Nicole Kidman has always been an adventurous presence onscreen, but 2017 was the year when her daring really spoke to fans both onscreen and off. It felt like every project she appeared in had a cult following, from the films The Beguiled, directed by Sofia Coppola, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, and especially the zeitgeist-conquering HBO miniseries Big Little Lies. For the trauma she suffered poignantly on that show as the onscreen wife of Alexander Skarsgaard, the Australian actress won an Emmy. It also served as a platform for her newfound activism, with domestic violence as her cause célèbre. And she hasn’t stopped speaking up since, lending her powerful voice to the conversation about the sexual misconduct and systemic abuse of power by men in Hollywood. Here, in a new interview with W editor at large Lynn Hirschberg, Kidman recounts her brilliant year—and how her sensitive husband, Keith Urban, felt all of her onscreen pain.
So how did The Beguiled come to you? Sofia [Coppola] came and saw a play I was doing in London, and then we went to dinner afterwards and she gave me the screenplay. She said, “I’ve written a script, I’d love you to read it.”
Had you seen the original [1971 film, starring Clint Eastwood]? I hadn’t seen the original. She described it, and I’ve wanted to work with her. At one point we were sort of trying to make something else happen, and then that fell through. So it was just one of those things where it came together really quickly, and it was a delight to make. I mean, it really was.
I always describe Sofia as being so feminine and quiet, but incredibly powerful. She gets everything done without, really, raising her voice barely above a whisper. Yeah, people do everything. She’s so quiet; she’s so elegant. But she’s very decisive and just very good at what she does—and everyone knows that, so they respect her.
And you’ve worked with women as directors pretty much from the very beginning. I mean, Jane Campion was— The trailblazer.
Exactly. Yeah, and she’s one of my best friends. She came and saw me when I was 14 doing, strangely enough, Sweet Bird of Youth on stage in drama school. I was playing Princess [Kosmonopolis]. I did not know what I was doing at that age. I had no idea what any of it meant. [Laughter.] Jane sort of saw me and she went, “I want her in my student film.” And we built a relationship. Then she brought me Portrait of a Lady. We built a friendship during all of that and have had a friendship ever since.
You’ve had this incredible year. I’m not even talking about TV right now, just movies. Did you set out to say, “You know, I’m just going to do everything that scares me”? Or was there a particular idea behind the films that you’ve done this year, which were really brave. It was director-driven. I mean, I got to work with Jean-Marc Vallée, Jane Campion, Yorgos Lanthimos, and Sofia Coppola in one year. I was so fortunate, because when directors of that caliber choose you to be in their films or their television shows then, I mean, whatever happens it’s going to be an extraordinary experience and ultimately something will come of it that’s interesting or compelling or different. You know, you never know, but at least when you work with that caliber of director you’re safe.
But what’s so interesting about you—and you can’t say it, so I will—is that you’re unlike certain people who, when they get to a certain point in their career, they safeguard it. They get nervous about breaking out from what’s going to be expected from them. Right.
They’re careful. They don’t do TV shows where they’re naked and beat up and lying on the floor. But, honestly, is that because they don’t have the opportunity, though? I mean… I don’t see it as brave. That’s what’s interesting. People say, “Oh, you know, that you’re so bold and brave in your decisions.” And maybe I’m just insane. [Laughter.] But I see it as, um, I’m being given a chance. I literally still feel like I’m the kid at drama school hoping to get a role. That’s how I operate. I mean, that’s what I come from, and whether that’s to do with, I suppose at times, my own vulnerability and insecurity, I always feel like I’m so fortunate and lucky to have the job.
But I also was raised in a family that looks at things differently—a very liberal family, a family that discussed things—always politics and philosophy—and academic parents who loved reading. That’s how I was wired as a small child. I would always question and was fascinated by the psychology of human beings.
And I think your mom was also fascinated by it as well. Didn’t she feel that she would have had a bigger career at a different time? Um, I don’t know if she feels that. I think she feels like she missed opportunities. Because I think women that came from a certain era, particularly the era before me, and my grandmother’s era—they gave a lot up.
