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The most important movie for Nicole is Portrait of a Lady. She'd read the Henry James novel four times and she and director Jane Campion had descended together deep into the character of Isabel Archer, the spirited young American woman visiting England who spurns two good proposals of marriage in order to experience life, only to succumb to the charms of Gilbert Osmond, an Englishman living in Rome, played with characteristic malevolence by John Malkovich.
"Making Portrait of a Lady in Italy wasn't about glamour. It was about getting up and there's no hot water in the little villa so you've got to have a cold shower at 5am so that you can be in the make-up chair by 5.30 and you're freezing your tits off in the shower going, 'Oh noooo...'"
Nicole plunged into the emotional abyss of her character, Isabel, with fierce abandon. Throughout the shooting, she even wore a corset, to feel what Archer would have felt as she hewed to the 19th-century standard of an hourglass figure. Her performance stirred talk of an Oscar nomination, but the film was judged by most critics to be an absurdly mannered indulgence. "It was hard when people criticized it. The film meant a lot. But as a person, it's good to go through, too, I suppose. You hope it's going to be wonderful and everyone will love it, and then that doesn't happen that's 0.K. I still love the film, and am very proud of it."
After Portrait she was so emotionally exhausted that she took six months off. Then Kubrick pushed his start date back, and they said she could do The Peacemaker in eight weeks and when George Clooney called, she agreed to do it. She found herself playing a nuclear physicist to Clooney's specialforces officer and spewing reams of techie dialogue in dreary Bratislava, a Slovakian city on the border of Austria and Hungary. It starts with a heist, somewhere in the former Soviet Union, from a train carrying nuclear warheads, Nicole and George are the U.S. military types who fly over to wrest the warheads from the Bosnian terrorists to whom they were sold. When a lone detonator gets smuggled into Manhattan, back they come on its trail. Nicole is the stern, by-the-book bureaucrat, Clooney the roguish colonel who's assigned to be her partner.
"I was offered it right after I did The Portrait of a Lady, and that was the hardest film I ever made - emotionally - so this was my way of going to have some fun. I wanted not to have to work every day, and to be able to go out at night and dance."
Then Tom and Nicole were simultaneously contacted by Stanley Kubrick via fax, saying he was working on a script called Eyes Wide Shut and would they be interested? A few months later he sent the script to Tom. "He flipped over it, and then I read it five days later. And then we had to give the script back. Naturally we said 'yes'." So far, Eyes Wide Shut has been shrouded in secrecy; the only known details are that it's a sexual thriller in which Nicole and Tom play married psychiatrists, but that might not be true either...
Shooting started on 4 November 1996, and it wasn't officially over until 31 January 1998 (except for a few re-takes some months later) and it will premiere in July 1999. Almost 3 years after filming started!
Harvey Keitel left the production soon after it began. He was replaced by Sydney Pollack. Pollack and Kubrick had been close telephone friends for years. They'd never actually met - that would be too normal;) Kubrick works with a small crew - "It's almost like making a student film," Kidman says - so the fact that shooting Eyes Wide Shut took so long is not financially ruinous to his backer, Warner Bros., the way a full-blown Hollywood production would be. "He has asked for a lot of takes sometimes, he'll light the scene, ask for takes, then do some lighting. I've got to say, though, the thing about working with him is that you know you're working with someone who cares. He lives and breathes movies. And he makes so few that he enjoys the process that much more; he wants to exhaust all the possibilities. And the kind of actor that I am, I love that. I find it much harder to walk away with a director who says, 'Hey, great, let's move on.'"
In late January 1998 as Eyes Wide Shut wrapped, and Nicole left England for Washington State where she started shooting of Practical Magic a week later with Sandra Bullock. It opened at theatres in the fall, to modest success.
On September 10th 1998, Nicole stood on the stage for the first time in years, at the pre-premiere of "The Blue Room" at the Donmar Warehouse in London. The real run started on the 23rd and ran until 31 October. It was so successful that on December 13th, the play went to Broadway, where it ran sold-out for two months.
Towards the end of the Broadway run, Nicole suffered from an infection and was forced to bow out of the last perfomances. After that, she headed home to Australia with her family, where Tom shortly began shooting of Mission: Impossible 2.
Not taking much rest, Nicole has several films coming up, first "Birthday Girl" then "Moulin Rouge", followed by "The Others". We have much too look forward to.
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