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Nicole Kidman nabbed her fourth Oscar nomination for Lion, the true story about an adoptee in Australia who uses Google Earth to reunite with his birth family in India after 25 years. To portray Sue Brierley, the boy’s adoptive mother, in Garth Davis’ drama, the actress reverted to her signature ‘80s curls and drew on her own experience as a mother, both adoptive and biological.
The 49-year-old spoke with THR about bonding with the real-life Brierley, the challenges of supporting roles and the importance of art in trying times.
What was your first thought about the role?
There was something inside me that just went, “That’s it. I have to do this.” It was a small role and I was just like, I don’t care — I want to do it. And when I met Garth, he said, “I just would love you to do it. Sue wants you to play her, but you’ll have to have red curly hair like you used to look.” Sometimes it’s very jagged, how things comes together, but this was very fluid.
What was the most challenging part of portraying Sue?
Trying to condense so much of what she has been through into limited screen time and still do her justice. When you’re a lead, you have the time to massage and allow things to evolve. I think it’s harder to do supporting roles because you’re coming in intermittently and trying to put the weight of a whole character into a much smaller role. I have so much respect for actors who do that. Even in a day role when you come in and just nail it — that’s almost harder than being there every day, when you can build a relationship with the director, crew, everything.
How is the character similar to you?
There are many [places] where our paths cross. That’s why she said, “I wanted you to play me because I knew you’d feel what I feel.” That’s kind of extraordinary, right? We shared an enormous amount of deeply personal things with each other. We’re still very, very close — she comes to L.A. and hangs out with me. She’s very maternal toward me now, which is fantastic — I’ll take it! (Laughs.)
I think the maternal force of our natures and the unconditional love we have for our children is probably the deepest part of how we relate. And the feeling of loving whoever gave birth to the child we’ve adopted — the thread that exists between the adoptive mother and the birth mother — we feel that thread. Some say the adoptive mother may be threatened, and I don’t think that is true. The depth of their love is the purest thing. That’s an unusual thing to put into a film, but I think a lot of women feel that.
How does this idea of going to the Oscars this year compare to the other times you’ve attended?
I haven’t been nominated for a long time, so I’m thrilled to be representing Lion along with Dev [Patel]. For all of us, this film was a deeply emotional and personal movie. It’s so much about mothers and embracing cultures, and that’ll be a beautiful thing to be representing there.
What other movie has been your favorite this awards season?
So many. I loved Arrival, Moonlight, La La Land, Hidden Figures — they all represent something. I’m a huge cinephile. I saw Hell or High Water months and months ago and was thrilled they got a nomination. And so many that didn’t — I, Daniel Blake is glorious.
Is it at all bittersweet to be celebrated for your work while the focus of the world seems to be elsewhere?
No. Art is important and will always be important. And in times like these, you see why, even more so. It’s relevant, necessary and beautiful.
A version of this story first appeared in a February standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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Samuel L. Jackson