Yeah. You know, they didn’t get the chances that I suppose the feminists that started in the ‘60s really fought for. And my mum was determined, having two little girls, that we would have opportunities that she didn’t have. So I’m the recipient of a feminist mother.
That’s great. Yeah, and part of my job now is to pass it on and give back and help create opportunities for the next generation that’s coming. That’s part of my desire now, particularly with female directors, female DPs, because there isn’t enough female DPs. And it’s not to say that I don’t love working with male directors, because there’s times when I love being viewed through that male lens and interpreted that way. But I just want it to be balanced. The next film I’m doing is with [the director] Karyn Kusama.
Oh really? Yeah, so part of, you know, walking the talk of committing to female directors and. I start that at the end of the year and that’s a pretty out-there role. [Laughs.] Let’s see if I pull it off. But I was so happy to do the camera test the other day, because there was a female first AD, a female DP, and the female director. And I went, “Good. Okay, it’s shifting. The needle’s shifting a little bit.” So I’m happy to be able to put whatever power I have right now behind that cause.
And I’m always the first to say, “I’m the recipient of a really strong gorgeous mother, but I’m also the recipient of a very strong, loving father.” I had a great male figure in my life who helped to form me. And as much as I was raised by my mother, I was raised by my father, too. And to emphasize that is important right now—the need for the support of good men in society. You know, we need that. You can’t do it alone. So I love saying that I’m married to a really generous, kind, strong male. And Keith [Urban] incredibly supportive of me and his daughters.
When he watches you on film does he have a hard time sometimes? [Keith Urban] is an artist. Um, he did have a hard time when he watched The Killing of a Sacred Deer. He saw it at the Cannes Film Festival and he was sort of hypnotized and shattered by it. [Laughs.] And when he watched Big Little Lies he was disturbed; he says that when he hears me scream or cry from a certain place in my soul it’s almost like it goes straight into him and he has a visceral reaction immediately. Because his brain and his heart doesn’t discern between acting and real life. They’re the same sounds for him. It throws him.
Well, I’m not married to you and it threw me. [Laughs.] Oh, but you are, Lynn. [Laughs]
_In some cosmic sense. But, honestly, when I watched that the last few episodes, it was hard for me to watch you go through that. But important, obviously. Important, um, but for me it was really disturbing. I get upset even when I go back into it.
I think that’s why there was such an outcry when you kissed Alexander Skarsgard [at the Emmys]. I don’t even think it was the kiss itself, but the fact that he was the guy who was throwing you across the room in the show. Right.
People have trouble separating reality from fiction. Right. There were times on that set when it was intense. But he and I communicated. There had to be such safety and such honesty and such raw vulnerability there that we have a different connection. So to be able to just give him a kiss, I mean, I’d kissed him many, many times on the set. [Laughter.] Much more than that. So that was just my way of going, in the moment—we were both shocked and we were like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m so glad you won.” Because I know what he put into that role. And to see him standing up there and to hear his name read out was just, I mean, that was a really brave thing that he did, to was play that person that way.
Totally. He never pulled back and he never talked about, never worried about how he was being depicted. He was just very honest and very true to what the story needed.
Alright, so let’s ask some fun questions about you now. Okay. [Laughs.] I get too serious, too heavy, huh?
What was your favorite Halloween costume ever? Oh, gosh. Well, Halloween’s not a big thing in Australia. It’s becoming bigger, but I didn’t really grow up with it. But my first memory of Halloween was because I was born in the States I remember a ghost, uh, a sheet that my mum made with the eyes cut out. I just remember looking through the eyes of the sheet and seeing candy as we held our hands out. [Laughs.] I must have been about three then. So that’s my first memory of Halloween, wearing a sheet. But I got candy!
What’s your feeling about New Year’s? Do you like a big New Year’s? Do you have a favorite New Year’s story? Um… I have so many different New Year’s Eves where some of them, I mean, the greatest one was 1999, where we’re on Sydney Harbor on a boat. We were making Moulin Rouge, so Baz had sort of designed the whole party. And it felt like we’d invited all of Sydney. It was… it went off. [Laughter.] It was one of the most legendary parties, if I say so myself. I remember dancing in some little tiny Dolce dress—I was very much into the role of Moulin Rouge at the time—with a snake. That’s all I’m going to say.
