Nicole Kidman: "Society Tells Us That We Need to Be Less Smart to Get Further"

AP Images

The actress is honored alongside Jill Soloway, Ava DuVernay, Kate Mara and Sue Kroll at Women in Film's annual Crystal + Lucy Awards.

When Nicole Kidman was 14 years old, she turned down a chance to work with a then-unknown director named Jane Campion. The reason, Kidman says, made sense to her at the time — even if the fledgling actress had to tell a boldfaced lie to wiggle out of the opportunity.

“My excuse was that I had my final exams to study for, but the truth is that the part would’ve required me to appear onscreen wearing a shower cap and kissing another girl,” Kidman relayed about Campion’s short film, titled A Girl’s Own Story. “But I wanted to be the kind of actress who had long flowing hair and kissed boys. I was not ready to do the kind of work that would threaten people. Well, today, I know better.”

It was at precisely that moment when the 47-year-old actress pulled out a prop onstage where she was accepting the Crystal Award for Excellence in Film during Women in Film’s annual Crystal + Lucy Awards inside the Hyatt Regency Plaza in Century City. It was a shower cap and she twirled it around her finger while the crowd of (mostly female) industry-types laughed and cheered.

There was plenty of applause during the three-hour event, which honored the following names: Transparent creator Jill Soloway (the Lucy Award for Excellence in Television presented by Judith Light); Selma director Ava DuVernay (the BMW Dorothy Arzner Directors Award presented by Phylicia Rashad); actress Kate Mara (the Women In Film Max Mara Face of the Future Award presented by MaxMara’s Nicola Maramotti); Warner Bros. president of worldwide marketing and international distribution Sue Kroll (the Tiffany & Co./Bruce Paltrow Mentorship Award presented by Sandra Bullock); and ICM Partners agent Toni Howard (the Sue Mengers Award presented by Laura Linney).

Kidman, in a glittery long-sleeved Nina Ricci creation, was the final honoree to take to the stage, where longtime best friend Naomi Watts said that her peer’s work has not threatened anyone; instead it has inspired artists everywhere. “This is not a fair-weather friend. Your friendship and your loyalty are unwavering,” Watts said during a five-minute introduction. “(Nicole is) highly spirited, has an infectious laugh and always is up for a good time. And when I say good time, I mean a good time. Good times, indeed. Wild times actually!”

Kidman proved Watts point by wrangling her friend of more than 30 years into donning a shower cap in the last seconds of her acceptance speech for a parting kiss that had the audience howling — proving that she has learned a lot from turning down Campion early in her career. But before that wild moment, Kidman spoke from the heart by acknowledging many who have supported or influenced her along the way. Those included her husband Keith Urban (who was in the audience), Meryl Streep, Paula Wagner (who “never apologized for having a point of view”), Laura Ziskin, Amy Pascal, Sherry Lansing, Leslee Dart, Michelle Benson, Catherine Olim, Leslie Urdang, Lauren Bacall, and “so many men.”

One of those men was present — Kidman’s agent of 23 years, CAA’s Kevin Huvane. She praised his dedication to fighting “like crazy” to push the career trajectory his roster of female clients as they age, A-listers like Bullock, Sarah Jessica Parker and Julianne Moore.

“Women are too susceptible to the voice that tells us that we need to be acceptable. Society tells us that we need to be less smart to get further. Unthreatening and someone who is good marriage material," Kidman said. "I don’t regret much — I try not to live that way — but the regrets I do have go back to the decisions I’ve made out of fear. Fear of my own … power.”

Mara might not have been afraid, although she was admittedly nervous as the first of the night’s award recipients to take to the stage. Lively and engaged host Maria Bello noted that she was the honoree of the same award 10 years ago. Other actresses who’ve been lauded by WIF and MaxMara include Rose Byrne, Hailee Steinfeld, Chloe Grace Moretz, Katie Holmes, Zoe Saldana, Elizabeth Banks, Ginnifer Goodwin and Emily Blunt.

Maramotti presented Mara with her trophy, joking that the actress’s last name “is pure coincidence” and adding that thanks to her resume, which includes Netflix’s critically acclaimed House of Cards, “she is a goddess among binge viewers.”

On stage, Mara said she was “incredibly honored and humbled and very surprised to be accepting this award in front of such talented inspirational women, and a few men. “I stand up here in awe of so many familiar faces and unfamiliar faces whose careers I have followed,” she added, before telling a cute story of how she had wanted to be an actress since the age of 9 when she would leave notes under her mother’s pillow asking her to help her find an agent. “I can honestly say that I feel the exact same excitement and same passion that I had back then.”

The night featured a surprise appearance from Kristen Stewart, who did not walk the red carpet, instead taking a turn in the spotlight from the stage where she introduced the brain behind the Twilight Saga, Stephanie Meyer. Together, the two announced a group of eight female filmmakers who had been selected to direct a series of short films based on the Twilight universe. Dubbed "The Storytellers — New Creative Voices of The Twilight Saga," the project is presented by Lionsgate, Facebook, WIF, Tongal, and Meyer. The winning short films will debut on Facebook in mid-July.

Meanwhile, Linney flew in from New York to present the night’s only new award to ICM's Toni Howard who took home the inaugural Sue Mengers Award, named for the late legendary agent and established to honor a Hollywood talent rep. Longtime client Linney, whom Howard has repped 18 years, praised her agent’s boundless spirit, fierce dedication, humor and bracing candor. “I pity anyone who disrespects her clients,” Linney joked, before adding that Howard’s “religion is Hollywood — the entire circus of it.” On a more serious note, she concluded, “Toni Howard knows how to love and loves in return.”

