In 'Rabbit Hole,' Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart explore the intersection of grief and rage

In "Rabbit Hole," Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play a couple devastated after their son is killed.
In "Rabbit Hole," Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart play a couple devastated after their son is killed. (Jojo Whilden/associated Press)
By Matt Hurwitz
Special to the Washington Post
Friday, December 17, 2010; 4:19 PM

There's no way around it. We all eventually lose somebody. We are going to grieve. And some of us are better at it than others.

In "Rabbit Hole," opening on Christmas Day, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) Corbett have suffered a tragedy. Eight months earlier, their 4-year-old son, Danny, dashed into the street after the family dog and was killed by a car driven by a teenager.

Most movies about grief start with the tragedy and go from there. "Rabbit Hole" picks up months down the road, when friends have stopped coming by. Grief goes on nonetheless. "They're both in very different places," Kidman said in a recent telephone interview. "Every person has a different path."

Kidman, who also produced the film through her own Blossom Films, had stumbled upon a review of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire four years ago, while having coffee with her husband, Keith Urban, one morning at a Nashville Starbucks.

"It sounded so poignant," she said. "They just said it was so real and authentic. And they're the sort of stories that I'm drawn to."

She immediately inquired about it, and found its film rights had not been acquired. The actress had done one film, "Birth," which dealt with loss and grief, a few years prior. "I still felt there was a lot of uncharted territory for me, in terms of grief," she said. "There's so few films that deal with this subject matter with such ferocious delicacy."

The subject also appealed to director John Cameron Mitchell. "I lost my 4-year-old brother when I was 14," Mitchell said. "He had a heart problem from birth, but it was still a surprise. It's colored all of our lives forever. So I think I had some unfinished business about that."

The director cried when he read the script. "It's not that I felt I wanted to do this movie, but that I had to do it," he said.

Shooting the film in New York City on a budget of only $5 million, the production staff found a house in Douglaston, a suburban neighborhood on the edge of Queens, to be the home base for the actors and crew for six weeks. "John actually lived there the whole time," Kidman said. Both she and Eckhart spent time together there with Mitchell and the other actors (including Dianne Wiest, who plays Becca's mother, Nat), exploring their characters.

"When you're playing a married couple, you've got to spend time together," Kidman said. "It was a lot of talking, eating meals together. With this kind of movie, that's really the rehearsal process - to create a comfort."

"Nicole and I were never more than 10 feet away from each other," Eckhart added. The crew also became part of the family, always aware of what was going on with the actors. "They knew when there was going to be a lot of yelling and crying that day," he said.

Howie attends a grief recovery group with other couples; Becca begrudgingly goes, but eventually bows out, preferring, to her husband's chagrin, to make vain attempts at moving on with life without Danny - which her psyche, unfortunately, isn't quite ready to permit.

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