Were you in full costume with the snake? I was wearing… no. I was shimmying with the snake. That’s my memory. [Laughs.] And there’re photos to prove it.
I’m sure! [Laughs.] What was your favorite toy growing up? A Barbie. And that was to the chagrin of my mother, because, obviously, Barbies were not something she wanted me to have because they have the perfect form. Particularly at that time they hadn’t been sort of changed, so they were the, the sort of the thing that every feminist was like, “No little girl should be playing with a Barbie.” But I just wanted a Barbie. It was, like, “I just want a Barbie because everyone else has a Barbie.”
Right. Did your mom make clothes for it? You know, after a situation where I took a Barbie from the store and my mom made me take it back, she was like, “I’ll buy my daughter a Barbie.”
So you actually stole one— I took a Barbie. I was a baby. I just wanted the Barbie! And my mum was like, “No. You’re not allowed to have a Barbie.” And then she realized, “Oh my gosh. I’ve got to buy her a Barbie.” So, you know, I hung my head in shame and gave the Barbie back and then my mum paid money for the Barbie. Um, but my grandmother was the most beautiful seamstress and my mother is a beautiful seamstress, so they made me the most beautiful Barbie clothes you’ve ever seen in your life. I mean, gorgeous. Like embroidered and all little tiny, tiny buttons down the back. I mean, we’re talking exquisite work. Which is where my love of fashion started.
Did you keep anything? I’ve got a lot of those clothes still up in the attic; my mum keeps them.
Because they’re for your daughters? No, my daughters don’t really play with those sort of things now. One of my daughters is really into editing and she wants to be a director. And the other one is far more into animals. We have two cats, Siberians. And we have fish, alpacas, no dog.
You have an alpaca? We have six alpacas.
You have six alpacas! Yeah.
And do the alpacas just roam? The alpacas are in Australia, so…
Oh, okay. I was going to say, Nashville? No. [Laughs.] Not around the streets of Nashville.
Well, who knows! You could walk them on a leash, I don’t know. I’m not familiar with the life of the alpaca. Mmhmm. Can do that, yeah.
[Laughs] You can walk them on a leash? Yeah, you can. I mean, they don’t love it. But you could. We don’t.
So here are some questions about the first time you ever did these things. What was your first job? Um, an usherette in Sydney.
So you watched the plays? Yeah. Sesame Street Live. I was very excited. And it paid really well. Well, for me at that time.
Where was your first date? Gosh. I was, like, a really tall, skinny, freckly red-headed girl. I can’t remember my first date. I was, like, not that popular, I have to say. Golly, I don’t know. Is that bad? I remember my first date with Keith.
What was your first date with Keith? Woodstock.
Really? Mm-hmm. Picked me up on a motorbike, took me to Woodstock. My kind of guy.
That’s a good date. Mm. Hey, we’re married! It was a good date.
[Laughs.] What was the first album that you either bought, or were given? Oh, Michael Jackson, Off the Wall. I just loved the whole album, and I just thought I was so cool that I could afford to buy an album.
What was your first red-carpet outfit? You have the best outfits. It would have been for Dead Calm or something like that. No, no. Because I don’t think we really had red-carpets when Dead Calm came out. I remember going to the Academy Awards with Tom [Cruise]. I think it was a very, very short Valentino dress. It was black velvet. It was pretty great; I’ve still got it. I didn’t realize that you don’t wear very, very short to the Academy Awards at that stage. I just remember being sort of overcome by all of that. But that was fun.
What was the first time you felt that you were successful? I don’t know. I think I don’t judge things by success. Um, I won a Golden Globe and I just remember the kind of the frenzy that surrounds all of that. But it’s more for me about the work, when I get a role that I’m so excited about that I can’t believe I’m going to get the chance to play. I still get butterflies.
