Kidman disappears into writer's world

Critical analysis: “An exemplary acting ensemble sparked by Nicole Kidman’s extraordinary incarnation of Virginia Woolf, fake nose and all. …Ms. Kidman has gone beyond her self-sacrificial makeup to portray a shyly intelligent, ruefully humorous woman, cursed with too much laser-beam lucidity and acuity to stay alive in the face of her tragically misperceived image as a mediocrity.” –Andrew Sarris, New York Observer

Awards pedigree: Just received Golden Globe nom for “The Hours.” Globe actress wins for “Moulin Rouge” last year and “To Die For” in 1996. Actress Oscar nom for “Moulin Rouge.” Golden Globe actress nom for “The Others” (2001) and supporting actress in “Billy Bathgate” (1992).

Upcoming: Starring in two more films based on books: “Cold Mountain,” with Jude Law and Renee Zellweger, directed by Anthony Minghella; and “The Human Stain,” with Anthony Hopkins, directed by Robert Benton. Also on board to star in “Birth,” to be directed by Jonathan Glazer.

No one can accuse Nicole Kidman of crumbling in the face of a challenge.

Last year, despite having no professional experience as a singer or dancer, she shined in the musical extravaganza “Moulin Rouge,” cinching her first Oscar nomination. Now Kidman can be seen taking on the formidable task of portraying Virginia Woolf in Stephen Daldry’s “The Hours.”

“It was frightening because she is incredibly well-known,” Kidman says. “This is an extraordinary woman, and I wanted to imbue each scene with her great spirit. But how do you play someone whose thoughts are so profound, who is consistently brilliant?”

To the delight of critics, the glamorous actress delivers, disappearing into Woolf’s persona and becoming engrossed in the distinguished writer’s complex, if bleak, musings.

“I just settled into her,” Kidman says. “But how it all happens is still a mystery to me. You can sit here and say, ‘I did this and that,’ yet I think the beauty of it is to try not to dissect it at all, to just let it exist as a story.”

After viewing the completed three-tiered narrative based on the book by Michael Cunningham, Kidman sent roses to co-stars Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore because she was “thrilled to be sharing the film with two other women who are so committed.”

Moore returns those sentiments: “Nicole is an extraordinary actor. She was clearly very dedicated to the role and the memory of Virginia Woolf.”

In light of Kidman’s transforming performance, it’s hard to imagine that she had considered withdrawing from the role, which places Woolf at a crossroads, struggling to maintain everyday life while penning one of her most significant novels, “Mrs. Dalloway.”

“I was going through a pretty difficult time personally and didn’t really want to work,” Kidman says. “But it’s strange because, in a way, it was cathartic to enter (Woolf’s) psyche. Delving into the things that she was dealing with, the lines of life and art were so blurred.”

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