Nicole Kidman got sick playing abuse survivor in ‘Big Little Lies’
Wahhhh!” Nicole Kidman lets out a nasal moan, his face tense in comically exaggerated pain, his body covered in bandages and his weight supported by Javier Bardem. She has acted twice, playing Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo to Bardem’s Desi Arnaz as Ricky, in Amazon Studios. To be the Ricardos. The dram-com, written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, could have been filled with more signature i love lucy pratfalls, but Sorkin was more interested in the real Ball, an up-and-coming dramatic actor who reinvented himself as a comedy star and business executive. Hence the Multidimensional Kidman.
When “Cut” is called, it’s meta; Kidman rolls out of Ricardo and straightens up as Ball, making notes to the men. In another scene, Ball sits in an armchair, her legs stretched across her desk, as the costumes emphasize the complications her pregnancy poses — for the sitcom. As they struggle to find words to describe Ball’s condition, the word Pregnant was banned from the air, not to mention a baby bump – the comedian makes men at his feet the strike line. Kidman’s perfect deadpan: “Someone should point a goddamn camera at this.”
“Aaron Sorkin wrote her in as the smartest person in the room, because she was,” Kidman explains. It was Ball who finally convinced CBS to let her Cuban-born husband play her sitcom hubby. After divorcing Arnaz, she bought out her shares in Desilu Productions and became the first woman to head a major production studio. As Kidman says, Ball never apologized for her intelligence. “A lot of times, especially as a woman, if you’re smart, there are a lot of excuses.”
Kidman has channeled other great real-life women, including Virginia Woolf (Hours), Martha Gelhorn (Hemingway and Gelhorn), Diane Arbus (Fur), Grace Kelly (Grace of Monaco) and Gretchen Carlson (Bomb). She imbues her fictional characters with such humanity that, in her prolific Oscar and Emmy-studded career, she tricked her own immune system into believing her character’s suffering is real, to fall ill after filming. “The body parts don’t know, most of the time, what the difference is” between a role and real life, says Kidman, who fell ill after big little lies, in which she played an abuse survivor. “I started to understand a little more about taking care of myself.”
Even with a psychologist (and a scientist) for father – and in spite of the fact of playing the types of analysts in Batman forever, defeat, and Nine perfect strangers—Kidman is allergic to introspection. “I try not to over-analyze things,” says Kidman, who waves his jaw-dropping resume over the timing, acknowledging “fate, or whatever you want to call it.” She harbors no regrets – “a very dangerous path…that can really drive you crazy.” And cynicism is unreasonable – “it would rob me of the ability to still be completely free and open.” She won’t even really call herself a movie star – “I’m in a state where I’m just ready to go with the flow”; “I’m always in this position of going, ‘I’m not quite sure what defines a movie star.’ “To her, it’s all noise. My job is to stay feeling-focused, emotional, engaged, interested, and inquisitive.”
Kidman said she considered herself a character actress, and like Ball, she also embraced her power behind the screen. After launching Blossom Films over ten years ago with Per Saari (they produced rabbit hole, big little lies, The outcome, and Nine perfect strangers), the actor pledged to “follow the word” to create more opportunities with and for women. An upcoming project Roar, with a cast that includes Merritt Wever and Cynthia Erivo, singled out Apple as an enthusiastic and like-minded partner in this regard. “It’s very diverse, it’s very female-centric,” says Kidman. “It’s also a bit quirky, which is great. I’m a little eccentric, so I’m happy to support other eccentrics.
Kidman enjoyed reaching viewers through the more democratic means of streaming, and she felt the difference in the audience response. “Before COVID, people were like, ‘Can I give you a hug? I want to tell you my story. It was a very different immediate relationship that I hadn’t really had. With Portrait of a lady and Eyes wide closed, those things didn’t have that answer. They looked more like pedestal work. It’s more popular, which has been amazing.