Gal Gadot, Emma Stone, Margot Robbie, and More Are the Best Performances of the Year
“This year on Halloween, my daughter and I went trick-or-treating, and I had on this huge mask so I could see everyone but they couldn’t see me. Whenever I saw a Wonder Woman costume on a girl or a boy, it was so exciting. My daughter, who was dressed as a unicorn zombie, would run up to me and say, “Did you see that Wonder Woman?” They were everywhere!”
Gal Gadot wears Moschino Couture dress; Fabergé ring; Off-White c/o Jimmy Choo shoes.
“[Jennifer Lawrence] came to see Cabaret and both of my contacts popped out of my eyes at the same time and my prescription is -900, which, if you know what that means, is like…I cannot see. So, they had to drag me off the stage in the dark and she came backstage afterwards and I was like, ‘I couldn’t see anything! It was garbage! It was a disaster!’ And she was like, ‘Enough, enough. I’m your dance mom. You need to calm down.’”
Emma Stone wears a Louis Vuitton dress; Cartier earrings.
“I am Vietnamese, and we don’t celebrate birthdays. My parents don’t actually know their birth dates—they just go by their signs. When somebody asks you how old you are, you say, ‘I’m born this month in the Year of the…’ I was born in the Year of the Sheep. Sheep don’t like to be the center of attention, and they don’t like being told what to do. That pretty much sums me up.”
Hong Chau wears an Etro dress; Chanel Fine Jewelry earrings; Tiffany & Co. ring.
“I’ve had a flirtation with Winston Churchill for years; there’s been a book of famous Churchill quotes on my bookshelf since childhood. To me, he was the man who won the war. And yet, when I was first asked to play the part, I thought, Don’t be ridiculous, and turned it down. But they came back, and it felt right. My wife said, ‘Look, you get to stand in Parliament and say these great words. What have you got to lose?’”
Gary Oldman wears a Canali suit; Boss shirt and tie.
“I always joke that Jason Dixon, the character I play in Three Billboards, is Barney Fife meets Travis Bickle. I spent a lot of time trying to perfect his southern Missouri accent. I did ride-alongs with a cop down there—he had a great twang. Accents should be practiced as if you’re drunk. Actors get a little tense when they have to do an accent. Drunkenness relaxes everything.”
Sam Rockwell wears a Marni trench; Editions M.R shirt; Simon Miller T-shirt; Huntsman pants; Rolex watch; Church’s shoes.
“My character in The Meyerowitz Stories is a sweet family girl, but when she sends films she makes in school to her family, you see her wild side. I’m naked in most of those films. I sat next to my dad at the premiere, and that was probably the most uncomfortable thing in my life. To see myself 75 feet tall and naked was not easy. I sank into my chair and heard my dad kind of laugh nervously. We pretended those scenes never happened.”
Grace Van Patten wears an Alberta Ferretti dress; her own jewelry.
“Being an actress, for me, is about my own transition. It’s about looking for answers. It’s about trying to survive in my life and also for the lives of others who face similar challenges. Life is scary, but art is not scary.”
Daniela Vega wears a Max Mara dress; David Webb earrings; Piaget necklace; Chanel Fine Jewelry ring (right hand); Tiffany & Co. bracelet and ring (left hand); Gianvito Rossi shoes.
“My husband is an artist, but he still has a hard time watching me sometimes. During The Killing of a Sacred Deer at the Cannes Film Festival, he was both hypnotized and shattered. When he hears me scream or cry from a certain place in my soul, it’s almost like it goes straight into him. His brain and heart don’t discern between acting and real life.”
Nicole Kidman wears a Prada top and skirt; Chanel Fine Jewelry ring; Jimmy Choo pumps.
Where was your first kiss? This is going to sound like a murder story, but it was in the woods, outside of a baseball park. I had lost my turtle. Curtis, the guy I kissed, found it.
Was that your first pet? No, it was a schnauzer named Ozzie. He hated us so much. He never wanted to be in the same room with us.
So what’s your porno name—first pet plus first street name? Ozzie Ormond.
