Harford in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. It’s an eerie, complicated role, in which Alice deals with her own suspicions and dissatisfactions while Cruise, Dr. William Harford, undertakes a kind of sexual odyssey.


Kidman was nominated for Best Actress at the 2002 Academy Awards for her starring turn in Moulin Rouge! opposite Ewan McGregor. It turns out, Kidman is also a capable singer in addition to a transcendent actress.


It’s not just Kidman’s capable acting that sees her so transformed in 2003’s The Hours — the film that earned her her first and only Oscar thus far. It’s also her prosthetic nose that completes her evolution into the writer Virginia Woolf.


Nowhere is Kidman’s skill better on display than in the minimalist Lars Von Trier masterpiece Dogville, in which Kidman plays a woman on the run from the mob who hides out in the small town of Dogville, Colorado. With a set simply demarcated by lines on the floor, the film makes the most of its all-star cast, with Kidman at the center of it all.


Adapted from the 1997 novel of the same name, Cold Mountain earned an Oscar not for Kidman, but for supporting actress Renée Zellweger. Nevertheless, Kidman is in top form as a young society woman surviving Civil War-time hardships in the eponymous town of Cold Mountain.


With The Hours and Cold Mountain behind her, Kidman embarked on an early-’00s period of creative triumph. Two years later, she appeared in an entirely different kind of film, starring as an actual witch — Isabel Bigelow — playing an on-screen witch — Samantha Stephens — in 2005’s Bewitched opposite Will Ferrell. The film itself was widely deemed a failure of an adaptation of the original sitcom — but Kidman was singled out as the movie’s redeeming factor.


Kidman earned her third Oscar nomination for Rabbit Hole, the 2010 drama co-starring Aaron Eckhart and Dianne Wiest about a couple coping in the aftermath of their child’s death. Rabbit Hole also marked the feature debut of Miles Teller.


Last year, Kidman found herself back in the awards season conversation as Sue Brierley, the adoptive mother of Saroo Brierley, a young Indian man — played alternately by Dev Patel and Sunny Pawar — searching for his birth family. An extremely ’80s perm is just the start of Kidman’s on-screen transformation.


Kidman is one part of the all-star cast roped into HBO’s Big Little Lies, the limited series also starring Reese Witherspoon, Shailene Woodley, Zoë Kravitz, and Laura Dern. Kidman plays Celeste, the stay-at-home mom and wife of Alexander Skarsgard, whose picture-perfect marriage and children bely a fraught narrative of domestic abuse.