The Year Nicole Kidman, Hollywood Enigma, Really Spoke to Us

The actress has always been as talented as she is inscrutable. This year, though, her performances seemed to really resonate with pop culture.

Pop Portfolio - August 2017 - Nicole Kidman
Photographs by Alasdair McLellan, Styled by Edward Enninful; Hair by Shay Ashual at Art Partner; makeup by Diane Kendal for Marc Jacobs Beauty at Julian Watson Agency; manicures by Casey Herman for Dior at the Wall Group. Set design by Stefan Beckman at Exposure NY.

Nicole Kidman started 2017 with a Golden Globe nomination (and then an Oscar nomination) for Best Supporting Actress for Lion. She’s finishing 2017 with another Golden Globe nomination (and an Emmy win) for Best Actress in a Miniseries for Big Little Lies—fitting bookends to a year in which Kidman dominated the screen and our popular imagination.

In addition to the viral success that was Big Little Lies—when was the last time Nicole Kidman was part of something so delightful?—she also reigned as the unofficial queen of the Cannes Film Festival, where she screened no fewer than four projects (Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake: China Girl, Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, John Cameron Mitchell’s How to Talk to Girls at Parties, and Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer). She returned to form on the red carpet (if, in fact, she was ever out of form) with challenging looks worthy of the 1997 Oscars. She turned 50 and talked about ageism. And she took up domestic violence as her cause célèbre, using her role as Celeste, the abused wife of Alexander Skarsgard’s Perry, in Big Little Lies, as an avenue into the conversation.

And yet, for all her exposure across 2017, Kidman remains as enigmatic as ever. It has been harder, since Kidman married country musician and fellow Aussie transplant Keith Urban in 2006, to evaluate her based on her romantic relationships, as she was for the decade-plus she was married to Tom Cruise. (“Kidman struggled to disarticulate herself from her husband’s stardom—and from the rumors that swirled around their relationship,” Buzzfeed writer Anne Helen Peterson wrote earlier this year, in a piece aptly titled “How Many Times Does Nicole Kidman Have to Prove Herself?”.)

This, in case it bears saying, is a good thing. Kidman is arguably the more famous of the two of them, and yet her personal life remains largely inscrutable; they have appeared on the red carpet together all year—he at the various screen awards shows, she at ceremonies like the Country Music Association Awards and the CMT Music Awards. “There’s no core sense of who Nicole Kidman is beyond her characters,” Marisa Meltzer wrote for W earlier this year. “She doesn’t have much of a persona and has never seemed to try very hard to get one.”

Nicole Kidman Has Taken a Lot of Risks on the Red Carpet, and They Always Pay Off

Nicole Kidman (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)

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Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise at the Director’s Guild of America in Hollywood, California.

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Nicole Kidman (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)

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Nicole Kidman (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)

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Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise during “Eyes Wide Shut” Los Angeles Premiere at Mann Village Theatre in Westwood, California, United States.


Nicole Kidman during 9th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards.

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Nicole Kidman (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)

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Nicole Kidman during 53rd Annual Golden Globe Awards at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, United States.

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Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise (Photo by Kevin Mazur Archive/WireImage)

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Nicole Kidman in Tom Ford for Gucci. (Photo by Gregory Pace/FilmMagic)

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Nicole Kidman

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Nicole Kidman (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

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Nicole Kidman at the The Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California (Photo by Jim Smeal/WireImage)

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Actress Nicole Kidman arrives for the 80th Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California on February 24, 2008.

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Nicole Kidman arrives at the Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton January 20, 2002 in Beverly Hills, California.

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Nicole Kidman during The 76th Annual Academy Awards – Arrivals at The Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California, United States.


Nicole Kidman during The 62nd Annual Golden Globe Awards – Arrivals at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles, California, United States.


Actress Nicole Kidman arrives on the red carpet for the 68th annual Golden Globe awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California, on January 16, 2011.


Actress Nicole Kidman arrives at the 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 30, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.

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Nicole Kidman arrives at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards held at the Kodak Theatre on February 27, 2011 in Hollywood, California.

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Nicole Kidman arrives at The 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards held at Staples Center on February 13, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.

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Actress Nicole Kidman arrives at the 45th annual CMA Awards at the Bridgestone Arena on November 9, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Nicole Kidman arrives at the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton hotel on January 15, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California.

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Nicole Kidman attends the “The Paperboy” premiere during the 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 24, 2012 in Cannes, France.

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Nicole Kidman arrives at the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 13, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California.

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Nicole Kidman attends the 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 10, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

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Nicole Kidman attends the World Premiere of “Paddington” at Odeon Leicester Square on November 23, 2014 in London, England.

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Nicole Kidman arrives at the 87th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 22, 2015 in Hollywood, California.

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Nicole Kidman arrives at Women In Film 2015 Crystal + Lucy Awards at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on June 16, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.

