Just lately, Nicole Kidman has been at the forefront of my mind. It all started when I went to see Gillian Armstrong’s Love, Lust & Lies, after having almost wound up in the wrong cinema (forcibly reminding me of a couple I knew who thought they were going to Howards End, accidentally seated themselves in the cinema that was showing Sneakers and, weirdly, didn’t realise their drastic mistake for half an hour). I was powerfully struck by the way the subjects of Armstrong’s documentary by and large lacked enthusiasm for any more films being made about their lives. Personally, I like the idea of a world-famous movie director turning up every few years to talk to me about myself and my doings, so I know that were I in their shoes, I would probably be putting my hand up to take part in one such project a year. Anyhow, after seeing the sensationally titled ‘Love Lust & Lies’, I found myself purchasing a book titled simply Nicole Kidman, by a fancy-pants film writer, David Thomson.
I’ve discovered in my extensive ‘bi-coastal’ perusing that this biography is one of those that you will unfailingly spy in any shop that has a name like ‘Bargain Basement Books’, ‘Books Done Dirt Cheap’ or ‘Back-of-a-Truck Books!’ and I’ve become quite the aficionada of these kinds of places over the past few years. In my experience, you just need to wait twelve months or so and pretty much any volume of your choosing will end up in such an emporium, amid the teetering stacks of Teri Hatcher’s Burnt Toast. I’d always managed to resist Nicole Kidman because it was plain from even the most cursory flick-through that Thomson had taken the wankiest conceivable approach to his subject. I suppose that this is only what you would expect from a man who seems to have suffered a violent addiction to elaborate subtitles, as with Beneath Mulholland: Thoughts on Hollywood and Its Ghosts (‘self-indulgent, free-form folderol’, according to one reviewer) and In Nevada: The Land, the People, God, and Chance. Nonetheless, I did finally buy Nicole Kidman, basically because the particular cut-price bookshop in which I was standing apparently hadn’t received any new stock during the two days since last I’d been there and the only alternative movie-star biography was an infinitesimal paperback on the topic of Daniel Day-Lewis.
Therefore, I spent a couple of days buried in such hilariously irrelevant facts as that Kidman’s parents wed ‘less than a month after the assassination of John Kennedy’; penetrating insights into why fellow actress Elisabeth Shue hasn’t managed to hit the heights – namely, ‘she is forty this year, and I suspect she had a weight problem that was difficult to control’; questions such as ‘Have you noticed that poor people dress very badly?’; an utterly preposterous chapter entirely on the topic of the author having a dream about himself in which he is a gentleman with ‘a black cane with a silver knob on the top’, who ends up in a brothel where Kidman is a housemaid and Catherine Deneuve is a prostitute working hard for the money with her clients, who happen to be a Gestapo officer and an ‘elderly Chinaman’. And all this is without even mentioning sentences such as the following, regarding Eyes Wide Shut: ‘But isn’t it possible that the element of fantasy, or imagining, in sex is being driven close to madness by a culture in which it is cold-bloodedly duplicated – even with the addition of a wig for m’lady’s pubic hair?’.
Anyhow, there I was ploughing through this unspeakable twaddle because of my lengthy dislike-like relationship with Nicole Kidman herself. She is almost the same age as I am, and simply because of this and because she was also raised in Sydney, I for many years had a Baby Jane Hudson-level resentment of the actress. What’s more, solely because of Kidman’s proximity to me in age and geography, everyone I knew, including me, seems to have had some kind of real-life dealing with her, similar to the way in which everyone in Iceland is, seemingly, related to Björk.
Here are merely the Kidman encounters that I can recall. When I was about fifteen, I attended an open-to-anyone-whatsoever audition for the children’s television series Winners. Kidman was there too, and was the sole auditioner with any charisma or ability at all. I still recollect the casting people showing an enthusiasm after her try-out that they, rightly, didn’t show after anyone else’s. Then, when I was nineteen, I saw Kidman across the room at a party, be-ringletted and talking animatedly. This was back when she was going out with Tom Burlinson, and thus was post Windrider but before Burlinson began to fancy himself as the singing voice of Frank Sinatra. Also, I once worked with a woman who was a friend of a friend of one of Kidman’s staff, this staff member having, allegedly, classified Tom Cruise as ‘a bizarre, sexless freak’; I once worked with a man who was a guest at Antonia Kidman’s first nuptials; and I once worked with a woman who was a friend of a friend of a medical practitioner who had had Kidman-related dealings and who had some spicy things to say that I am, unfortunately, not at liberty to reveal here.
So, given that Nicole Kidman seemed almost like someone I’d grown up with, I was always embittered about her massive career success and pots of money, especially because, despite her having trumped everyone at the Winners audition, I felt strongly that it was all undeserved. As did seemingly everyone else in Australia, I watched the miniseries Vietnam, but failed to see what the big deal was with her being able to cry on cue. I had to stop myself from flying into a rage when, back in the nineties, I bought a copy of Vanity Fair, and the woman in the newsagents lavishly complimented the way Kidman looked in her glamorous cover photograph. By far the most displeasure I felt, though, was when I saw To Die For. I’d been quietly confident that Kidman’s acting in the film, good reviews or no, would be nothing to speak of. My heart sank into my bodysuit, tucked as it was into Levi’s 501s, and then fell into my Dr Martens shoes, when Kidman gave an excellent, and funny, performance as fame-crazed weather girl Suzanne Stone. As my companions and I dined afterwards, I might as well have been having a barium meal for all the pleasure I got from my newfangled ‘woodfired’ pizza.
As the years went by, though, and Kidman kept turning in skilful and almost always plucky performances, I found myself having to alter my viewpoint, something that happens as slowly and creakily as a coffin opening in The Fall of the House of Usher. Some would say that I then went to the other extreme: I saw Moulin Rouge! twice (which for certain people I know is more controversial than if I revealed myself to be an admirer of Pol Pot); I will speak in defence of Birthday Girl if called upon to do so; I went to the trouble of renting The Human Stain on VHS; I often consider the idea of renting Birth on DVD; and I didn’t especially hate The Interpreter, even though I didn’t understand a single thing that happened in it from start to finish. Furthermore, I came to feel some sympathy for Kidman as a person. Aside from anything, I find touching her oft-reported deep need to please her mother, an individual who, I seem to remember, one year went on some horrible sort of hiking holiday instead of attending an Oscars ceremony at which Nicole was potentially going to be receiving an award. I find this behaviour astonishing, given that, to my mind, the main reason to have a child is the faint possibility that they’ll win an Oscar and heap acclaim upon you in their acceptance speech while the big stars applaud.
These days, though, Kidman seems to attract more of the kind of derision that I used to want so desperately for her to attract. This turn in the tide is due partly to her having starred in a few flops and partly to her frighteningly smooth countenance. Still, Nicole Kidman is, at least, someone who always seems to try their hardest, in contrast with, for example, Dean Martin – Nick Tosches’s flowery biography of whom has index entries such as ‘on motivation as crap’, ‘fuck it all’ and ‘life thought to be a racket’. On the other hand, this lackadaisical approach is also part of the Rat Packer’s enduring appeal, so perhaps Kidman just needs to take things a little easier. This seems unlikely, though, as consultation of the IMDb reveals her to have seven films currently in development, one of which is Untitled Dusty Springfield Project. At least with this last one, I can hope that John-Michael ‘Hollywood’ Howson will be on hand, thus giving Kidman more of the feel of home than would a hundred viewings of Australia.