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How Nicole Kidman and Her ‘Work Husband’ Lined Up Blossom Films’ High-Powered Slate

Nicole Kidman readily admits she has two husbands.

She’s been happily married to country star Keith Urban for 12 years, but then there’s the man she affectionately calls her “work husband”: Per Saari, her partner in Blossom Films, the production banner they launched in 2010. Blossom boasts a carefully curated but high-powered lineup across film and TV, from 2016’s “The Family Fang” to HBO’s hit limited series “Big Little Lies.”

Kidman and Saari pride themselves on choosing projects that speak to them personally. But as Kidman’s star has risen, so has Blossom Films’. The banner now boasts more than a half-dozen projects with A-list pedigrees.

“We’re not out there to dominate the world. We just want to have a little part,” says Kidman.

As with any marriage, they do have their conflicts, with Kidman often the voice of self-doubt. Season 2 of “Big Little Lies” particularly has her worried, “because the desire to deliver is there and to not let people down.”

But otherwise, their nearly decade-long partnership has been a smooth ride. “They can finish each other’s sentences,” says Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke, who recently signed Blossom to a first-look deal.

She’s not exaggerating: An hour spent with the pair over coffee is a cascade of overlapping thoughts. The two have a natural, easy camaraderie — they’re supportive but not afraid to disagree, and tease each other when they do.

“We’re both long-termers,” says Per Saari, Kidman’s producing partner who first teamed up with her on “Rabbit Hole” (above). “Once we find our people, we stick to them.”
JOJO WHILDEN

Take a discussion about how they choose their projects. Kidman starts out trying to explain why it’s never “business-driven,” and Saari interrupts, saying her reactions are “based on emotion.”

“He has less emotion,” says Kidman.

Counters Saari, “I’m very emotional, but I do think that if you’re starting from that standpoint, you can then figure out what you want to do and then apply a different approach to it.”

Kidman and Saari first met at a dinner party back in 2004. As the conversation drifted to movies, they discovered a shared cinephilia, bonding over classic films from the ’60s and ’70s that had “something to say about the world,” recalls Saari. At the time, he was working for Robert Redford as an executive at his production company Wildwood, while she was trying to harness the wave of success she was riding after “The Others” and “Moulin Rouge!”

They hatched the idea of partnering on a production company to simply make good films, and Blossom Films, well, blossomed.

The first project they took on was “Rabbit Hole,” as they guided the playwright David Lindsay-Abaire into adapting his Pulitzer Prize winner for the screen.

“It was hard work to get it made,” admits Kidman, explaining that what started as a $15 million movie for Fox ended up being made for $3.2 million by Lionsgate. Slashing the budget led to some ill-fated decisions: The first day of shooting, they discovered the set was under a flight path. Every 15 seconds, they had to cut the action.

“Now we know why it was cheap,” jokes Kidman as Saari chimes in, “We had a good relationship with the tower by the time we were done.”

Kidman credits that frugality with shaping her disciplined approach to filmmaking, whether it’s small projects like “Destroyer,” shot in less than a month, or “Big Little Lies,” which sprawled across 110 days.

“It’s a really good thing for an actor to be in that place of humility and know that every cent counts,” she says. “You don’t want to be in that place of sitting in a trailer with things just happening around you. I don’t think it’s good for the work; I don’t think it’s good for the soul. Having that scrappy work ethic and the humility of knowing what it takes to get something done and being responsible financially is important as an artist.”

Echoes Saari, “You reduce it to what you absolutely need creatively, and then you build it out. That’s something we apply across the whole process.”

That’s why they want to keep their slate modest. Kidman sees their mission as helping filmmakers execute their vision, be it financially or by simply cheerleading. “I love filmmakers. I love when they come in and have a strong sense of what they want to do,” she says, “because so many of those in the business now are getting either dulled, homogenized or wiped out. And I don’t like that.”

They point to “Cuddles,” Joseph Wilde’s 2015 Off Broadway play about a teenage vampire that they’re developing for the screen. “We know it’s psychologically weird, that it’s going to require that kind of scrappy gutter filmmaking,” says Kidman. “We’re less likely to hitch our wagon to someone who’s already hugely successful.”

