Motherhood suits Nicole Kidman. Once one of Hollywood's most tireless workaholics, Kidman has largely stepped back in recent years to raise daughter Sunday, 2, with her second husband, singer Keith Urban. And professionally, she's back in top form with her other baby, Rabbit Hole, a small, stark drama that has earned Kidman some of her best reviews in years for exploring what it means to love, and lose, your child.
"I now have a whole different set of experiences and emotions I'm willing to mine," says Kidman, 43. "At times, I don't want to work, which is what a lot of my choices have been recently, or I want to do one week in something. But with Rabbit Hole, I knew I needed to do this artistically."
Her maternal instincts have paid off. After a professional drought filled with well-intentioned films, such as 2009's poorly received Nine, 2007's little-seen Margot at the Wedding and 2006's Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus, Kidman is back -- and how.
The actress finds herself in awards contention with Rabbit Hole, which opens Friday. Kidman produced and stars in the film as an anguished mother painstakingly coming to terms with the freakish death of the 4-year-old son she adored, even as her husband (Aaron Eckhart) wants to have another baby and get their old life back.
Portraying a woman who loses what she holds most dear "just made me very grateful," Kidman says. "We had to talk it through. Keith was incredibly supportive through the whole thing."
Yes, playing Becca -- by turns abrasive, hilarious, devastated and broken -- was an ordeal of sorts for Kidman. But she's matter-of-fact about it.
"I feel like if people can go through it, then I can act it. I don't think there's enough films out there about coping with grief and coping with loss," she says. "I had a lot of really bad dreams, which I know means my subconscious has been affected deeply. Keith would hold me. I'd wake up and I'd be crying, and that happened a lot. But there's people going through this, and I was trying to be truthful and real."
And free of unnecessary histrionics, says director John Cameron Mitchell. Some actors would shed overwrought tears in every scene to milk maximum drama out of it. Not Kidman.
"Nicole found a way to be this brittle outsider and yet found a way for the audience to empathize with the character," he says. "Her character wants to deal with this grief alone, in her own way. Nicole brought a restraint and a subtlety to the role. She has a regal quality. I think of her as this rare creature that comes from another world but is anchored squarely in ours."
Getting down to work
Kidman has been nurturing Rabbit Hole from the start. She optioned the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, hired Mitchell to helm it after a quick phone call, asked Eckhart to play her husband, and was involved in every part of production. Yes, she knows what it costs to license a specific Al Green song for the film. And yes, she was pivotal in keeping her crew happy during the bare-bones shoot that cost roughly $10 million.
"I did bring the Mudd (coffee) truck every day out of my own money. People like their lattes. I was told it was the best coffee, and everyone would be happy. We had good catering, too, which is important," Kidman says.
"I know we wanted a porta-loo in the house. We didn't need trailers. We had blow-up beds in the rooms. I was in one of the kids' rooms in the house. Aaron had another room. That's how we could save the money and make the film."
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