As Nicole Kidman lounges in a fancy suite at a midtown-Manhattan hotel, she's asked why she decided to play the world's first post-op transsexual in an upcoming movie.
Called The Danish Girl, the film is in the development phase, but the Australian actress confirms she's agreed to play the controversial role ofEinar Wegener. Scrunching up her face a little, Kidman seems positively puzzled by the implication that the picture is inappropriate for her.
"I don't know why people are finding that so odd," she says. "I am an actress, and I do like to challenge myself."
Occasionally, that's worked for her. She received anOscar for her portrayal of the suicidal writer Virginia Woolf in the dramaThe Hours, and an Academy Award nomination for the doomed singer Satine in the inventive musical Moulin Rouge!.
Indeed, Kidman's latest test is co-starring in Rob Marshall's rousing film version of the Broadway stage show Nine, which opened yesterday. Based on Federico Fellini's film about moviemaking, 8 1⁄2, the cinematic musical has lots of show-stopping numbers to go along with the light drama.
In the Oscar-honoured ensemble, Kidman plays an actress who's the inspiration for Italian director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he prepares to launch his comeback, just as a creative block stands in his way.
It doesn't help that he's haunt ed by the women in his life, and distracted by his self-doubts. There is his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Penélope Cruz), his mother (Sophia Loren), his disapproving costume designer (Judi Dench) and an American magazine writer trying to seduce him (Kate Hudson). It's quite a cast, with the acclaimed Day-Lewis at the centre of it all.
So how could Kidman resist? She had good reason to pass on the assignment: She was still wobbly from bringing daughter Sunday Rose into the world. But, weeks later, she said, "on with the show," arriving at the London rehearsal hall for Marshall's Nine.
"Everybody was so supportive and kind, and they always made me and Sunday Rose feel welcome," says Kidman, who's married to country singer and fellow Aussie, Keith Urban. The couple's daughter is now 19 months old .
That made the cast special to Kidman in many ways, and the resulting "family feeling" may have helped, she says.
It's about time. Since the actress's Moulin Rouge! nomination, and Oscar for The Hours, things haven't been going Kidman's way.
Last year, the epic Australia with Hugh Jackman was met with mixed results and weak box-office returns. And in 2007, she was a great villain in the special-effects fantasy The Golden Compass, but that movie didn't live up to expectations in the U.S. and Canada.
In 2004 and 2005, she had a string of disappointments. The Stepford Wives was greeted with indifference. The remake of the series Bewitched, with Kidman playing Samantha, didn't seem to work, either. And neither The Interpreter, Fur nor The Invasion found audiences.
Nine, however, is on track to change the 42-year-old's luck.
Recently, the film picked up nine Broadcast Film Critics Association nods and five Golden Globe nominations, and it's on course to earn Academy Award recognition.
Skeptics, at first, wondered if Nine might be too star heavy. Not so, says the actress.
"It was interesting being around this cast." Kidman says. "We always have people ask us about the egos, but if you love what you do, you're just so glad to be around other people who love what they do, too, so you sacrifice. And that was the case with us."
She recognized that attitude her first day on the London set. She arrived jet-lagged and unsure of what was in store for her.
"I came into the rehearsal room and I saw Kate [Hudson] dancing up a storm, and I went, ‘Wow that's amazing,' And now I can't wait for people to see that part of her."
Marshall, who had previously directed the Oscar-honoured musical Chicago, was another pleasant surprise for Kidman.
"He was in the trenches, working every day with us," re ports the actress, "And that's what you need to be around to do good work, because it's contagious, and it's also inspiring."
Day-Lewis gets lots of praise, as well. "He's a true actors' actor," she says.
And his method style of staying in character while filming didn't faze her at all. In fact, she could relate.
"I have a little of the same thing with my character stuff," Kidman admits, "so we didn't talk that much as Daniel and Nicole."
They saved most of their dialogue for the camera, which counts among the most intimate sequences in the movie.
"I remember, before we shot our scenes, we barely spoke," Kidman says. "We would sit in the middle of the room together and think."