In The Paperboy, a steamy Southern noir directed by Lee Daniels (Precious), two greenhorn reporter-brothers, Ward (Matthew McConaughey) and Jack Jansen (Zac Efron), investigate a murder to exonerate a perverse man (John Cusack) on death row. But it’s Nicole Kidman’s performance as Charlotte Bless, a nymphomaniac who becomes obsessed with the convict, who steals the show.
Whether she’s spreading her legs for her felon during a prison visit or urinating on Zac Efron after a jellyfish attack, Kidman, sporting barely there skirts and dripping with sweat, delivers one of the most daring performances of the year.
The three-time Oscar nominee—and winner of the Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in The Hours—phoned The Daily Beast from the set of her Grace Kelly biopic, Grace of Monaco, to discuss her racy role in The Paperboy, channeling Princess Grace, finding love after Tom Cruise, and more.
Nicole Kidman: Hello! I’m in Belgium right now and it’s so cold here. We wrapped filming early, so I quickly snuck out.
What are you filming out there?
I’m doing the Grace Kelly film. We’ve worked so hard all week and just did a four-minute scene done all in one shot.
I love Rear Window and High Noon, especially. How did you channel Grace?
I love Rear Window. That one’s my favorite. I just watched a lot of her films and read a lot about her. This is when she’s left Hollywood and has been married to Prince Rainier for six years, so they have two children—Caroline and Albert II. And Olivier Dahan [La Vie en Rose] is directing it, so it’s a completely French production.
Oh, that’s so funny. I just profiled Marion Cotillard for Newsweek.
Oh, Marion! I love her. We became quite good friends after shooting Nine.
Let’s get to The Paperboy. What attracted you to the role of Charlotte Bless? This isn’t your typical rodeo.
[Laughs] I think that’s why! To me, she was funny, fragile, raw, and sexual; all of those things that make up an interesting character. And I haven’t had a chance to do a character like that.
My favorite performance of yours is as Suzanne Maretto in To Die For. Charlotte has a little Suzanne in her, I think.
That’s what Lee [Daniels] said to me! He said, “Don’t think of this as playing her as Suzanne, but that’s why I’m casting you.”
Now another person who’s getting awards buzz this season is Joaquin Phoenix, and you worked with a very young Joaquin in To Die For.
Yes, I did! Gus and I fought to get him into that movie, too. The studio didn’t want to cast him, but we both threatened to pull out. He’s so great in it, and I’d love to work with him again, actually. Playing Grace Kelly, though, I haven’t been able to step out and see The Master. I’m a massive PTA fan, as well.
I heard the first scene you filmed in this was the very rough sex scene with Cusack.
It was horrifying but at the same time, it was great. We just never communicated as John and Nicole, we only existed as Charlotte and his character. The minute he came on the set, I didn’t think I’d be able to step in and out of character with this guy, so it was just going to have to be all or nothing. He came over and said, “Do you want to talk about the scene?” And I whispered in his ear, “I want to be your angel.” That was it, and then we were off. We never spoke until the end of the film.
Lee said you got pretty bruised up filming that scene.
Yeah. I just think as an actor there’s meant to be mystery and also a place you go to that’s dangerous. I’m interested in places that are uncomfortable and where I haven’t been before, and I’m just very willing to explore.
Everyone looked so sweaty in the film. How difficult was the shoot?
It was like 120 degrees and I’m not a heat girl. I like the cold. But it helps if you’re doing a steamy Southern noir. And we were shooting in motels and it was really, really dirty and tough, which is great. We shot it down in New Orleans and out in the swamps. It was hardcore!
Living in Nashville, was it easier to get the Southern accent down?
I think so, actually. Musically, my ear is attuned to it now. In Cold Mountain I did the blue-blood accent, and this one is totally different. For me, I love accents, because once you get it you really get into the character. Plus, Lee wanted me to be rounder so I ate a ton. I love grits, and Lee was like, “Eat, eat, eat! And don’t exercise!”
There’s also a scene in this that’s reminiscent of the infamous Basic Instinct chair scene.
Kind of. [Laughs] It wasn’t written that way; that just evolved on the day. Lee shoots on long lenses with two or three cameras operating at once, and because we were in the room and shot it on the run a lot of the time, it was very rough, and by that stage I was so in character that it was organic. The minute I saw John walk in and he was shackled, it seemed logical to me that they would react that way. There’s this palpable chemistry where they feel alone in the room—there’s nobody else—and they’re obsessed with one another. And she needs that power over him because it’s attractive to her. She operates on a very primal level because, for an uneducated woman with no money, she doesn’t have much that society values besides sex.
“I hope I still have a wild child inside me! Yeah. But I think most actors—especially creative people—have a wild side … I would hope.”
A lot has been made out of this already so I don’t want to dwell on it, but that scene where you pee on Zac Efron on the beach … how was it pulled off?
I don’t answer that! [Laughs] Mystery is important! At the same time, for the film to be defined by that scene is unfortunate. I wasn’t shocked by it at all, and I don’t understand why people jumped on that. That was disappointing, in a way; you put all that work in and it gets summed up with a comedic scene like that.
I thought it was quite funny. “If anyone’s going to pee on him, it’s going to be me!”
[Laughs] Exactly. I try not to be judgmental and I try to think out of the box a bit. A psychologist raised me, so I suppose that’s where the no-judgment approach comes from. I think that compassion is so important and something to constantly move towards.
Did you ever go through a wild child phase?
I hope I still have a wild child inside me! Yeah. But I think most actors—especially creative people—have a wild side … I would hope.
I read that you worked for a while as a massage therapist to help support your family?
[Laughs] I did. Well, my mother had breast cancer, and so when you go through radiation you get terrible seizure of the muscles, so I took the massage course and then I liked doing it, so I started to go around to people’s houses and do massages—not those sort of massages, just regular massages. I still love giving people massages.
Now the blond hair looks good, but I also dug the sort of wild red hair that you were rocking back in the Dead Calm days. Being a redhead has become so en vogue now with the Jessica Chastains and Emma Stones of the world.
Well, I’m not naturally red and they dyed my hair red for that. Then, I went to school and got teased. It was so horrible. They call you a wranger in Australia if you’re a redhead, coming from an orangutan, I think. So it did not make me love my red hair. [Laughs]
Your husband, Keith Urban, recently said, “When I met Nicole Kidman, my life started.” Did you think you’d find love again?
I didn’t know if I’d find it to the same degree that I’d had it, and now, with the relationship I have, I feel like everything else pales in comparison, and that’s an amazing feeling to find that in your late 30s. Keith is my great love. Phillip Roth has a great line where he says, “It’s not my first love, it’s not my great love, but it’s my last love.” That’s so not Keith, for me. Keith is my great love and hopefully my last love.
Was it also nice to get away from the craziness of L.A. and New York and settle down in Nashville?
Yeah. Nashville is very, very peaceful for me. I can raise our children there and we have a simple, normal life there. So I go and play out my fantasy life and then return to a very warm, safe environment.
Are you all hanging out with Taylor Swift and the other country singers down there?
Absolutely! Most of the country community is friends. It’s a very small community and everybody hangs out. And because you’re making music, you go to people’s houses and they just have jam sessions at night.
Are you a big whiskey drinker now?
God, no! Moonshine.