Even when faced with a room full of blood-thirsty journalists at a press conference for her new movie, actress Nicole Kidman remains glamorous and graceful, always looking as pristine as a china doll. In Noah (The Squid and the Whale) Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding she gets to put all that glamour aside to portray Margot Zeller, a sharp-tongued short story writer visiting her estranged sister Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) with her son Claude (Zane Pais), but when Margot meets Pauline’s unemployed fiance Malcolm (Jack Black), it puts the chances of the sisters being friends again to the ultimate test, often to comic results. It’s a movie that uses a similar M.O. as Baumbach’s previous award-winning indie film, but definitely more focused on women and their issues this time.
ComingSoon.net was at Kidman’s press conference for the film where, as expected, questions ran the gamut though mostly dealt with her movies.
ComingSoon.net: Presuming that you’re nothing like Margot, what was the key for you to find that character?
Nicole Kidman: I think Noah’s real strong understanding of what he had written; and I also wanted to work with Ann Roth again, whom I worked with on “The Hours” and she did “Cold Mountain” with me. She’s the costume designer and one of the greats in the world and she really works well with me. She’s able to find pieces of clothing and helps me with the walk and all of things that you need to change and she gave me the pair of wool socks and that cardigan and I was able to walk around when we were rehearsing and somehow triggered the whole feeling for the whole movie for me. I was just able to walk around in socks and no shoes in the house and gave a casual feel and also the glasses that she gave me. I also worked with a dialect coach because Margot is such a New Yorker and even though I’ve lived in New York all my life, it’s still something that intimidates me a little bit; particularly a writer who’s an intellectual. That can be intimidating, so to play her I had to just sort of jump off and say, “Ok, I can do this.” Ann Roth and Noah both gave me a lot of confidence and Scott Rudin, the producer.
CS: Did Ann find the hat for you?
Kidman: Yes, she did and grabbed it and said, “Perfect.” I tend to work with the same people. I’m doing a film at the moment in Australia with Baz Luhrmann, with whom I did “Moulin Rouge!” and I’m back with a lot of the same crew that I have worked with from when I was a kid. Most of these people that I’m working with now in Australia have known me since I was 16 years old. Yeah, I realize that I’ve been around a while.
CS: Can you talk about working with Jennifer (Jason Leigh) and establishing the relationship as sisters?
Kidman: Jennifer and I have done a lot of work and are very passionate about what we do. We take it really seriously and I can say now “I’m an actor and that’s okay.” I don’t have to apologize for that. I think that when you step into the rehearsal process together and you know you only have two weeks, we immediately started to be tactile and we started to open up secrets to each other. It’s so lovely to work with someone that just gets it; that works on that deep level and is willing to work on that level, isn’t freaked out by it and has such an enormous knowledge of her craft and is willing to share it. It’s rare to be given two female characters in a movie that requires that kind of commitment and it was lovely to be able to watch her, stand back and go “You’re just so talented and I’m so glad that your husband has written such a great role.” It was lovely and to see him supporting her in that way, I think they will make some wonderful films together in the future as well and hopefully we have another union like (John) Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands.
CS: Was there anything in the film that you could relate to the relationship you have with your own sister?
Kidman: That was one of the things that attracted me. I don’t want to do the things that I know. I’m interested in the psychology of what I don’t know. I’m interested in learning the human mind, and different peoples’ natures and the way in which we play that out. That fascinates me. Human beings fascinate me, so my own references are probably less interesting to me. My relationship with my own sister I’ve talked about it, and we’re joined I would say. We’re twin-like in our relationship. She’s a huge part of my life and I wouldn’t have got through parts of my life without her and she would say the same thing about me. The combativeness of this relationship, this sibling relationship is what interested me because I think it’s fascinating when you have this expectation because you are family that you should be getting along. There’s a lot of people in this room and in the world that can say, “I don’t get along with my family and I should and I’m trying but for whatever reason, just because we have the same blood running through us, doesn’t mean that we necessarily have the same chemistry together” and that’s fascinating to me. I like being part of storytelling that sort of explores human psychology.
