Emmys 2012: Nicole Kidman's American Accent Is Still a Work in Progress
The Hollywood Reporter: How much did you know about war correspondent Martha Gellhorn before doing this film?
Nicole Kidman: I didn't know anything about her, unfortunately. I did a crash course on her. Director Philip Kaufman provided many avenues for research -- I was able to watch film of her, look at photos, read her letters. There was so much access to Martha's mind and behavior, but it required an enormous amount of reading and studying; also, learning more about Hemingway, the Spanish Civil War, what ignited the Second World War. But my main goal was to absorb Martha's brilliance.
THR: You've played many roles in which you showcase a very convincing American accent. Do you still have to practice this regularly while you're shooting?
Kidman: Yes. I worked with Tim Monich, who's a fantastic dialect coach I've known for so many years. We studied Martha when she was an older woman. There are interviews she did with the BBC, and we took them as the basis of her accent. But by that time, she had a very British accent, so we had to take some of those sounds out. You know, all of this stuff is … if you have to do it, it's like preparing your thesis: an enormous amount of studying and preparation.
THR: It sounds as if this film was like going to graduate school for you.
Kidman: (Laughs.) Yes, exactly! Like I did my thesis on Martha Gellhorn … and a little bit of Hemingway. I feel like as long as I can do all of that groundwork, I can go and be freer in the character. Then you're the expert. During shooting, I could say, "You know, this or that is more authentic to her true nature." At one point, Phil said: "Well, she's yours now. You've really morphed into her." It was especially beautiful playing her as an older woman, too.
THR: How did it feel to see yourself as the older Martha, complete with dramatic aging makeup?
Kidman: A little freaky. I was like: "Oh God, what happened to my life? I'm so old." At the same time, I was so inside of her by that stage -- I was smoking all the time, walking like her -- I just kind of existed in that place of being that age. And I didn't talk to anybody out of character. Her voice sort of came with it. When you hear those BBC interviews -- she drank and smoked an enormous amount -- you hear that deep voice. I love it because it's such a lived-in, tired voice. Originally, those scenes when I'm older were scheduled to shoot midway through production, but I asked whether we could shoot them at the end. By then, I felt I'd lived her life, so it was easier.
THR: You had great chemistry with Clive Owen, who plays a convincing Ernest Hemingway, her tempestuous lover and husband.
Kidman: Thank you. I loved that he didn't pull punches or choose the "safe" route. He really went for it. He's a very, very smart actor. Also, it helped that Philip, Clive and I were very, very tight. You really want to be bonded, you know?
THR: How big is Philip on rehearsing?
Kidman: Well, we definitely talked a lot, went to dinner a lot. Then we'd run scenes and talk about them. He's very collaborative, and he loves actors -- he really loves actors. You can also feel the love he felt for Martha. He loves strong women who are going to push the boundaries and not conform. You see that in a lot of his movies, and I adore him for that because I'm very committed to those sort of roles, too.
THR: There is a lot of alcohol consumption in this movie. Were there any days on set when you didn't have to pretend that you were inebriated?
Kidman: (Laughs.) No. But I've definitely never played a part like this, ever. As Philip says, Martha often out-Hemingway'd Hemingway with the drinking.
This is your first Emmy nomination. How does it feel to be invited to the show?
Kidman: I'm blown away. I'm absolutely thrilled and excited to attend. I actually just got back from the Olympics. We only saw the Opening Ceremony, but it was amazing. Now that I'm home, I really have to focus on getting an Emmy dress.