Nicole Kidman has been labeled many things over the years. Statuesque beauty. Screen siren. Old-fashioned movie star. But these terms reveal a fragment of her rich reality, and obscure what makes her such an extraordinary, peculiar and genuine artist. Having had the opportunity to work with Nicole, I can say that if we all contain multitudes, she truly personifies the idea.
On the set of “Destroyer,” she was almost always in a state of deep concentration, even as she sat in her chair between takes. Her countenance seemed to thrum with the restless, obsessive energy of her protagonist, and to this day I marvel at how frequently I was in vivid communication not with Nicole Kidman but with a cagey and charismatic woman named Erin Bell. She was not particularly chatty, nor was she ever distracted by a cell phone. She was respectful and appreciative of the crew and cast around her but never falsely so. She was gloriously un-vain, and didn’t doubt that her character’s broken appearance and humble wardrobe would tell more of her story than any attempt at glamour would. She took up a lot of space, and we all absorbed the wild expressiveness of her long limbs as she transformed from “statuesque” to “bull in a china shop.”
It’s a rare thrill to work with artists who walk along the razor’s edge of their own unconscious, even as they run the risk of uncovering something icky. Nicole was that risk-taker every day that we worked together, willing to make mistakes, willing to laugh at herself and endlessly open to experimentation. The emotional fragility that has marked some of her previous work exists alongside reserves of fury, potency and power — and it is this “multitude of being” that imbues her performances with such fierce uniqueness. Even when she told me she was terrified of the work we were doing, she never actually seemed afraid. If I had to walk through a haunted house, hers is a hand I’d welcome in my own.
Karyn Kusama is the director of “Destroyer” and “Girlfight.”