SAG Awards Preview: Nicole Kidman

 Andrew Macpherson/Corbis Outline

Nicole Kidman steps onto the terrace of the Beverly Hills Hotel's Bar Nineteen 12. It's early morning, and her long red hair is still damp from the shower. She's had no time to blow-dry it; rather, she'd had to cope with the kind of crisis any mother can identify with.

"I'm in the shower and I look out, and Sunday [her daughter, Sunday Rose] has climbed up the little stepladder in my dressing room!" she says. "I'm like, 'Sunday, freeze!' " She laughs. "I said to Keith [Urban, her husband], 'We're just barely getting by every day without some massive accident.' "

Massive accidents are not what one might associate with Kidman, 43, the Oscar-winning star of The Hours; ex-wife of Tom Cruise; and now the producer and lead actress of Rabbit Hole, an independent film about a couple who lose their child that she pretty much got off the ground through sheer force of will.

Kidman was intrigued by a review of Rabbit Hole -- then a Pulitzer-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire -- and sent her producing partner, Per Saari, to New York to check it out. They ended up optioning the play, with the caveat that Lindsay-Abaire would adapt.

Putting together the rest of her team, Kidman enlisted Aaron Eckhart, whose performance in Erin Brockovich she'd admired, to play her grieving husband, and hired director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) after a simple phone conversation.

"I didn't even need to see his face," she says. "He's deeply artistic and deeply sensitive, and that bleeds through. Per and I knew we could give him our baby."

Leslie Urdang came in to co-produce and brought money with her. But then a massive accident, of sorts, did indeed take place.

"The big crash happened," Kidman says, speaking of the economic collapse, "and suddenly everyone was like, 'No one is going to want to make a film like this, or see [it].' We had to slash the budget. If a financier read it and connected with it, we knew we were going to be able to convince them. But there were others that read it, and it just didn't connect."

Meanwhile, Kidman signed to star in Woody Allen's You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, a pot that was sweetened when her longtime friend, Naomi Watts, was set to co-star. Then the financing for Rabbit Hole came through.

Says Kidman: "I was like, 'OK, this is meant to be; there are other forces working here. For some reason, the money is becoming available to us, so we're meant to make it now.' "

With Allen's blessing, Kidman withdrew from Stranger to concentrate on Rabbit. It was a labor of love: She put most of the $10 million budget into the production rather than above-the-line, meaning that talent had to make do with very little.

"There were times I was embarrassed because I didn't have more to give them in terms of the accoutrements," she says. That even applied to film stock; the movie was shot using a digital camera "because it was cheaper." There wasn't even room in the budget for costume doubles, so Kidman joked with the cast to "wear a bib" when they ate lunch. 

"We lived in the house that we shot in, shared the bathrooms and had these blow-up beds," she recalls. "On location, we used schools. At one point, I was in a headmistress' office, getting changed behind a little curtain."

The dark subject matter didn't make the shoot any easier.

"A lot of things were unpleasant and difficult," she notes. "It wasn't like: 'Oh great! I can't wait to go to work!' [But] this role was so in my molecular makeup, I just got it."

Kidman says the natural inclination was to play the anguish wildly, but she understood that the real struggle for Becca, her character, was to get back to day-to-day living after such a loss.

"It's, 'How do I live each minute when the days are so long and I'm so alone?' " she asks. She pauses. "Certainly, I have references for those in a massive way." 

Kidman says that even when she won her Oscar, it was a more lonely experience than she'd imagined. "I realized how alone I was, because I had no one to share it with," she says of that night. "Those moments are about sharing. I had my mom and I had [daughter] Bella, who was 10 years old, sitting in the front row -- but that's different. I'm talking about a love, a life partner. It's my thrust to have that. That's always been me."

With this film, the actress had given birth to Sunday 11 months before the shoot, but because of the film's sensitive subject matter, she didn't want her baby on set.

"I've never done that before, but on this film, I couldn't have her anywhere near," she says. "There's so much emotion attached to that little girl, anyway. Sunday has been very, very healing for me."

Kidman pauses. "I've walked in places through that character's psyche that are the most terrifying places I would ever want to walk through."

The SAG Awards
Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles
Sunday, Jan. 30

The 17th annual SAG Awards nominations, selected by the guild's eligible members via online balloting, will be announced at 6 a.m. PT Thursday, Dec. 16, from the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles. For the first time, the awards ceremony will be simulcast live in all time zones at 5 p.m. PT Sunday, Jan. 30, allowing West Coast viewers their first opportunity to watch the event as it happens. Ernest Borgnine will receive SAG's 47th Life Achievement Award for his career and humanitarian accomplishments.

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