What was your favorite Halloween costume? A picnic table. My mom wouldn’t let me be a witch or a ghost or anything demonic, so I cut a hole in a plastic cloth and went as a picnic table. The problem was I had a crush on this guy named John, and I was so pumped for Halloween because it was our chance to interact. And then I put my face in the tablecloth and was like, “Hi, John. Are you my boyfriend?”
Jennifer Lawrence wears a Dior dress; Dior Fine Jewelry earrings and ring.
“When I first read the script for Get Out, I thought, Are you allowed to do this? Are they really going to let this black guy kill all these white people? I think the most fascinating art pieces come at a price to the person making them. And this movie took a risk. On opening night, I went to see it in a theater in the hood in Atlanta. The crowd clapped, they cheered, they yelled, ‘Get out, man! Yo—get out!’ It was all the stuff that we hoped the audience would say.”
Daniel Kaluuya wears a Gosha Rubchinskiy x Adidas Football sweatshirt and sweatpants; ’47 hat; Gucci socks; Kaluuya’s own sneakers.
“I booked The Florida Project when I was 6. I’m 7 now. It was really fun because during shooting I got to eat ice cream! I want to start my own YouTube channel, and the name of it will be I Am Crazy for Ice Cream because I am crazy for ice cream. I’m also so into fashion. I wear shorts in the movie, and they were so short. It was a struggle getting them on. Now, I’m like, ‘Mom! Where are my skirts? No more shorts!’”
Brooklynn Prince wears a Baby Dior dress; La Coqueta shoes.
“I’m naked quite a lot in Beach Rats, and it’s a little strange to act when you’re naked. When the boom operator is standing over you, and you’re not wearing anything, it’s awkward. But, in the end, I didn’t find it difficult. I’m pretty comfortable with my body. Not in an ‘I’m happy to flaunt it for £5’ kind of way, but it does go deep into the psychology of someone trying to figure out their own sexuality, and their identity.”
Harris Dickinson wears a Calvin Klein 205W39NYC shirt, pants, and boots.
“As an actor, people put you in categories. It’s ‘Oh, she has an accent,’ or ‘She doesn’t have an accent,’ or ‘She can do this accent,’ or ‘No, she can’t.’ They’ll say, ‘She’s a pretty blonde, so I don’t know if we can see her in a comedy.’ So I know that for Fatih Akin to pick me was a big risk because he’s very well known in Germany as a director who casts unknowns or people he discovers who are not actors at all. In the beginning, he got a lot of backlash for it. And, in truth, I don’t think I could have played this character five years ago. Now I’m ready to shed any beauty look. I want to be stripped of any pretense, of any glamour.”
Diane Kruger wears a Rosamosario romper; Christian Louboutin shoes.
“When I was 14, I auditioned for an Off Broadway play. The scene was about a bris, the Jewish tradition of a child having the tip of his penis snipped off. Being the nice Jewish kid that I was, I did not know what a bris was, and I decided to pronounce it brie. Bris as brie. So I did the monologue, and, at the end, the director said, ‘Thank you very much, and it’s pronounced bris.’ I did not get the part.”
Ben Stiller wears a Gucci coat; Olatz pajamas.
“When I was 6, my favorite film was Robin Hood: Men in Tights. It’s got a lot of adult jokes, and it was really inappropriate for a child to see. In school, they asked us, ‘If you were to make a potion, what would you put in it?’ Even then, I could recall lines of movies, and I said, ‘The testicles of a newt!’ I got called up to the front of the class and was asked why I put testicles in my potion. I had no idea what testicles were—I just loved the film.”
Margot Robbie wears a Dolce & Gabbana top, shorts, and shoes.
“I was late to the game on The Room, which is considered by many to be the worst movie of all time. For years, I would see this billboard in L.A. that Tommy Wiseau, the actor and star of the movie, had paid to have up on Highland Avenue. It was a picture of him, sort of glaring down at you, with the words THE ROOM and a phone number. I was like, ‘What is this? Do you call the number and this crazy, weird, vampirelike guy can be in your movie?’ But then I started reading The Disaster Artist, which was written by one of the other actors in the movie, and before I was halfway through, I just knew it was such an incredible, bizarre story, unlike any other in Hollywood, about outsider artists trying to achieve their dreams. I was instantly drawn to Tommy. It’s almost like we were made for each other.”
