The Actress Roundtable

This awards season, all eyes are on these six talents, who launch THR’s annual series in a freewheeling discussion of career, craft and personal choices.

THR: Ultimately it's about your relationship with the director. How do you handle set conflicts?

Kidman:I don't think I've had conflict. I just become devoted. It's almost like a love affair for a certain period of time, and then I walk away and say, "What was that? What was I doing?" (Laughs.) And particularly now because my life is so good, I'm much more about, "Hmmm, do I really want to go there and not be as present for my husband and my daughter?" Because when I go there, I'm in a different world. So I don't have conflict with a director unless it's to stimulate and create something.

THR: You mentioned the challenge of balancing family and work. How do each of you reconcile that?

Kidman:I don't have the pull in the way I used to. A lot of my work before was running for my life, which was at times good and at times bad, but it was just what I was doing. My fantasy life was better than my real life. Now I suppose I'm just incredibly careful about the time because time is all we have. That's the one thing we can't make any more of.

Adams: Do you think having a kid changed that?

Kidman: Well, I had children when I was 25. [But] when you're in your 20s, it's very different, your life is very different. In your 40s, you're like, "Hmmm, I've got this amount of time left. How am I going to spend it?" I want to be very careful.

Bening: I remember the first time I was pregnant -- the desire to work went away, and the whole obsession with that went away. I thought, "Oh no, this is very scary." But then I realized it comes back. It's a cyclical thing. I was just so absorbed in being pregnant and having babies. Now I feel incredibly fortunate that I can stop and start in my work. A lot of people can't do that, so I feel very lucky. What you just said was so perfect. Even with a very good life and children and a husband and all of that, there is still something about the process when you're an actor/actress that you love, and that is something that isn't fulfilled by doing the other stuff, which is fabulous and I adore. I love that process. [But] every time I read about somebody going off and doing something, an actress particularly with kids, I think, "Now hmmm, how are they doing that? Isn't that kid in school?"


THR: Is there a role that you didn't get that you wish you had?

Bening: Oh sure. I was up for the Bertolucci movie, The Sheltering Sky. I was up for it for months, like sometimes happens, and Debra Winger is in the movie, and it's a beautiful movie.

Swank: I like to read things even when they're not offered to me. I just ask my agents to send me material.

Bonham Carter: Isn't that self-flagellation?

Swank: For me, finding really compelling, original work is few and far between, and instead of just waiting for something to come my way, I ask them to send me the material. I want to know the writers that are out there. I have a production company, so it's part of that. I don't want to ever rest on my laurels and sit back and see what comes my way. I want to fight for things that I believe in and that I want to be a part of. You know, there was a script I fell in love with back in August that was sent to me. It's a first-time director but a well-known writer, and I read the script and I said, "I want to meet you." And he was like, "OK, great." I went in and I didn't get it.

Bening: Who did?

Swank: Do you really want to know? It's Alex Kurtzman. He did all these big movies, Star Trekand Transformers, and you wouldn't think this was his movie. I'm not a real big science fiction fan, but this script (Welcome to People) is a beautiful story about a brother and a sister. (Silence.)

Bening: Amy, you got it, didn't you? (Laughter.)

Swank (to Adams): Did you read it? Did you like it?

Adams: I'm not getting into this! (Thunderous laughter.)

Swank: Amy got the role! Amy will be playing the role that I wanted! (Laughs.)

Adams: Let me just say, I'm not doing it. We don't normally talk about this!

Bening: Don't say anything you don't want to say. However, we want to know the dirt. (Laughs.)

Adams: I felt at this time with my daughter being a baby, I couldn't go there emotionally and still be there for her in the way I felt like an infant deserves.

Bening: You mean, like, sobbing and screaming and then going home?

Adams: I felt like this was my first career/mom decision, where if I went to work every day and played this girl and came home, she's not going to have me -- I'm not going to have the experience. I will miss this first year, and I can't have that back. If I'm lucky, there will be a beautiful script that will come to me at some point in my career, but I'm never getting that time back with my infant daughter.

THR: Nicole, did you worry about the emotional impact of Rabbit Hole, which is about a mother who loses her son?

Kidman:I started developing Rabbit Holeway before I was pregnant, and then I didn't want to do it when I had [daughter] Sunday. I was like, "I'm not going to make that." And then it just kept coming back, orbiting around, and we kept working on the script. Somehow I was there doing it.

THR: Natalie, have you had to fight for any particular role?

Portman: I've fought for things that I didn't get, but I feel like a director usually knows what they want. If you're fighting for something, if they're really vacillating for a long time, they usually don't know what they want, which is not a good sign. I'm such a nerdy school person. I've found documents and done research and written notes in diaries, and I never got [the part] when I did that, so that's not a good thing.

THR: What's the biggest regret of your careers?

Swank: Maybe when we didn't want to be a part of something but we were kind of forced into it. I think we've probably all done that. All we really have is our instincts and we have to live with it, and the person who may have coerced us into it, you know, may not even be in your life when the movie comes out. What I regret is when I don't trust my instincts in any part of my life, but especially in that creative process.

Adams: I regret not knowing how close a close-up is going to be. (Laughs.)

Bonham Carter: Once you are over 40, there's a certain perspective you get that I'm so grateful to have now. Because I think there's a lot of baggage you carry around with you. I just have more confidence as an actor. I'm certainly not confident with my sexuality. It took me ages to get a handle on that. And it's still kind of questionable. (Laughs.) I just want to be comfy and be happy to be a woman. I've always been a late developer, so there were lots of parts that I just was not ready for because I was a slow starter.

THR: Helena, you've made films with Tim Burton, your partner. How is the filmmaking dynamic different being together privately as well as professionally?

Bonham Carter: It's very different. I did do a film with him before I slept with him, and it's very different. We went through a really bad time on Sweeney Todd.

Kidman: Which you were amazing in.

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