‘The Paperboy’: Nicole Kidman is used to audience discomfort
Talk about a good week. On back-to-back days last week, Nicole Kidman received two nominations each from the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes. Both organizations cited her performance in the television movie “Hemingway & Gellhorn” opposite Clive Owen, but what caught many by surprise was the pair of supporting actress nominations she received for her role in Lee Daniels’ “The Paperboy.”
The simmering noir film has been a point of controversy and conversation since its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, with audiences buzzing over Kidman’s fearless, bold performance as Charlotte Bless, a Florida woman who falls for a convicted murderer (John Cusack) after writing him in prison. Zac Efron also stars, and there’s a scene in the film, in which Kidman uses ahome remedy of sorts to heal his character after a jellyfish sting, that gets people talking. But it’s her intense no-touching prison sex scene with Cusack that leaves audiences speechless.
Kidman was in Belgium last week filming “Grace of Monaco,” in which she plays Grace Kelly, when she learned of her nominations, but she was happy to discuss “The Paperboy” during a break in shooting.
The role of Charlotte seems so unusual for you. What drew you to the part?
I think it was probably a couple of years ago I just went, “God, I wish I had the chance to do a few things that were reaching into different parts of me.” Not to say that Charlotte is me, but I just wanted the chance to explore different facets, the rawness and the sexuality and those sorts of things. I never get the chance to explore that. There’s just things as an actor where you go, “I’ve never actually tread in any territory like that, and I wish someone would want to explore that with me.”
I can only imagine when you first read the script to “The Paperboy” it seemed like one crazy scene after another.
I don’t think I read it as crazy scenes. I read it, and it worked for me as a kind of noir piece that was sort of hot and balmy, and it had a flavor to it that was hard to explain. I didn’t find it crazy or out there. I actually find it funny at times. The peeing scene, which everyone seems shocked by, I played it as black comedy. To me that was funny. It wasn’t meant to be “Oh, my God.” It’s not sexual, it’s her actually trying to heal a jellyfish wound, and she’s territorial and fighting off other girls. It’s her way of showing she cares. So I put a different slant on it.
For as much as people talk about the scene on the beach, that scene in the prison with John Cusack is far more unnerving. And in the novel it’s really just a few lines in the middle of a paragraph. It’s nothing at all like how it plays in the movie.
And that’s because we just played the scene out and Lee just shot whatever we did. That’s a great scene, and I don’t always like to do this, but Cusack and I never talked as each other, we were always in character, and the great thing about not knowing the other actor is you both embody your characters. There’s nothing self-conscious. I don’t know if I could have done that if I was a great buddy of John’s. I mean, I’m really friendly with John now, but if I’d been close to him, I’m not sure I could have abandoned myself. That’s the dance of actors, and if you don’t have someone working at that intensity with you, you’re going to look like a fool. But at this stage in my career and my life, I’m more than willing to look like a fool.
And has the response to the film been a surprise to you? People often really don’t know what to make of it.
I was in a film called “Birth” that, it’s unusual because it’s about something that makes people uncomfortable. There’s a scene where I’m in a bathtub with a 10-year-old boy, but I didn’t see it the way people viewed it, and I suppose that’s the same thing with “The Paperboy.” I’m used to that kind of reaction because of the stuff I choose, but I’m not aware of what’s going to make people upset or uncomfortable. Something like “Dogville,” some people love “Dogville” and some people are like “What the hell was that?” I’ve had that reaction on way more than two or three films I’ve been in.
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