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Talented, beautiful, successful, happily married (and organising to have a baby), Nicole Kidman doesn’t look or behave as you might expect from someone who is drawn to perform roles in the darkest corners of the human condition. But she had a good reason, which she explains to Andrew L. Urban.

She extends her hand for a shake and happily shares our inevitable joke when I greet her as Mrs Urban. “Ah yes, Mr Urban,” she says with a laugh. I bet Keith has never mentioned me, I say in mock hurt. “But his mother has!” she jokes back.

When she begins to talk about Rabbit Hole, the first film she has produced, it’s quickly evident that Kidman has a serious investment of energy and perhaps even reputation in her debut as a film producer. It’s a low budget film and not an obviously commercial enterprise heading to the multiplexes, dealing as it does with a subject that Hollywood is a little wary of: the loss of a child by loving parents. 

It was precisely the subject matter’s unstated question, however, that attracted Kidman to the work, originally a Broadway play by David Lindsay-Abaire, in which Becca (Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) lose their 4 year old son when a teenage driver, Jason (Miles Teller) accidentally runs him down. 

"the most unbearable loss"

“How do we live our lives when we’re given things that are incredibly painful, when we’re given loss … how do still choose to live,” she says. “With all that I’ve been through in my life that somehow connects with me. This story tells what it’s like 8 months down the track from what is probably the most unbearable loss you can have.”

But in the end, she says “the film is about a marriage - and it’s hopeful.”

Kidman isn’t able to articulate exactly what it is in her own life that draws her to such themes, although she admits to having “always circled around these emotions in other films. 

“It strikes some sort of raw nerve in me, the material, so strangely enough the preparation for the role was minimal; we didn’t even rehearse really, just sat around and talked. Aaron and I mapped out our history as a couple and that sort of thing but in terms of actually doing the scenes, (director) John (Cameron Mitchell) wanted to wait until we had a camera because you could feel it was all just there. And that comes from being a mother and whatever it is that I connect to within this material.”

It wasn’t the usual routine in which Kidman’s agent is sent a script with an offer of a role. She had read a New York Times review of the play and began to pursue it, along with her producing partner, the equally young and inexperienced Per Saari.

"I learnt so much in the process"

“Per Saari and I have what people call a production company (Blossom Films), but it’s just the two of us with a laptop and a couple of phones … we just learnt as we went along. I learnt so much in the process. We brought in a more experienced producer, Leslie Urdang who had worked on low budget films and she also brought money to the table – half the budget actually. We made the film for US$3.5 million and it was completely hands on.” 

They were lucky – or clever – to have made their move early for the film rights. 

“The reason I was producer is because that was the only way it could get made. It wasn’t like people were knocking down the playwright’s door to buy the film rights. I was astounded when we approached him – after reading the review of the play – that it wasn’t sold. Most plays on Broadway are optioned before they’re even staged. Then the play went on to win the Pulitzer and won the Tony Award and that’s when people got more interested. But by then we had secured the rights.” 

We had to make compromises all along the line. We couldn’t get the Al Green song we wanted, for example, they wanted too much money, so we chose a cheaper Al Green song (Lay It Down)… we didn’t shoot on film which I and the director wanted, but the other producers won that battle so we used the Red (digital) camera.”

But once production started, Kidman took off her producer’s hat and left the daily tussles to her three fellow producers, “so I could just go and disappear.” Kidman didn’t even see any of the daily rushes; “as an actress I don’t see dailies but I knew exactly what we had, I knew every take.” Her performance has earned her both a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination.

"a certain confidence"

A novice producer she may be, but Kidman felt a certain confidence just from the sheer volume of film work she has done. “And I’ve worked with what people classify as the most difficult directors [laughs] so I’m used to balancing things.”

Her co-star Aaron Eckhart is a known quantity, a fine actor who manages to convey emotions with plenty of nuance and whose humour and intelligence are evident. He also teams well with Kidman. But it was newcomer Miles Teller who has attracted attention with this role.

“John (Cameron Mitchell, director) saw a lot of boys for the key role of Jason, and we agreed he would send me the tapes of his top two or three choices. After about two weeks he said he thinks he’s found the boy … ‘he hasn’t really done anything so I’m going to send you three boys and let’s see which one you pick,’ he said. When I looked at them, I went, oh my God! The boy with the scar on his neck! And that was the Miles, the boy John had picked.”

Cameron Mitchell later told Kidman that Miles had been in a car accident in which his friend was killed – that’s where the scar comes from “and John said, that’s why I think he con give this performance. And he blushed in the audition … that’s so hard for an actor to do.”

Once shooting began, “it was a matter of protecting him, keeping him away from the set,” says Kidman, “to keep him a kind of virgin to the process, so he could give the kind of performance he gave at the audition – and he did that. Of course he’s now quite different, because he’s done a load Footloose and a whole bunch of other things, and he’s an extremely confident 23 year old … (he was 21 when we did the movie).”

"a Russian Roulette experience"

The first time Kidman saw the finished film with an audience was at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival. “We hadn’t sold the movie anywhere, so it was a bit of a Russian Roulette experience – if this doesn’t go well, it’s all over. I don’t usually sit through my films but they said you have to sit there, you’re the producer. Ah yes of course, of course… For the first 15 minutes I was just dying … and then I heard them laugh…and I thought, oh my gosh, maybe they’re with it. 

“And then a bit more laughter and by the end of the film you could hear people sobbing and then they cheered, and I went WOW! Maybe we’re going to sell it! It was amazing! Amazing!” she repeats it for emphasis. “And that’s the difference between just showing up and performing in a movie and nurturing it from a tiny idea all the way through. It’s fun – well, it’s fun when it works like this!”

Published February 17, 2011

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