The Two Sides of Nicole Kidman

"Margot at the Wedding," with Kidman and Zane Pais, opens Wednesday. (By Ken Regan ¿ 2007 Paramount Vantage)
By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 16, 2007

In her 39th year, leading lady Nicole Kidman chose exactly two roles for herself.

Both of them pathologically messed-up women who destroy the things that should be dearest. Both of them mothers who make you want to reach through the screen and ferry their children into safer arms.

She chose to work for all of two months and three weeks last year, and that's the body of work she chose.

Celebrity watchers are likely to do an awful lot of armchair analysis about what that means coming from a woman who has spent the past few years entrenched in the personal drama of her becoming the former Mrs. Tom Cruise and the current Mrs. Keith Urban all while continuing to be one of the most famous names and faces in Hollywood. For her part, Kidman is happy to leave the psychoanalysis to others.

Acting is "a very, very small part of my life now," she says. "I mean, I live in Tennessee and have a place in Australia. I have a very separate life . . . a very full, very rich life that extends far beyond the film industry."

If anything, the two roles she chose -- in "Margot at the Wedding," out Wednesday, and next month's "The Golden Compass" -- seem a testament to how far removed her professional life is from the rest of her existence.

In "Margot," the anticipated follow-up to writer-director Noah Baumbach's "The Squid and the Whale," Kidman plays an inept and emotionally abusive mother to a son on the verge of adolescence. In reality, she balked at that behavior and is public about her desire for another child, in addition to the two she adopted with Cruise.

In "The Golden Compass," the adaptation of Philip Pullman's first book in a children's adventure trilogy, she's the embodiment of evil, fiercely hungry for power, even if it comes at the expense of her young daughter. In reality, Kidman says she is striving for very little: "I'm really just trying to keep my husband and I, and our own inch, in a little bubble."

Her choices, she explains, are far more visceral than strategic. "I don't sit around and go, 'Oh, I've got to find this, or I've got to do that.' I just read and I respond," she says in a voice made hoarse and tired by a sinus infection. She is being ferried around Manhattan, her cell service fading in and out as horns blare in the background. It's hard to imagine a world less of her making. This, she says chuckling, "is not my thing."

But playing characters that audiences are not likely to find endearing definitely is her thing. "I think that's part of the great thing about making films where people aren't necessarily behaving in the way that's considered acceptable in our society," she explains. "How do we look at that? How do we understand that? And does that give us more understanding and more compassion in a way?"

Kidman is hopeful that the entire "Golden Compass" trilogy will be made, so there's time for that character, too, to take on more depth and humanity.

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