“It’s a really good thing for an actor to be in that place of humility and know that every cent counts.”
Nicole Kidman

Both avid readers, they’re also drawn to literary works — their upcoming slate reads like a New York Times best-seller list, with titles by “Lies” scribe Liane Moriarty, Jean Hanff Korelitz and Janice Y.K. Lee. “I wish I had that talent,” sighs Kidman. “It’s a great talent to have.”

But more than star power and literary credentials, the two say they rely on their instincts when deciding which projects to support. Kidman cites a trick she learned from Stanley Kubrick, with whom she worked on “Eyes Wide Shut.” “You have to read a script when you’re given it, from beginning to end, all the way through with no distraction,” she explains. “Because that’s going to be your one and only real reaction.”

That visceral response to the material, whether on the page or with the first cut in the editing room, serves as their guide. Kidman says she felt that way about “Destroyer,” as well as Moriarty’s latest novel, “Nine Perfect Strangers.” They bought it based just on the synopsis. “Boom,” says Kidman, describing her reaction when she first read it.

Though both Kidman and Saari trace their roots to film, they say they no longer have a “snob factor” when it comes to determining what form a given project will ultimately take. The explosion in TV — and the insatiable demand for quality content — has driven them to think beyond features. “Obviously we love film, but we’ve realized TV has proven to be a fantastic way to really explore characters,” explains Kidman. Adds Saari, “We want to apply the feature aesthetic and rigor to the TV process. It’s a good standard to shoot for.”

The desire to support other women is also a driving force: HBO’s “The Undoing” will be directed by Susanne Bier (“The Night Manager”). “I’m at a stage where I’ve got a little bit of — I don’t like the word ‘power,’ because what is power? — but ability to get things done or move things forward,” says Kidman. “So what am I going to put my weight behind? I’m going to put my weight behind some of the causes that I really believe in.”

Meryl Streep joins Kidman and Reese Witherspoon for the second season of “Big Little Lies.”
Courtesy of HBO

One reason Kidman decided to hook up Blossom with Amazon — rather than other companies that approached with similar offers — was that she was won over by its newly installed female executive, Salke.

“How do you help other women succeed in the industry? You throw your support behind them,” says Kidman. “You jump on board, and you go, ‘I’ve got your back.’”

For her part, Salke was impressed by Kidman’s commitment to a shortlist of three fundamentals, which aligned with her own: “Her desire to be really original, to execute at the highest level and to entertain a lot of people.”

Make that four: “It can be all those things, but it has to be delicious,” Salke recalls Kidman saying. “You just want to hook people, have them compelled to come back week to week.”

Signing the Oscar-winning actress sent a message to the community that Amazon is in it to win it, as the industry has watched its crosstown rival Netflix gobble up high-profile talent like Ryan Murphy, Shonda Rhimes and the Obamas. Under the deal, Blossom will produce features, TV series and digital content. Salke has already given a series order to “The Expatriates,” which will mark Blossom’s first ongoing series.

“How do you help other women succeed in the industry? You throw your support behind them.”
Nicole Kidman

Kidman won’t necessarily star in these projects, and Salke says she’s just as interested in Kidman’s skill as an executive, praising her attention to detail, her strategic vision and her connections. “She’s a great magnet for talent as a producer, and a great magnet for attracting voices and people that I may not have heard of,” Salke says.

“At Amazon, we don’t make vanity deals. Any deal we make, it’s because those people have an ambition to do not a huge volume of things but a handful, and do them really well across film and television.”

At a time when actors often have producing credits in name only, those who work with Kidman say she earns the title and then some. Kidman “really produces,” raves HBO head of programming Casey Bloys. “Some people may not want to see the sausage getting made, but she’s right there with you in terms of getting things done.” He credits her, along with Reese Witherspoon, with “marching everyone forward” toward the second season of “Lies.”

“She works harder than anyone I know,” echoes Salke. “I thought I’d met the hardest-working person in Jennifer Lopez, but I think she’s got some competition with Nicole.”

That’s a reputation Kidman prides herself on, and one that will shape the future of Blossom Films. “I believe in goodwill from people,” says Kidman. “If you do right by people, they’re going to do right by you. That may be old-fashioned, but I still believe in that.”

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