Actress Nicole Kidman says at least one good thing was born of the stress accompanying her well-publicized break-up with Tom Cruise: It helped her prepare for the role of doomed writer Virginia Woolf in "The Hours," the screen adaptation of Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning book.
"(Production on the film) was at a time in my life where I was raw enough to do it, and everything came together, but it was frightening at times," Kidman recently admitted.
Widely recognized as one of the world's most beautiful women, the 35-year-old Australian completely transformed her looks to play the plain-looking early-20th-century feminist, writer and critic.
Complimented for her courage in doing so, the actress demurred: "I didn't feel bold. I just felt I got this opportunity to go and do something I've never done before; to exist within a character in a completely different way. But it was strange because we had a small crew it's a small film. So, you didn't quite feel, 'Oh, my God, this could really be a disaster if it doesn't work.'" Now I look back and think, 'What was I thinking?' Because if I stepped on the screen and everyone had laughed then the whole film doesn't work."
In fact, Kidman confessed she was so nervous about playing the part while trying to sort out her relationship woes that she even tried to quit the project.
"I tried to pull out," she revealed. "I have to say I wasn't as bold as you might think. I actually called my agent and said: 'I can't do this. I don't want to work. This isn't the right thing. It's too much at this stage. I just need to sort of hibernate.' And he and my friends all said: 'Get on the plane and go. Go do it and get lost in it."
Directed by Stephen Daldry ("Billy Elliott") and scheduled for release Dec. 27, the film links on a single day through literature the lives of three women: Kidman as Woolf several years before her suicide, Julianne Moore ("Hannibal," "The End of the Affair") as a pregnant 1949 housewife trapped in an unfulfilling marriage and obsessed with Woolf's novel, "Mrs. Dalloway," and Meryl Streep as a modern-day New Yorker throwing a party for her dying writer friend, a former lover (Ed Harris,) who calls her "Mrs. Dalloway."
For Kidman, the more she learned about Woolf, the more intrigued she became with the woman's life and work.
"I think Virginia is so profound in the questions that she raises in terms of life and death," she remarked, adding that in reading Woolf she found herself saying: "'Ah-h-h, OK, this is something I can understand. That I can feel, I can heal, that resonates within me and that I can sort of grow.'"
Addressing questions regarding the transformation of her physical appearance (she donned a prosthetic nose, heavy makeup and a ghastly wig for the part,) the Oscar-nominated actress praises her director, noting he was the one who was brave about taking risks.
"I think I look good!" she exclaimed. "It's freeing to be given the opportunity to do it. I have to say Stephen Daldry is so-o-o bold, because a lot of directors would have shied away from (robbing his leading lady of her audience-pleasing looks) and he didn't. He sort of ran with it. He's such a brilliant director. He spearheaded this whole film and the intellectual weight it carries is became of him and the look of it, he put us all together."
Kidman described production of the film as short, but very intense.
"It was very long hours, and it was all jammed together. So, that helped me," she noted. "That's why I loved being in Romania for 'Cold Mountain,' being in a cocoon. If you can exist within a cocoon when you work like that, a bubble, or whatever you want to call it, it gives you the opportunity to be somebody else. And this is what always drew me to being an actor, being someone else."
The actress emphasized that after hibernating all that time, the whirl of attention that comes with film festivals, press junkets and movie premiers can be extremely daunting. Fortunately, Kidman counts a number of trustworthy friends among her blessings.
"(Director) Baz (Luhrmann) kind of took me through the Cannes Film Festival," Kidman recalled. "Baz carried my through that stuff. There's a loneliness about Virginia and once you start to deal with loneliness, all of that feeds into your art. I don't want to sound pretentious, the lines you can't define what they are and I don't think that you should, you don't have to. I suppose that's one of the lessons, at least for me, it is all just happening now. And I'm actually not making definitive choices or anything like that. I'm just being pulled along or drawn to things, and if you want to call it instinct or whatever, that's what it is. And I'm having the opportunity to work with the greatest directors in the world."
So, life does continue an idyllic marriage crumbles?
"It's gradual," Kidman said. "I think you reach a certain age where you've had a certain amount of life experiences where you go, OK, this is the journey.'
Most reporters who have interviewed Kidman describe her as an extremely genuine, gracious young woman -- one who does not seem to bare any grudges against the press.
"I'm not good at acting in real life," the actress said of her candor. "I've got to get better at that because I tend to be very candid and I sit and I'm not good at protecting or shielding myself... But I don't know quite how to do that and that's when I work with a director I'm like: 'Here I am. This is who I am.' At an interview, I can't always do that so I have to be careful. That's my instinct. I love to meet people and be around people and I love to discuss things. I grew up in a family where we discussed everything."
Kidman can be seen next year co-starring with Anthony Hopkins in "The Human Stain," and opposite Renee Zellweger, Jude Law and Natalie Portman in "Cold Mountain." She also has a starring role in the re-make of "The Stepford Wives."