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Nicole Kidman attends the opening ceremony and “Grace of Monaco” premiere at the 67th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 14, 2014 in Cannes, France.

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Kidman made her grand entry into 2017 at the Golden Globes, walking the red carpet with Urban. She wore a silver, puffy-sleeved Alexander McQueen dress from the brand’s Spring 2017 collection—a dress, she told the Daily Mail in January, that had been approved by her daughters Sunday Rose and Faith Margaret: “They both jumped up and said, ‘Mummy, you look like a beautiful fairy in that dress,’ so that was it,” she said. It was, she admitted, “not really what I would normally wear,” but, then again, this year Kidman strayed so far from jewel tones and traditionally flattering silhouettes that “normally” became a moving target. Instead, she opted for daring, fresh-off-the-runway designs by the likes of Rodarte—a notoriously challenging choice—and Calvin Klein, and couture pieces from Chanel, Giambattista Valli, and Armani. At one event, she could go classic, in a strapless Oscar de la Renta gown with an asymmetrical, embellished hem; at the next, she could instead opt for Off-White, the label-cum-lifestyle brand by Virgil Abloh. “Level of difficulty,” I noted earlier this year of Kidman’s Cannes appearances, “is the unifying trait of Kidman’s red-carpet aesthetic; more than a penchant for the romantic or gothic or avant-garde, she cycles between disparate looks as if getting into character, burying herself inside an individual piece rather than embracing a particular aesthetic. In fashion, she’s a cipher.”

On screen, too, Kidman’s work has been united less by a type of film or role and more by her ability and willingness to dissolve herself into the character. She seemed undaunted by the prospect of the extreme perm that transformed her into Sue Brierley for Lion last year, marking her once again as one of Hollywood’s most mutable stars. “You’ll have to have red curly hair like you used to look,” Kidman said director Garth Davis told her of the role. This year demanded even more of Kidman across her various roles: The physical transformations wrought by Big Little Lies and Top of the Lake: China Girl, simply from a hair-and-makeup and costume perspective, were accompanied by a similarly convincing evocations of her characters’ interior lives. She played the 19th-century schoolmarm of The Beguiled and the repressed ophthalmologist wife of Colin Farrell in The Killing of a Sacred Deer with equal sensitivity.

(Lion is a Weinstein Company production; Kidman has appeared in several of producer Harvey Weinstein’s films and, when accusations of decades of sexual harassment and assault by Weinstein were reported just more than two months ago, Kidman was among the first to speak out—“I support and applaud all women and these women who speak out against any abuse and misuse of power,” she said in October. “We need to eradicate this behavior.”)

In 2017, Kidman, always a praised actress but with a so-so track record in picking her movies, hit her stride both critically and commercially—Big Little Lies was such a hit it was renewed for a second season; The Beguiled, while plagued by a whitewashing controversy, has nevertheless maintained a 78 percent Rotten Tomatoes score; and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, while polarizing, has elicited cult approval that echoes that of director Yorgos Lanthimos’s last film, The Lobster.

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

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.


At the same time, Big Little Lies offered a particular opportunity for Kidman to delve into speaking on behalf of survivors of domestic violence. Celeste Wright, her Big Little Lies character, in many ways subverts typical depictions of domestic abuse on screen: “Director Jean-Marc Vallée puts us, the viewers, right up in it. He lingers on the arguments that escalate into physical violence and always end in sex,” Meltzer wrote. “The domestic violence script is flipped. … It’s excruciating as a viewer, but you have to watch closely to see what’s really going on between them.” And the subtlety of Big Little Lies’ depiction of an abusive relationship—one that is sensitive to all the reasons a woman might return to her abuser, despite the personal danger—has been matched by the nuance of Kidman’s response to the issue.

“It is a complicated, insidious disease. It exists far more than we allow ourselves to know. It is filled with shame and secrecy. And by you acknowledging me with this award, it shines a light on it even more,” she said in her Emmys acceptance speech in September. The next month, she published a powerful essay about domestic violence in Porter magazine, writing that as a result of her role as a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador, she has “come to fully understand the barriers that women around the world are facing. I have focused on lending my voice to women who are survivors of violence.”

It’s been 22 years since Nicole Kidman graced the screen in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For, a film that, somehow, resonates just as much in 2017 as 1995—which offers all the more reason why 2017 belonged to Nicole Kidman. Viewed today, the film presents a sort of metacommentary on social media, and it features Kidman in an eerily Trumpian role, albeit as a broadcast journalist. Certainly, 2017 was not a good year—and it was likely no better for Kidman, for after all she’s also a mortal. Her excellent 2017 was not a product of any inherent 2017-ness, but rather a testament to the fact that, despite the obstacles to women in Hollywood and the simple oppressive state of things, Kidman continued to show up. And that’s something.

Nicole Kidman’s favorite toy was something her mom refused to buy: