Interview - Nicole Kidman: Exploring the depths of grief in acclaimed performance

Nicole Kidman says playing a bereaved mother in Rabbit Hole was terrifying. Susan Griffin talked to her about the role.

Grief for the loss of a child is one of the strongest of human emotions, yet it's rarely explored by Hollywood. A brave, new film called Rabbit Hole, starring Nicole Kidman in a multi-award nominated performance, is set to rectify that.

"It's the place you most fear to tread," says Kidman, 43. "Particularly as a parent, a mother, it's the most terrifying place to go. Life can be very beautiful, but there's the other end of the spectrum when it can be so painful."

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Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, Rabbit Hole is set in suburban America and tells the story of Becca (Kidman) and Howie Corbett (Aaron Eckhart), a married couple struggling to return to their everyday existence several months after the death of their six-year-old son.

"A lot of times grief is dealt with a week after the loss, this is eight months and it's about, 'How do you live each day?'" says Kidman, mother to four children: Isabella, 18, and Connor, 16, who she adopted with ex-husband Tom Cruise, her daughter Sunday, two, with husband, country singer Keith Urban and their latest addition, Faith Margaret, born via a surrogate on December 28 last year. "It's not the broad strokes, it's the minute strokes of choosing to live each day," she adds.

The Australian actress was sitting in a coffee shop in Nashville where she now lives when she first heard of Rabbit Hole, reading a review of the play in The New York Times. She called her producing partner (Kidman created the production company Blossom Films in 2006) and asked him to see the play that night, before approaching Lindsay-Abaire.

But while the actress was drawn to the subject matter, it was her husband who convinced her to tackle the weighty role of Becca.

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"Sunday was one-year-old and I wasn't sure if I could do it, but he gently nudged me out of the nest."

Since she first found fame in the early Nineties, much has been of made of Kidman's imposing presence on screen and in real life. Her steely, ice queen performances in films such as Gus Van Sant's To Die For have all reinforced the idea that she's every inch the alpha female.

Widely regarded as one of Australia's most famous exports, Kidman was actually born in Hawaii and moved to Oz with her family when she was four. Her first love was ballet, but as a teenager she began focusing on mime and drama.

"I was taken to the theatre more than I was taken to see movies as a child, but I remember I'd skip school to go and see art films that were on in the city. I went to a Kubrick festival when I was 16 or 17 and saw Lolita and Clockwork Orange. I just ate him up," she says of the acclaimed director with whom she worked with on Eyes Wide Shut in 1999, with then-husband Cruise.

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Having decided to leave high school early, she managed to land her first film role at the age of 16, before making her Hollywood breakthrough in the 1989 thriller Dead Calm.

Her performance caught the eye of Tom Cruise who cast her in Days of Thunder a year later – they married the same year.

In the ensuing 20 years, she's starred in everything from Batman Forever and Cold Mountain to The Others, Moulin Rouge and Nine, and won an Oscar along the way for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in The Hours.

"The theme underlying most of the films I make is love in all its different forms," says Kidman.

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"I'm interested in people when they're yearning for love, when they're losing love."

Rabbit Hole is on general release from Friday, February 4 with previews beginning next week.

Nicole's route to stardom

Nicole Kidman was born June 20, 1967 in Honolulu, Hawaii.

In January 2006, Kidman was awarded, the Companion in the Order of Australia, the country's highest honour.

While not a singer before Moulin Rouge!, Kidman's collaboration with Ewan McGregor on Come What May peaked at 27 in the UK Singles Chart. Later she collaborated with Robbie Williams on Somethin' Stupid, which made it to the Christmas No 1 spot.

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She is rumoured to have been offered the role of Mrs Smith opposite Brad Pitt, a role eventually played by Angelina Jolie.

Kidman is due to appear in the Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy Just Go With It and this year she will also return to the stage in a Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth.

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