CS: Margot’s sister characterizes her as someone who changes her mind a lot. Do you think that Margot is emotionally unstable or chemically unbalanced?
Kidman: I think she’s having a breakdown, coping with that and the way in which she’s reacting and behaving is very much an indicator of things turning into turmoil. I think what’s wonderful about Noah’s writing is that he’s wickedly funny. He’s dealing with disturbing parts of family life and he’s able to bring humor and I’ve always been attracted to things like that. I made a film, “To Die For,” which was a pretty dark subject matter; but it was done with such humor and Buck Henry was able to balance that and I think Noah has some similar attributes that Buck Henry and I think they are both great writers.
CS: You mentioned that she’s going through a breakdown
Kidman: She’s not. She’s in the process. I don’t think she’s that coherent or aware. When you’re in a crisis like that you’re not that lucid or clear what’s going on.
CS: Noah said that was probably the reason she is the way that she is, but her character doesn’t really have a full arc. We only see one part of it. Did you ever hope to see more of a resolution for the character?
Kidman: Pretty much the way Noah constructed the script is what we shot. I think when you work with a writer-director, you work with someone that’s full of art and he’s very thoughtful. Everything’s constructed layer upon layer and by the time you get to actual shooting the script has been worked on to such a degree that it wasn’t like, “Oh, let’s change lines and rewrite scenes.” There was a scene that we added while we were shooting that he wrote and added. It’s the scene in bed where Jennifer and I are both talking to each other. We’re lying in bed together and I’m so glad he put that scene in there.
CS: Do you feel that Margot got enough of a redemption or a resolution to her story?
Kidman: I think that’s a very simplistic way of looking at filmmaking. So much is storytelling now. People expect there to be a beginning, middle, and an end; and I think that when you play with that structure and don’t necessarily deliver in the way that people want I mean, life doesn’t give you an ending. There’s moments when particularly, when we’re born and we die. Everything that happens in between, there isn’t a beginning, middle and an end that we are able to follow in a linear way and I think this film doesn’t deal with an ending. It deals with possibly a beginning.
CS: Can you talk about working with newcomer Zane Pais, who played your son, and how much he learned from you on and off the set?
Kidman: He’s at the wonderful age where he’s stepping from a boy to a man and he’s trying to find his way in the world and it’s very beautiful when you see somebody with such grace. He has grace and he was easy to be around and valuable and his mother is an actress, so he has an understanding of the work just from having grown up with it. I like being around obviously my children are 13 and 15, so I enjoy being around that age, and he was very willing to focus and at the same time had a good sense of humor about it all. I don’t know if he wants to be an actor for the rest of his life but he certainly has a wonderful presence.
CS: Do you pay attention to the Oscar buzz for a movie like this, and did winning the Oscar a few years ago put more pressure on your movies to do well at the box office?
Nicole Kidman: I would just like to do good work. That’s basically my interest in working with complex really, really good directors and sometimes that results in great films and sometimes that results in films that were reaching high and didn’t get there. It’s just part of a body of work, and obviously this film was something that I had seen “Squid and the Whale,” I had read the script and I had seen what Noah had done and was capable of, and had previously worked with Wes Anderson as a writer and I just thought he was an original voice in American cinema and I was very honored to be a part of this group.
CS: Noah (Baumbach) said that you made the decision to do this movie literally overnight. Do you have to have stuff go through a management team or are these decisions you make yourself?
Kidman: Yeah, I have two agents whom I have worked with my entire career. I’ve got some publicists I’ve never changed anyone in my life really. I pride myself in being very loyal. I think over a lifetime you have to be responsible for your own decisions.
CS: You’ve had a chance to work with some of the best directors working today. Are there any directors that you haven’t got to work with that you would like to, and do you think you’ll wind up making “The Lady of Shanghai” with Wong Kar Wai?
