Truth or Bare

Truth or Bare

Truth or Bare

An Actress Whose Art Knows No Bounds, Nicole Kidman Has Made A Career Out Of Going To Extremes. Equal Parts Glamazon and Underdog, Both Fearless and Innocent, She Is Upping the Ante Once Again In the Paperboy, Lee Daniels's Campy Homage To the South

An Actress Whose Art Knows No Bounds, Nicole Kidman Has Made A Career Out Of Going To Extremes. Equal Parts Glamazon and Underdog, Both Fearless and Innocent, She Is Upping the Ante Once Again In the Paperboy, Lee Daniels's Campy Homage To the South

Photography: Mario Testino

Styling: Carlyne Cerf De Dudzeele

Text: Jacob Berstein

Scene: a photo studio in downtown Manhattan. Windows overlooking the West Side Highway. Heaps of designer clothing line the racks. Loads of ’80s-inspired costume jewelry, all of it neon or metallic. If it doesn’t glow in the dark or you can’t check out the state of your teeth on it, back it went. Laptops everywhere, making sure each shot is perfect, perfect, perfect.

At the center of it all: World-class photographer Mario Testino, who is orchestrating the proceedings, and world-class movie star Nicole Kidman, with whom he is absolutely, completely, totally head over heels in lauve. “Beautiful, beautiful,” Testino is saying as Kidman purses her lips and looks intently into the camera, pretty young fashion assistants, hunky set designers, and various crew members hovering around. “You are so hot it is beyond! Look at your body! It is incredible!”

Now would be the appropriate time to tell you what the actress is wearing, but at the moment the answer is, well, almost nothing.

For a while, the shoot was going ordinarily enough. The woman of the hour primped and posed in pieces from Chanel, Lanvin, Miu Miu, and the like. But then, her figure being just too sick for words, the clothes came flying off. We have now reached the point at which Kidman is lying on the ground in a bra and panties with a red fur coat falling off her, in what is sometimes referred to in fashion circles as the dead girl pose. Most any other actress of her caliber (there aren’t many) would likely say, “You know what? I don’t think so.” Or someone from her camp would swoop in and with a tap on the shoulder inform the stylist and creative team that things were going just a bit too far. But not Kidman. In fact, the only protestations coming from her rep, Leslee Dart, are that 1) the shoot is running over and Nicole could miss her plane, and 2) who on earth is going to help get all this bronze body paint off her?

No, everything is totally calm, because Kidman likes taking risks. Having been in the industry for more than half of her 45 years, she has learned to trust her instincts, and her collaborators. “I don’t really make decisions,” she says just after the shoot, having changed into some running clothes and retired to a couch in a quiet corner of the studio. “I go with the flow. If I were a strategically minded person, I think I would have a far different career. But I would be more outlandish if I could. A lot of times you just don’t get the chance.”

Such an outré opportunity did however present itself in the form of her latest film. On October 5, Kidman hits movie theaters once again in The Paperboy, directed by Lee Daniels (of Precious fame). To say that this film is a risky one is something of an understatement. A black comedy/neo-noir, it’s about a journalist (Matthew McConaughey) and his younger brother (Zac Efron) attempting to rescue a man from death row (John Cusack). Kidman plays a woman named Charlotte who obsessively writes to inmates. She strikes up correspondences with dozens of them, finally settling on Cusack as the man she’d like to marry. The first time Charlotte visits her incarcerated paramour, she winds up feigning oral sex in front of his legal counsel. A few scenes later, she goes to the beach with Efron…and urinates all over him when he gets stung by a school of jellyfish.

“The peeing thing, I didn’t think was that weird, because I was in character,” Kidman says. “That was for the jellyfish. And for me it said so much about Charlotte. One, she’s protecting him. Two, she’s tough as nails and no one else is going to pee on this guy. All of that made total sense to me. I just went for it and didn’t overthink it.” As sweetly self-assured as she is, Kidman’s stature nevertheless tends to intimidate. As Daniels tells me by phone later on, he’d initially been apprehensive about working with her. During the prep for the film, he danced around her like a starstruck schoolboy. “I was terribly nervous working with her in the beginning,” he says. “It was so hard to remember she was a person. She could see I was in awe. And she said, ‘Lee, you’ve got to direct me. I’m just a working girl.’”

The director was quick to reply: “I said, ‘Alright bitch, let’s go,’ and we jumped off the cliff together, into Charlotte-land.”

Their first day on set, Kidman and Cusack did a brutal sex scene atop a washing machine, in which he nearly strangles her to death. “I said, ‘If she can get through this, she can get through anything,” Daniels recalls. “At a certain point, I saw the bruises on her legs. So I said, ‘Nicole, are you okay?’ She lied. ‘I’m fine,’ she said. She wasn’t fine. I could see the bruises. But she kept going.” And going and going and going…

To understand how Kidman got to this creative ledge, it makes sense to go back in time to her childhood, which took place first in Honolulu (where she was born) and then Australia (where her parents were from). Fair skinned and red-headed, she was forbidden as a girl from going in the sun between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm, even on beach trips. So a young Nicole would retire to her room and pour through Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Flaubert. “At the time I thought it was the cruelest thing, and now I know it was the greatest gift,” she says. “I probably had a strong sexuality as a child, so that informs all that yearning and wanting things, and the hormones that are running through you at a really early age—they all started to surge because of the things I was reading.” By 12 she was starring in kiddie productions of The Seagull. By 16 she had her first “crawl on hot coals for you” romance (he left her for someone else) and got her first film role, in an Aussie holiday flick, Bush Christmas.

