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Nicole Kidman: “I’ve Definitely Had an Extreme Life”

Four decades after her feature debut in 1983’s BMX Bandits, Oscar and two-time Emmy winner is set to receive a history-making honor: the Life Achievement Award, which for the first time in 49 years will go to an Australian performer. But the (American-born) Kidman considers herself a part of world cinema, having worked with such renowned filmmakers as Stanley Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut), Jane Campion (The Portrait of a Lady), Park Chan-wook (Stoker), Sofia Coppola (The Beguiled), Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge!) and Jonathan Glazer (Birth). The actress and producer reflects on how the honor represents both a robust career and a life well traveled.

You’ve received many throughout your career. What is so special about this honor?

The list of honorees that have come before me. I’m floored, actually, because there are so few, and there are no Australians. I was overwhelmed by it.

Do you feel funny having to sit through clips of your work through the years?

I’m not someone to look backward. I always look forward. This has forced me to look back, which has been quite lovely. What’s really apparent to me is that I’ve traveled the world because I’ve worked with directors from pretty much every country. I’ve traveled to so many different places around the world making films and have worked with a huge number of auteurs — Greek, Korean, English, Australian, American, Danish. To be honored by the American Film Institute is such a massive honor for me because I was born in America; I had Australian parents, which is why I hold dual citizenship. I always felt that I was going to come to America and make films in Hollywood. But what I actually wanted was to make films everywhere. I wanted to see the world.

Having worked with so many filmmakers, what do you think makes a good collaborator?

Passion. You’re not going to get anywhere without unbridled passion, and probably an obsession. (Laughs.) You need a strong will to be able to get any film made. So many times it’s against all odds. And I’ve worked in all formats in terms of the lowest, lowest budget and massive budget, which I wanted to do as well. I love being able to put my foot in all those worlds.

Is there a Nicole Kidman movie that, if you happened to catch it on TV, you wouldn’t turn off?

That’s for other people to answer. You put it out in the world, and where it lands is where it lands — who it finds [is who] it’s meant to find. That’s none of my business, and it’s better it’s not, because I’m not making it for me. I’m making it to share, to contribute or be a part of the world. Hopefully, the little ones find their place and the big ones find their place. And the supposed failures sometimes have a second or third life.

Is there a project that surprised you by how audiences connected with it?

There are always surprises. I have people come up to me about all different films, and the things that reach the most number of people aren’t necessarily the ones that get the most passionate response from people. Obviously there have been massive hits, and you go, “Well, that worked!” But it’s the ones that find their way to people. I am amazed people even know who I am. My kids say to me, “Gosh, you can’t go anywhere that you’re not known.” That’s always what surprises me.

Your films span a wide range — you’ve worked across genres and moved easily between mainstream projects and experimental films like Dogville…

I made Dogville after Moulin Rouge! I went from lavish extremes to … (Laughs.) I’d come from sequins and trapezes, top hats, hundreds of people singing and dancing. And suddenly I was in Sweden for Dogville, completely in the dark. But then I went to Spain and made The Others with Alejandro Amenábar, who didn’t speak English. I even worked here in Nashville on Stoker with director Park Chan-wook, who also doesn’t speak English. I crave those extremes, those emotions. I’ve definitely had an extreme life!

This story first appeared in the April 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.