Kidman: I’m not willing to go and live in another country for a year. Right now, I’m just recently married, so that’s my priority. I’m not going off to be doing “The Lady of Shanghai.” It’s not right for my life right now. I seek out directors who are curious about, who I think are strong voices. I’m not fond of difficult directors. I’m drawn to that in a way. I love working internationally. They’ve seen these scripts. They’re the ones I don’t do much pursuing. I sort of tend to get things and I get to respond, which is a lovely place to be as an actor, and I really would love to work with Scorsese. I’d love him to construct a film around a woman. I still ask him all the time; because I’d interested in seeing that movie. I’d like to work with (Steven) Spielberg actually. I’ve always said I wanted to work with Steven and I’ve known him as a friend for a long time, so I would like to do that. Internationally, if Wong Kai would shoot sometime a little closer to home then I would like to work with him as well. I’d be willing to go back into ‘Dogville’ territory at some stage. There are a number of directors, Joe Wright. I’m very curious about a number of different directors and I could name a huge list but whether our paths cross, I don’t know.
CS: As one of the top-tier actresses in Hollywood, how much pressure do you feel about box office success?
Kidman: I think as a woman it’s lovely to be paid well for what you do, and then for “Margot” you don’t get paid anything to do a film like this. Primarily, I’m there for the long haul so I’d do small films. Occasionally I’ll do a big film, but I suppose my heart is about the artistic part and that’s what motivates me ultimately. It’s wonderful to have financial rewards and at the same time I’m in a place where I can just now work as a woman in the things I want to do and that’s hard-earned and I’m very pleased to be in a place where I can just say, “I have my home, I have my marriage and I’m able to now follow an artistic path and still take care of myself”, which a lot of is you have a lot of fear about being able to care of yourself for the rest of your life. I can do films when I want to do them and that’s a very blessed place to be in.
CS: Do you ever look back at some great actresses of the past for comparison or inspiration?
Kidman: I don’t just think of actresses. I think of people in all walks of life. I think what’s lacking among the times now is the respect of our elders which I know sounds pretty old fashioned but I think there is so much wisdom to be gained from that and I’m working with some older actors on the set right now like Jack Thompson, who’s an older Australian actor and just a wonderful man with a very big spirit; and all of these people have devoted their lives. When we see people who have given their lives to the art I have such, I suppose, admiration for that and at the same time the people that we are able to find as a partner and someone you’re willing to walk through life with and share some of those things with; because so much of it is about the shareness. That’s what I loved about “Into the Wild” was the final epiphany he had, which is about sharing your happiness or sharing those moments because otherwise what are they? I know it gets a little less satirical but I love my work but at the same time I don’t want to do it without having somebody else in my life to share that with.
CS: What’s it been like working in the outback of Australia with Baz?
Kidman: I’m very happy to be in Australia actually. I’ve been there since April making this film (“Australia”) and it’s my dream of making this film since I was a little girl and I hope it lives up to my expectations because I wanted to make a film that’s deeply romantic. It’s a got a magical quality to it, but still it’s a sweeping drama filled with some comedy and we can pull that off, I’d be very, very pleased. It’s also nice to stand by a director you’ve worked with before and say, “I’m right here next to you again. Let’s go. Let’s try to do something unusual and special.” Who knows? Next year, you’ll be sitting here and saying it didn’t work. We’re certainly working hard towards putting something magical on screen.
CS: How was it working on “The Golden Compass”?
Kidman: It was different to “Margot.” I would say to all actors right now that used to say that mime class was so non-important. When you’re in drama school and you have mime class and say, “I’m never going to be using this” and subsequently now with green screen and special effects, the mime class and the accent classes are the most important classes in drama school. Pretending I had a golden monkey that was just a stuff toy. That’s a big leap. I used all I know from Marcel Marceau.
Margot at the Wedding opens in select cities on Friday, November 16. Check back later this week for the press conference with Noah Baumbach.