James Franco wears a Balenciaga shirt; his own pants.
“To play Molly Bloom, I thought about what women have to become in order to find power in a society where men are making all of the rules. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh—the Kardashians are an incredible example of women who have their own sense of entrepreneurial power.’ And in real life, Molly looked a lot like them. For research, I actually watched Kim’s tutorial on face shading and contouring. As the movie goes on, Molly transforms into this idea of what a woman has to be in order to be heard: The heels get higher, the necklines are lower, the hair is longer. It was quite a departure for me, physically. And the strange thing is, I don’t look like myself at all in this film, and so many people have said to me that I’ve never looked better.”
Jessica Chastain wears an Oscar de la Renta dress; Sophie Buhai earrings.
“Until I read the script for Lady Bird, I had never encountered a female heroine who very much sees herself as a female heroine. In films, you rarely see young girls who love themselves. Lady Bird takes the self-confidence thing to a new level. She knows she’s going to be someone. And she has something to say, even if she doesn’t quite know what it is yet.”
Saoirse Ronan wears a Chanel dress.
Did you have an audition outfit back when you were starting out? I had multiple outfits. Much like a costume box. I would change between auditions. I remember changing in the car on the freeway. I’m still a fast changer. And discreet. I have a talent for taking my clothes off quickly.
What was your first favorite film? The Sound of Music. It was very influential. And I got to meet Captain von Trapp while filming All the Money in the World [Christopher Plummer replaced Kevin Spacey after Spacey was pulled from the project]. We were about to be in this movie together, and I thought, How soon is too soon to ask Christopher Plummer to sing “Edelweiss” into my phone for my daughter?
Michelle Williams wears a Louis Vuitton dress.
“I play real people a lot. And it is a huge responsibility. Anytime you are playing somebody who was alive, for good or for bad, that performance becomes a version of an official record of what happened: what motivated them, what obstacles they faced, and how they got through their particular struggle. There’s a degree of leeway that you can allow yourself as long as you’re not turning good guys into bad guys, or knowledge into ignorance. Having said that, it’s a little easier playing someone who’s no longer living. Because then you don’t have to meet them.”
Tom Hanks wears a Tom Ford suit, vest, and shoes; Boss shirt; Rolex watch.
“I had a successful soap opera career in Mexico, but I left my fame and my comfort and I moved to Los Angeles because I wanted to make films. I was very, very famous in Mexico, and in the States I was working as an extra. People thought maybe I was running from the police. Why else would I leave everything I had to play a maid? I told them, ‘This industry is going to change. We are too strong of an economic force to be ignored forever.’”
Salma Hayek wears a Saint Laurent by Anthony Vaccarello dress; Cartier earrings.
“I was loosely attached to Call Me by Your Name for four years. It never seemed like it was coming together, and then it did. Now I’ve spent nearly two years promoting it. So, in many ways, it will be the project of my youth. When I’m older, I’ll look at this film and remember what it was like to not be jaded, old, and washed up. I’ll look back and say, ‘Oh, when I was young…’”
Timothée Chalamet wears a Sandro jacket and pants; Schiesser tank top; Sermoneta Gloves gloves; Calvin Klein 205W39NYC boots.
“My first kiss was at a party, when I was 12 or 13, during my first term at a coed school, so, you know, hormones were raging. A girl named Dora had this party when her parents were out of town, and it was literally a bacchanalia for 13-year-olds. No one was having sex, but it was just like, ‘Oh, we all get to kiss each other.’ And there were around 200 people there. It was about five hours of everyone going, ‘Have we made out yet? No? Let’s go!’ To this day, my friends and I will be in a pub or at dinner and say, ‘Remember Dora’s party?’ and sigh. It was an awakening.”
Andrew Garfield wears a Shrimps coat; Michael Kors sweater; Sunspel sweatpants.