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Nicole Kidman taps into the deep well of motherhood for 'Lion'

Nicole Kidman talks about her new movie, "Lion."

For the last hour, Nicole Kidman has been talking about birth (her two daughters with her husband, country music singer Keith Urban) and death (the sudden loss of her beloved father two years ago), adoption, the healing power of marriage and how she would have gladly extended the two years she spent making "Eyes Wide Shut" with Stanley Kubrick into a third year, calling the late filmmaker one of the world's "great philosophers."

"How did we get into all this?" Kidman asks, when the time has come to part ways. She thinks for a moment. "Ah. Mothers! Once you tap into motherhood, you start heading down these roads and they're powerful. They're the big themes of life."

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Kidman will be seen playing a mom next week in the true-story drama, "Lion," in which she portrays Sue Brierley, the Australian adoptive mother of a boy separated from his family, who grows into a broken young man (Dev Patel) deciding whether to return to India to find them.

The film's mother-child relationship isn't complicated in the least. And Kidman, an actress known for pushing boundaries with her choice of roles, absolutely loves the straightforward nature of the bond. Sue loves her son dearly and purposefully. She's there for him unconditionally as a steadfast source of love.

Rooney Mara, Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman star in "Lion."

Being a mother isn’t always going to be what you expect, but the act of mothering is powerful and gratifying no matter how it plays out.


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"That was lovely," Kidman says. "Sue exemplifies staying the course. Being a mother isn't always going to be what you expect, but the act of mothering is powerful and gratifying no matter how it plays out. That was the essence of the role for me."

Kidman and "Lion" director Garth Davis immediately connected over that core, specifically Brierley's certainty from a young age that she would one day adopt a "brown-skinned boy."

"That sense of fate and spirituality was uniquely special and important for the role," Davis says. "And we both talked about love, the immensity and nature of it in this story. Nicole really knew how to get that across in a way that was believable, compelling and deeply affecting."

Kidman, 49, has experienced motherhood in a variety of ways. She gave birth to Sunday, her 8-year-old daughter with Urban. Their youngest, 5-year-old Faith, was born through a surrogate mother. And Kidman and her first husband, Tom Cruise, adopted two children — Isabella, now 23, and Connor, 21.

Kidman guards her relationships with the adopted children, desiring to protect their privacy.

"It's more what they're comfortable with me talking about … which is not much," she says.

But she does call "Lion" a "love letter to her children."

"You want them to feel that it's not about anything else other than 'I wanted you,'" she adds.

Talking about parenting with Urban, her husband of 10 years, Kidman is happy to be more forthcoming, going into detail over a dream RV road trip to the national parks they're planning on taking when Faith is a bit older and enthusing about the community she has found for the last decade in Nashville. The drive to her daughters' school? Five minutes. And when the girls arrive home, the first thing they do is head to the monkey bars and the swimming pool in the back yard. (Smart phones aren't in the picture. And tablets come out only on plane trips.)

"They are so strong," Kidman says of her daughters. "I am hopeless at the monkey bars. I can't do a pull up. But my 8-year-old? She flies around those things!"

Nicole Kidman is thankful that husband Keith Urban accommodates her, choosing rather to “move in instead of out, which makes it a real fascinating, extraordinary thing, being married.&#8221
Nicole Kidman is thankful that husband Keith Urban accommodates her, choosing rather to “move in instead of out, which makes it a real fascinating, extraordinary thing, being married.” (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times / Los Angeles Times)

The night before we talked in West Hollywood, Kidman had been on an old plantation in Louisiana, wearing a corset and filming Sofia Coppola's "The Beguiled," a remake of the 1971 Civil War-set drama starring Clint Eastwood and directed by Don Siegel. Kidman plays the head mistress of a school, which, of course, leads her back to enthusing about the maternal energy she feels for all the young girls on the set. She can't help herself, she says. She loves mothering people.

"The Beguiled" will mark the end of a remarkable run of projects that Kidman has completed in the last year. The list includes "The Killing of a Sacred Deer" with Yorgos Lanthimos, director of the surreal, strange 2015 critics favorite, "The Lobster," as well as the second season of Jane Campion's Sundance TV sensation "Top of the Lake." Kidman also costars in the upcoming HBO comedy miniseries "Big Little Lies," which she produced with her friend, Reese Witherspoon.

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"Lies" takes on a number of topical issues — domestic violence, mothers, adolescent daughters, divorce. Initially Kidman calls them "female issues," but quickly backtracks, adding, "but ultimately male issues too, because if we have to deal with it, you have to deal with it as well."

She loves that Urban is willing to deal, choosing to "move in instead of out, which makes it a real fascinating, extraordinary thing, being married."

Kidman's parents made it to their 50th anniversary, a lifetime together, which made his sudden passing in 2014 all the more difficult to weather.

"'Suddenly' is tough," she says. "'Suddenly' is no warning and just taken. And that's traumatic."

When her sister phoned with the news, Kidman called Urban, who was about to go on stage for a concert. She told him, reflexively, to do the show. She could handle it. He told her she may be able to handle it, but she didn't have to do it alone. Urban canceled the concert and flew back to Nashville.

"That to me is marriage," Kidman says. "I said to him recently, 'That moment for me was so powerful, that you did that for me.' So powerful. So not expected. But his desire to do it ..." She pauses and gasps. "It brings me to my knees."

"Boy, the things you go through together," she continues. "Keith and I say to each other, 'We feel like we've lived way more than 10 years together.' It's such a healing thing, if both people are willing to contribute."

Twitter: @glennwhipp

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