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I saw my first Stanley Kubrick movie in Sydney when I was 13 or 14: A Clockwork Orange. (I used to “wag school,” or play hooky.) It kind of went over my head, but I was deeply disturbed. I saw The Shining when it came out, and I was making out in the back row. I told that to Stanley — he really loved that! I saw Lolita when Gus Van Sant wanted me to watch it as prep for To Die For. And I delved into 2001: A Space Odyssey with Tom [Cruise, Kidman’s husband at that time], who was a Kubrick cinemaphile. He talked me through it, and I was flabbergasted by Kubrick’s greatness.
So by the time I went to meet him for Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick was already a god to me. The strange thing about Stanley was, there’s all the mythology — but when you got to know him, he was practical and logical. Very well-educated. He was incredibly challenging and stimulating. I would throw ideas at him, and he’d break it all down, and I’d change my opinion. We’d fight about the differences between men and women; he loved that stuff. I wasn’t scared of him. He could get irritated by people. I was allowed to go in his office and read his books.
On his films, he did everything: fix the sound machine, operate the camera. He even sort of handled the wardrobe — for all his dressing low-key, Stanley actually loved clothes.
The most important thing to Stanley was time. My approach to the two-year shoot was actually very Zen. Tom and I thought, “We’re so lucky, we’ve gotten to spend two years with the master.” Stanley said the film was finished — but if he had more time, who knows how it would have morphed.
People thought that making the film was the beginning of the end of my marriage — but I don’t really think it was. Tom and I were close then, and it was very much the three of us. Onscreen, the husband and wife are at odds, and Stanley wanted to use our marriage as a supposed reality. That was Stanley: He used the movie as provocation, pretending it was our sex life. Which we weren’t oblivious to, but obviously it wasn’t us. We both decided to dedicate ourselves to a great filmmaker and artist.
Stanley had to coax me into some of the sexuality in the film in the beginning, but we shot things that were a lot more extreme that didn’t end up in the movie. I did feel safe — I never felt it was exploitive or unintelligent. He was very different with women than he was with men. He has daughters, so he was very paternal with me.
There was a lot of interest in Eyes Wide Shut before it was released. But the weekend it came out, July 16, 1999, was the death of JFK Jr., his wife and her sister — a black, black weekend. And for Stanley to have died [on March 7, 1999, at age 70] before the film opened … well, it all felt so dark and strange. Stanley had sent over the cut he considered done to us, Tom and I watched it in New York — and then he died. The next morning, I got the phone call. That was one of the worst calls — I just started screaming; I had Isabella and Connor in the kitchen with me. Tom and I immediately got on a plane. The funeral was so traumatic. I truly loved Stanley and felt very connected to him. He was in our lives intensely for about four years.
People have asked me if Stanley ever told us what Eyes Wide Shut was about — and the answer is no. He didn’t believe in interpretation. He always said, “Never say no to an idea — you never know how that idea will ignite another idea.” He also said: “Never put me on a pedestal. When someone’s on a pedestal, there’s no creativity.” That’s how I approach every creative person now — it does not help to glorify them.
I see Stanley as a great philosopher of the human condition, like Socrates was in his time. That’s what von Trier, Daldry, Campion and Stanley are. We need these kinds of filmmakers. People rarely read now. Philosophical ideas are coming from cinema. I try to be supportive of artists who question everything. It’s optimum to work with someone trying to shift things, to give us a greater understanding of why we’re here, what we are. When you’re working with someone like that, as Stanley was, it’s an honor.
As told to Merle Ginsberg
STANLEY KUBRICK AT LACMA: The retrospective of the director’s work includes clips, props, fine-art inspirations and correspondence from films ranging from Dr. Strangelove (1964) and The Shining (1980) to unmade projects like Napoleon. On Oct. 27, LACMA will honor Kubrick and painter Ed Ruscha at the 2012 Art + Film Gala, co-chaired by Leonardo DiCaprio and Eva Chow and with a tribute by Steven Spielberg. Exhibit runs from Nov. 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013
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