A Character Actor: Actress and first-time producer Nicole Kidman received a Golden Globe nomination Tuesday for her performance of a grief-stricken mother in Rabbit Hole.
A Character Actor: Actress and first-time producer Nicole Kidman received a Golden Globe nomination Tuesday for her performance of a grief-stricken mother in Rabbit Hole. Jojo Whilden/Lionsgate
With an Oscar and three Golden Globe wins behind her, Nicole Kidman is one of the most recognizable movie stars in the world. But if you ask her about reports that she's Hollywood's highest-paid actress, her response is honest: "Who knows? Definitely not now!"
That's because Kidman's latest Golden Globe-nominated performance — of a grief-stricken mother in the drama Rabbit Hole — was paid for by none other than … herself.
Rabbit Hole is Kidman's first hands-on experience producing a film. She acquired the rights to its source material, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire; found the money for the film, hired director John Cameron Mitchell — best known for the unconventional musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch — and even oversaw casting and music. She had a hand in everything, right down to where the cast and crew would use the bathroom while filming on location in New York, and she's enthusiastic about every detail.
"A lot of the times when you're acting in a film, you're just — you're hired," she points out. "You're not aware of what's going on, in terms of the waste of the money. There can be so much waste because you just don't know. When I realized how much trailers cost, I said we don't need trailers on this film. We can all share a room. We can all share a bathroom. Let's just get a port-a-loo and put it out the back."
Rabbit Hole was made on a very small budget ($3.5 million, according to Kidman). It was initially turned down by the distributor that gets first crack at films from her production company, and she says that's because they thought the subject matter would be too hard to market. Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play a couple whose only child was killed in an accident eight months before the story begins. The play and the movie explore their interrupted life and how they go on living.
Rabbit Hole is the first time director John Cameron Mitchell has not also been a producer on his own film. Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus were also both low-budget, independent films but Rabbit Hole was his first time directing for hire, and he says he wasn't sure what it would be like to direct the person who did the hiring. Despite his initial uncertainty about working for hire, Mitchell says he took the job because of a personal connection with the subject.
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A Long Way From Hedwig: Rabbit Hole director John Cameron Mitchell is perhaps best known for his adaptation of the Broadway musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch into a film by the same name.
A Long Way From Hedwig: Rabbit Hole director John Cameron Mitchell is perhaps best known for his adaptation of the Broadway musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch into a film by the same name. Donald Weber/Getty Images
"When I was a teenager I lost a brother," he says. "All the feelings that came up reading the screenplay were feelings that I had experienced and perhaps not fully worked through. This film was a real gift to be able to revisit stuff that wasn't allowed to be talked about when I was a kid in the '70s in a military, non-therapeutic family."
Grief is a subject that Kidman says she's also drawn to as an actor.
"It's such a powerful emotion, and there [are] so many different facets to it," she says. "And it terrifies me. I've experienced my own grief at times, and it's played out and manifested in different ways in my life, and I think it's something that we don't converse about enough."
Kidman won't talk about what she drew on from her personal experience to portray Becca, the character paralyzed by grief in Rabbit Hole, but she does say that she was drawn to the character's stoicism and the stony exterior Becca presents to the world. There are times in the movie when she seems almost inhumanly determined to get on with her grief. She's not always sympathetic, and, according to Kidman, it's important that she not be.
According to Mitchell, even though Kidman was involved in myriad details as a producer off the set, her performance of Becca proved her to be a receptive performer on the set.
"Nicole is a very self-correcting actor," says Mitchell, also a well-known theater actor himself (and the star of Hedwig). "Some actors need a lot of coddling, and really have no objectivity at all. She also has done theater, so there's a kind of self-correcting and self-directing part of her that knows when things aren't going well, and often times a director can interrupt her flow of correcting herself."
Mitchell says he directed Kidman's performance more through metaphor ("give this speech as a gift") than technical instruction ("faster here, slower there").
And he isn't the first director Kidman's impressed. The actress says it meant a lot when Stanley Kubrick, who directed her in 1999's Eyes Wide Shut, told her he thought she was really a character actor.
"It meant that I didn't sit well playing the pretty girl who lives next door, which was kind of fine by me," she says. "I remember I watched The Wizard of Oz, and I wasn't interested in playing Dorothy; I was interested in playing the Wicked Witch. And that was around 8 or 9. So that's probably just where my sensibilities were. And, no, I wasn't interested in wearing the ruby slippers and skipping down the yellow brick road."
But she is still interested in trying something new. Kidman says what she'd like to do now is write: "If I go through this whole life and I don't write something, I'll probably be disappointed in myself."
But don't worry; with an upcoming role opposite Adam Sandler, the actress won't be giving up Hollywood anytime soon.