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In Hulu’s limited series Nine Perfect Strangers, a collection of (you guessed it!) nine strangers gather at Tranquillum House, an upscale wellness retreat in California operated by the beguiling Masha Dmitrichenko (Nicole Kidman). The guests (played by an ensemble that includes Melissa McCarthy, Luke Evans and Michael Shannon) have come to Tranquillum to work through their traumas. It isn’t until treatment is underway that they realize Masha is feeding them small doses of psilocybin — and their paths toward healing take some twisty turns.
Regina Hall gets to take some of the biggest swings in the series as Carmel, a single mother grieving the end of her marriage. Hall joined Kidman to speak with THR about sharing screen time (while Kidman remained in character), the experience of filming in the remote area of Byron Bay, Australia, and what they both learned about microdosing’s mental health benefits.
Nicole, this is your third project with David E. Kelly and the second based on a Liane Moriarty novel. What do you enjoy about their writing?
NICOLE KIDMAN They’re able to make something that’s entertaining but so topical, and they have completely different perspectives on the world. They’re both great writers, and you get a collaboration [that’s] always fascinating. David knows a lot about this territory in terms of entertainment — drama and comedy. And that’s what Liane balances beautifully, too. They somehow managed to put pain and comfort and healing [into a show that] you’re barely able to [wait to] tune in to the next episode.
Regina, what were you most excited about when you read the script?
REGINA HALL I was really excited to work with Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy. A lot of times, you do work with people who you’ve watched in movies for so long — there’s the part of you that’s a fan of someone’s work. But then there’s the artist part of you. I always think of acting as [a job] where you never stop learning. There are people you want to work with because it’s going to be such an experience, another experience of learning. That was really exciting and scary. It’s always good to do something you’re not quite sure of.
KIDMAN It’s meant to always be pulling the rug out from under you. It was a crazy ride. And Regina brought such pathos to the character. She would break our hearts. Regina is an amazing comedian — everyone knows that, but when you see her break your heart, wow. Give this woman her own show! Give this woman everything because she’s abundantly talented.
Your characters have a particularly contentious relationship. How did you establish your chemistry?
KIDMAN We met in character, actually — I was Masha, she was Carmel, and that’s how we collided.
HALL I met Masha — I did not meet Nicole until we wrapped and clapped for her. I discovered so much working with Nicole. On our first day, I think Nicole had a 962-page monologue. (Laughs.) Nicole did it differently, every single take, and everything she did affected [us] differently every time. She’s giving you that much to respond and react to. When the person who’s about to steer this ship comes in with that already, you know you have so many opportunities. It’s also a wonder to watch — the character is watching, and the actor is watching, and they become one.
KIDMAN I felt like I had to [stay in character] because Masha exists in a very strange place, and I wanted to be in that place all the time. It’s actually a very peaceful place to stay. [My scene partners] would have that place, too — to believe in, to get lost in, to lean into and to trust. It was a long shoot, and there were times when I was like, “Gosh, I want to be able to go and party with them.” There’s a certain discipline there so that every single one of them could have a specific response [to Masha]. Otherwise, it would have felt too actor-y, like we were putting on a performance, and I didn’t want that.
Regina, what was it like with the rest of the cast? Did you talk about Nicole — or Masha — when she wasn’t around?
HALL Every day, all of us were like, “I think Masha is coming today.” We were [always] waiting [for Masha], and it informed our characters. We talked about how great it was. We were like, “I have my scene with Masha today. Did you have yours? How’d it go?” Like, that was a big deal! “I’m going to bed early because I have Masha tomorrow.” “What did you and Masha talk about?” “What was yours like?” We were very aware that it worked better like that. It became very personal.
KIDMAN Jonathan Levine, the director, set it up that way. I kept saying, “Well, I should come in and meet everybody and rehearse.” About a week prior to shooting, [he said], “You’re not going to rehearse. I’m going to rehearse with everybody. You’re just going to [come in] and we’ll shoot the big first scene.” And that’s when I went, “OK, let’s go.” That set the tone. And we were basically in a Tranquillum-type environment because we were in Byron Bay. It was a substantial amount of time. It was trippy and weird and dreamlike.
HALL [There was] the craziest energy in that place.
KIDMAN But it’s so yummy and intoxicating. You feel like you’re definitely not shooting in L.A., right? You’re not shooting in Hawaii.
HALL It became its own character, don’t you think, Nicole? I can’t imagine it being anywhere else.
KIDMAN All I can say is, if anyone wants to go and try a little alternative therapy over there … (Laughs.)
Which is a great setup to my next question. Microdosing plays a major part in the show’s plot, and it’s a hot-button topic in the medical community. How familiar were you with that form of treatment?
KIDMAN I know so much about it now. What do you want to know? (Laughs.) First of all, I started listening to podcasts about psilocybin, and I started reading … There’s obviously a number of books on the history of it, then there’s all the research that David’s done. David had an enormous scientific approach to it. I had to understand all the different ways in which [Masha used] psilocybin, and then mixing [it] with different chemicals. It’s a really extraordinary frontier that’s being mapped out. Are you willing to try it or go into it? That’s everybody’s choice. But there’s definitely a frontier that’s worth exploring there.
There are people who are absolutely committed [to the treatment] who say it’s changed their lives. And there’s people who say, “I’ll never go near it again.” But, gosh, it definitely warrants the storytelling that cites the scientific discoveries that are being made [in that field]. I don’t have enough scientific sort of knowledge [to] suggest someone tries it, but the show certainly doesn’t come down on either side, which I thought was really fascinating. That’s all tricky to write. You can make fun of it, you can send it up, you can really destroy it with satire. But I feel that this show is actually impartial — you can make up your own mind. That’s David’s genius.
HALL I agree. Like Nicole, I did a lot of research, mostly about how my character would feel when she’s taking psychotropics. Like, how does it affect her if she’s taking a larger dose or microdosing — because Masha does big increases. I do find it fascinating, and I’ve found too that a lot of people have spoken to me about how microdosing [has helped them]. Nicole is right that the show doesn’t make a mockery of it or glamorize it — it’s just a story.
KIDMAN Masha’s methods are perhaps nontraditional, but it’s an interesting way to look into healing. I actually believe that Masha’s intentions are very pure — that’s me coming at it, though other people have different interpretations of her, but I genuinely felt that. And this comes from Liane [Moriarty]. I’d never heard of microdosing until I read the book. I was completely unaware of this subculture that exists.
As Regina said at the top of the conversation, your job as an actor is a chance to learn something new. You probably both walked away from this show with a lot of new knowledge — and maybe a lot of great dinner-party conversation.
KIDMAN Yeah, a lot of people do come up to me now and [whisper], “You know I am microdosing right now. I go, ‘Come to me, come to Masha.’ ” (Laughs.)
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a December stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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Robert De Niro