Many of her longtime clients clearly love her back because they showed up in a video presentation to honor Howard, including James Spader, Tim Robbins, Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, Michael Caine, Michael Keaton, Bobby Cannavale and Candice Bergen.

“There’s no point in me having a memorial service now,” the petite Howard joked upon taking the stage. Another joke: “None of you know this, but they put an apple box down for me to stand on, the same as when I graduated from eighth grade. I still have not grown.”

Howard explained that she was especially humbled to receive the award because agents are so “rarely acknowledged” in public. The veteran negotiator detailed her early start in the business by noting that when she was 5 years old, she sold Christmas cards and wrapping paper in Jewish neighborhoods to record results that have yet to be surpassed. “I was born to be an agent,” she said, and clearly an agent at ICM where she’s been employed 25 years. “They let me be me — the good, the bad and the ugly.”

In closing, Howard turned the talk back to Mengers. “Let’s toast Sue, even though she would be happier if we were all smoking weed.”

Rashad then doled out the BMW Dorothy Arzner Directors Award to her friend Duvernay, dubbing her “a phenomenon” for her skill in telling stories in an unexpected way. DuVernay returned the love to Rashad at the podium before turning her attention towards other artists in an effort to shine a light on those who sometimes get forgotten along the way. That list includes Arzner, whom DuVernay noted was an accomplished filmmaker who edited her first film in 1919. 

DuVernay then recounted a story of how she brought director Euzhan Palcy to a Sundance event a few weeks ago, but few in the crowd even knew who she was despite the fact that Palcy "was the first black woman to have a film produced by Hollywood" in 1989 and "was the first black woman to direct an actor to an acting nomination" via Marlon Brando and her film A Dry White Season. 

"There's a whole cadre of women filmmakers in this industry, but if you're not in the present moment or on the cover of InStyle, they become less than," DuVernay said. "That's on us to make sure they are included. The past is our gift." 

The filmmaker then admitted that she's taking her own advice in 2015 by having set a New Year's resolution to listen to the stories of "my people," and that starts with her own family. She then quoted poet Nayyirah Waheed by reciting her poem: "'I love myself.' The quietest. Simplest. Most Powerful. Revolution. Ever.”

There was nothing quiet about Bullock's introduction of Kroll. In fact, the room basically erupted when the actress said this: "There's so much power in this room, we are going to be on the same menstrual cycle."

On a more professional note, Bullock praised Kroll’s stature within the industry and her tenacity in pushing her film Gravity to astronomical heights at the box office. “She’s greatly responsible for it’s success,” Bullock noted, adding that Kroll’s efforts overall have generated “billions of dollars for Warner Bros.”

There was quite an impressive turnout for Kroll’s tribute video, including her Warners colleagues Kevin Tsujihara and Greg Silverman along with Tom Cruise, Reese Witherspoon, Ben Affleck, Bradley Cooper, George Miller, Baz Luhrmann, Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder, Nancy Meyers, Jules Daly, Toby Emmerich and Paula Weinstein.

In a black lace Oscar de la Renta dress, Kroll took the crowd on a quick tour of her career, starting at the age of 15 when she got her first job at a Burger King in New Jersey, through to her passion of all things film at Warners. She credited her mother, Dorothy Kroll, with instilling a drive for success at an early age. "She’d say, ‘Susie. You have to set goals, devise ways to achieve goals and then achieve goals.' I was 5," Kroll noted before turning her attention towards the importance of her particular award. "Mentoring is so critical to the future of our industry, particularly for women. Women bring a unique perspective to this business. And when we work alongside men, that dynamic range of voices enhances our ability to do great things. I truly believe that when one woman succeeds, it inspires others."

Transparent actress Light presented to her boss by saying that she has the power to change hearts, minds and culture through the ground-breaking Amazon show, but “not necessarily in that order,” and has done so by “transforming television and the world and saving lives.”

In accepting, Soloway cheered feminism for "actually having a moment." She also heaped praise on her inner circle that includes her mother, Elaine Soloway, her sister, Faith ("She is liquid faith"), producing partner Andrea Sperling ("She's like a Mafia boss") and DuVernay.

She said she phoned DuVernay for advice around the time of the release of Soloway's film Afternoon Delight, and Duvernay helped remind her that you have to “build the bridge out in front of you, like those cartoon bridges when you lay the slats out as you go” as a form of helping other women to pave the road that isn’t yet there.

“We’re starting from scratch,” Solloway said. “And protagonism is privilege. That’s another thing I learned from you, Ava. Women deserve the privilege of protagonism and that means writing, directing, acting, telling our own stories, getting behind the camera and expressing how it feels to be ourselves.”

She continued: “As a director, I really came into my own when I started bringing a respect for my own femininity to work. ... That’s my vertebrae as a woman — to hold space for others and to know that’s all I needed to do as a director, as a filmmaker, a showrunner and I had it all along, like the ruby slippers."

The night’s other remarks came from WIF L.A. president Cathy Schulman and WIF L.A. executive director Kirsten Schaffer. (Schulman produced the event along with Tony Schubert and his Event Eleven.) Presenting sponsors included Max Mara, BMW and Tiffany & Co. Other guests included WIF L.A. president emerita and event chair Iris Grossman, Angie Harmon, Amy Landecker, Constance Zimmer, Kelli Garner, Lake Bell, Melora Hardin, Mena Suvari and others.