A handful of years later, on the set of Days of Thunder, she met Tom Cruise, the world’s most famous Scientologist. The couple’s marriage lasted ten years, and resulted in two adopted children, before he blindsided her with a quickie divorce. (In a karmic twist, Cruise recently suffered the same fate at the hands of now ex-wife Katie Holmes. The topic is completely off-limits for Kidman, especially given reports that she was one of the many who advised Holmes.)

Brokenhearted, Kidman signed on with director Stephen Daldry to do The Hours (an adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel), for which she donned a prosthetic nose to play Virginia Woolf. The project was her way of making lemonade out of lemons. “If you’re being completely drained in your personal life and you’re never being nourished there, it’s very hard to make it work,” she says. “But sometimes, if you meet the right person who will mine it, and you’re open to being mined, it can really work. Stephen was able to mine me. I was crazy in love with him, and so I was like, I’ll do whatever, because I love you. I gave him every part of me that I could give him.” And in March 2003, Kidman won the Oscar for Best Actress.

Over the next several years, she made a number films, some of them great (Margot at the WeddingRabbit Hole), some of them less so (The Stepford WivesThe Invasion). But her reputation as a brave actress with considerable range was never much debated, and in 2005 she found love again, with country musician Keith Urban. The pair were engaged after a three-month courtship (“part of my spontaneousness, I guess,” she laughs) and went on to have two children together. Today they live largely in Nashville, far away from the glare of the paparazzi and the ridiculousness of the red carpet. “It’s so fun, and it’s also really private,” she says. “I had no problems moving down there.”

Like most couples with small children, Kidman and Urban struggle some with the demands of work and play, parenthood and romance. A little while back, Kidman says, she organized a getaway for the two of them, to celebrate their anniversary. “I rented this beautiful house on the beach. I thought, We’ll go and swim in the ocean and just get lost in each other. So we go down, just us, and I’m like, ‘We really should bring the kids.’ And then the kids come down and the whole dynamic changes. Another time, we got one night, and then we were both in tears. It was ridiculous. But time is so precious and I love the sound of them and the feel of them. I just don’t want to miss anything, and I don’t want them to go ‘Where’s my mom?’ So I’m working through that.”

As we talk about her family life, it becomes increasingly clear that while she may be willing to get almost naked for a Testino shoot, there is nothing exhibitionistic about her. Indeed a serious gulf exists between what she’s willing to do as a performer and who she is in real life. She’s certainly not the hilariously diabolical woman she played in To Die For.In fact, she is rather shy. And she is nothing like Virginia Woolf.

Says Philip Kaufman, one of many directors who has worked with Kidman and gone gaga for her: “She’s completely normal and family-oriented, but she’s very perceptive, so she is able to transform herself into something that is amazing and surprising. She can play Nicole Kidman, which is the mark of a true star, but she also has that other quality of being an actor, like Meryl Streep.” Adds John Cameron Mitchell, who directed Kidman in Rabbit Hole: “She seems like a princess, but she’s a real guerrilla fighter, and she does what needs to be done for the role.” This puts her in a pretty good position career-wise. After The Paperboy she’ll be appearing in Stoker, a mystery directed by Park Chan-wook, the South Korean auteur behind 2003 cult classic Oldboy. Then she will switch it up once again, playing Grace Kelly in Grace of Monaco. She has even signed on to do a cameo in The Nymphomaniac, an upcoming Lars von Trier film. Von Trier has been something of an industry pariah since making statements at the Cannes Film Festival last year that were arguably anti-Semitic, but Kidman—who collaborated with him on 2003’s Dogville—refuses to abandon the director. “He’s going to do another thing that is going to shock the world,” she says with a laugh. “Charlotte Gainsbourg is doing the lead, but Lars sent me the piece and said, ‘I wrote a part for you.’ He’s done that before and I’ve gone, ‘No you didn’t, Lars, and I’m not playing it.’ But this time I really liked the character, and I like Lars. I think he has made some terrible, terrible statements and mistakes, but I don’t think he really meant what he said. If he did, then I would not be friends with him.”

“You know,” she shrugs, “he does strange stuff. He tried to get me to come out in a dog collar.”

“At Cannes,” interrupts Dart, who’s now come over to wrap things up.

“And sometimes you just say, ‘Shut up, Lars,’ ‘Put your clothes on, Lars,’” Kidman says. “I swear, you do say that to him. But there’s different philosophers in the world, and some of them are going to be extreme and controversial and some of them aren’t. And we need both.”

Credits: Makeup James Kaliardos (Art + Commerce)  Hair Oribe For Oribe Hair Care (Oribe Agency)  Manicure Yuna Park (Streeters)  Set Design Jack Flanagan (The Magnet Agency) Tailor Bonnie Barton (Lars Nord)  Digital Technician Christian Hogstedt (R&D)  Photo Assistants Benjamin Tietge, Pavel Woznicki, Milan Kelez  Stylist Assistants Kate Grella, Alban Roger, Martin Brule-Bross Eau, Allan Kent  Makeup Assistant William Jay Kahn  Hair Assistants Judy Erickson And Greg Bitterman  Hair Colorist Anthony Palermo  Set Design Assistant Thad O’neil  Production Jemima Hobson And Michelle Lu  Videographer David Paul Larson  Video Look Films  Location Canoe Studios, New York  Catering Diana Seabrooke  Retouching R&D


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