Why Nicole Kidman Surprises Us Everytime With Her Penchant For Experiments

Archita Kashyap - 67 weeks ago

Nicole Kidman has never let clichés beat her. Once boxed in as the perfect ice maiden onscreen, and dream wife to Tom Cruise whose acting didn’t get recognised, Kidman has re-invented herself with surprising parts over the past 15 years. With Big Little Lies Season 2, and a solid line up of interesting web series and films, we discuss her independent film work that establishes her as a prolific, versatile actor.


(A still from Big Little Lies)

At this point in time, it is going to be very difficult to match up to the woman centric drama, Big Little Lies in this super popular sub-genre. First season of this HBO mini-series swept awards and wowed audiences worldwide. While it closed on the conclusion true to the novel of the same title by Liane Moriarty, audiences seemed to want to know more about the lives of the five women that this show is centered on. Which is why, co-producers of the series, Nicole Kidman (as co-owner of Blossom Films) and Reese Witherspoon put together members of the original cast and crew and set out to write a teleplay from a 200 page unpublished novella by Moriarty. And the icing on the cake was Meryl Streep joining this star studded cast as a new, pivotal character, anti thesis to it’s leads. 

Big Little Lies Season 2 has once again won audiences over, convincing those skeptical about the plot veering away from the book with its brilliant performance, cinematic scale and production quality and simple, easy-to-relate to emotional core. And Kidman, the tour de force behind this series, has branched out to producing more shows as part of prestige TV.  

Over fifty, Nicole Kidman has beaten every cliché in the book about female actors; following in the footsteps of Meryl Streep, only being more prolific. Kidman hasn’t found it easy to be taken seriously as an actor, despite making huge impact with her performance as early as 1995, with Gus Van Sant’s To Die For and Jane Campion’s cinematic interpretation of a classic novel, Portrait of a Lady in 1996. For the longest time, her lissome, porcelain beauty and her previous marriage to superstar Tom Cruise tended to overshadow the hungry performer that she is. Kidman told Vanity Fair magazine in a recent interview, “I am not mainstream…Keith (her husband) tells me, you are so not mainstream.” It’s a conscious choice that she has made as a performer - to not pander to a studio set up, and surprise with each new film. 

True, now is the best time for female actors of a mature age to flex their acting muscles, with streaming and TV offering up a whole new space of exploration. Yet Kidman beat forced retirement way before. Smart and astute, she capitalized on her tag as a dependable actor and beautiful star early on, to do plenty of work in big ticket studio films and entrench her financial position. But her marriage to Keith Urban sort of coincides with a phase of re-invention, where she let go of inhibitions. Also speaking to Vanity Fair, Meryl Streep said, Do you know that she is nearly 6 feet tall?...when she pulls up all of her… oh, there are some moments where she stuns in this season.”

(Nicole Kidman with her husband Keith Urban at an event)

Kidman has dabbled in independent cinema from an early stage. Now, her work gets noticed and talked about as independent cinema takes flight on the world stage, blurring lines with the mainstream. Yargos Lanthimos, the director of The Favorite, cast Kidman as a vulnerable, at times distraught woman in The Killing of a Sacred Deer. She played Diane Arbus, the artist when she was a mere housewife subtly and brilliantly in Fur, starring Robert Downey Jr. This film is perturbing at best, but Kidman’s performance stands out. She co-produced Rabbit Hole, and delivered a poignant performance as a mother dealing with loss of a child. This one won her an Oscar nomination. Of course, her turn as Virginia Woolf in The Hours remains etched in memory for it’s perfection and credibility. Kidman has also pushed the experimental envelope in films like Dogville, where she goes down on all fours like a canine. There’s Beguiled with Sofia Coppola, placing Kidman’s vulnerabilities and layers as a person exposed onscreen. 

Perhaps her turn as a mother, with multiple shades - surrender, emotional distress, manipulation, rigidity - displays Kidman’s evolution most vividly. In Lion and the second season of Top of the Lake, Kidman is giving and distressed at her inability to comprehend her children’s’ choices. In Boy Erased, she is cold and somewhat inaccessible. In Big Little Lies, she is fragile and guarded, presenting her most complex mother role onscreen. That she brings so much to the part of a mother perhaps has to do with her struggle to conceive in her first marriage. With Keith Urban, she has two biological daughters; which has turned her life around in more ways than one. Playing a mother has become a unique strength for Kidman. 

This actor’s productive curve has just taken an upswing. She will be seen in The Goldfinch in a pivotal role. She also acts and co-produces the limited series, The Undoing, for HBO. David E Kelley, who co-wrote Big Little Lies, writes this one and is also the showrunner. Susanne Bier will direct with Kidman in the central role, and Hugh Grant, Edgar Ramirez, Donald Sutherland, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Noah Jupe and Lily Rabe are all set to add star power to the show. Noma Dumezwani of Black Earth Rising plays a pivotal part too. Adapted from the best-selling book, You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, in Kidman’s words this is yet another complex, challenging female character that she fell in love with. Something tells us every bit of the wait for it to release will be worth it. For not often do the likes of Nicole Kidman come around to portray women as they really are on popular culture.


Nicole Kidman / Big Little Lies / HBO / Dogville / The Hours / To Die For / The Portrait of a Lady / Lion / Rabbit Hole / Paperboy / Cold Mountain / Billy Bathgate / Tom Cruise / Keith Urban

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Film Hashery.

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