Raw honesty

Nicole Kidman: “It was all extraordinary and I was the loneliest I’ve ever been”

The Oscar-winning actress has revealed the difficult time she went through following her divorce from Tom Cruise in 2001, when she excelled in a string of acclaimed roles as she “ran from her life”

Nicole Kidman’s latest theatrical venture comes from the heart. In the hit West End play Photograph 51, Kidman plays the chemist Rosalind Franklin, who made a critical discovery toward uncovering the structure of the DNA helix but saw her success overshadowed by that of James Watson and Francis Crick.

Kidman, 48, said at the Women in the World Summit on Friday that she decided to take the part of Rosalind because of her late father, who was a biochemist. “I told him I was going to do the play and he was absolutely thrilled — he knew all about Rosalind and Watson and Crick, and then he passed and I thought, ‘I must do this play.’”

Photograph 51 gives Rosalind Franklin the attention she was never afforded in her lifetime despite her hand in uncovering the fabric of human DNA. She died of ovarian cancer in 1958, at the age of 37. Watson, Crick, and Maurice Wilkins won the Nobel Prize in 1962, and Franklin’s efforts went largely unappreciated.

“I read the play and wept,” Kidman said. “I felt that there was an injustice and I wanted to be part of, if not righting it then at least putting her back into the dialogue beyond the scientific community.”

The play is one of a number of recent productions that highlight women’s stories and star strong female leads, though Kidman noted that when it first opened on the West End, it wasn’t selling out. ­­A string of good reviews raised awareness of the importance of Franklin’s story, and of Kidman’s stunning performance.

“We all have to go out and pay,” she added, noting that she was going to make a point of going out to buy a ticket to the new film Suffragette, to show that women’s stories are worth telling. “Buy tickets, see the movies, demand the stories, and respond to the stories, and they will get made.”

Kidman is now not only an Academy Award-­winning actress, but she has also begun working as a producer. She’s currently collaborating on a female­-driven HBO series with Reese Witherspoon. “We need to support each other,” she said. “I’m fortunate that I can champion some stories and certain filmmakers, and help them out at this stage in my career.”

But that hasn’t always been the case. In conversation onstage with Tina Brown, Kidman spoke about the difficult time she went through following her divorce from Tom Cruise in 2001, when she excelled in a string of acclaimed roles while still sorting out her personal life.

“To be completely honest, I was running from my life at that time,” she said. “During that time I worked a lot. That culminated in winning an Oscar [in 2002, for her role as Virginia Woolf in The Hours] … and I was sitting in the Beverly Hills Hotel and it was all extraordinary, and I was the loneliest I’ve ever been.”

The experience “jolted” her to think about what she wanted out of life. “I slowed down, I did a lot of reading and a lot of talking,” she said. “I was able to navigate through about five or six years, and then I kind of stumbled into Keith” — her husband, Keith Urban. We got to know each other while we were married.”

Mother to four children, Kidman spoke of the difficulty of balancing family life with her career. “As a woman it’s a very hard thing, with young children, to commit to a run of a show, and to not be there in the evenings for the wind-­down period, making dinner and putting kids to bed,” she said, explaining that for a while she simply wasn’t willing to make that commitment. When Photograph 51 came up, however, she called a “family meeting” with her 4-year-­old and 7-year­-old children and Urban, and they decided “to be a gypsy family for a while, and to create homes wherever we go,” Kidman explained.

In her commitment to life at work and at home, and in her determination to challenge existing narratives in film and theater, Kidman has something in common with her current subject, Rosalind Franklin. “Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated,” Franklin wrote in a letter to her father in 1940. “In my view, all that is necessary for faith is the belief that by doing our best we shall come nearer to success and that success in our aims (the improvement of the lot of mankind, present and future) is worth attaining.”

Doing just that,­­ improving the lot of mankind,­­ is what Kidman hopes will define the next stage of her career. She recalled standing in a garden with her late father and asking him, “What does it all mean? Why are we here?” “He said, ‘To take care of others.’ That had a profound effect on me.”

Watch the full interview here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *