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« Aesthetics & Automobiles | Main | Free Reads -- Walter Williams »

November 21, 2002

Nicole Kidman

Friedrich --

Are you a Nicole Kidman fan? I am. She has pretty much everything I want from a star, even if minus much of the acting talent. She has beauty (although in her case I'd say that she has extreme prettiness more than beauty, if by beauty you mean, as I do, something idiosyncratic, poetic, and mysterious), daring, a love of hurling herself into things emotionally and physically, an entertaining (in her case, apparently unguarded and engaging) public persona, an eagerness to play the game.

All that, a star marriage and divorce, unfair rumors, and terrific luck, too. I smile when I encounter her; I'm glad to see her; I'm amused by the roles she takes and the directions she steers her career in; I'm involved (in a semi-camp way) with her personal travails. Plus she once told British GQ that she enjoys "going commando," by which she apparently means that she sometimes doesn't wear underpants.

Heaven-sent, yet going commando

Acting talent? Well.... enough. She was genuinely good in "To Die For," but have any of her other performances shown much range or skill? Yet I don't mind, and don't see why I should, even if I wouldn't want her to be much less talented than she is.

She is a funny case, though, because in so many ways she seems pure actress. She likes making daring choices ("Eyes Wide Shut," etc), she's full of enthusiasm, and she seems to think like an actress about the people she wants to work with and chances she wants to take.

But that just reminds me of how little a role acting talent per se really plays in stardom. I still get annoyed by people who run down the likes of Julia Roberts on the basis of her not being a very good actress. I'm not a huge Julia fan, and I don't by any means think she's the most gifted actress around. But she's obviously a very good and effective star.

Mixing up acting talent with star power is one of those elementary mistakes people make when talking about performers. Star power is one of those things: a person who has it is simply somebody many people really, truly enjoy watching, and who crowds will go out of their way to watch. (Additional skills and talents are a bonus.)

Who can explain it? For me, for instance, Miranda Otto and Minnie Driver both qualify as stars -- I love following both of them too. Yet neither one seems to have worked for the general public -- and, in Minnie's case particularly, it ain't for lack of trying. One more reason not to hire me as a movie executive, I suppose.

This also reminds me of one of those elementary things. It came to me some years ago, as I was learning my way around the arts. I got to know some actors who, lord knows, were nothing if not actors; self-absorbed, overemotional, vain, transparent, silly, charming. At the time I was taking acting classes myself, and at first I really envied these guys because I've got almost nothing of the actor in me; I wanted what they had, even a little bit of it.

But those particular guys were also a funny case. Pure actors, yes -- but, as it turned out, lousy actors. Better than I was, of course, but not by all that much. The lesson learned? That it's possible to be temperamentally something all the way through, yet still be bad at it. (Which reminds me of another one of those life lessons: the day I realized that you could be an intellectual yet also be dumb -- that "being intellectual" is just a matter of temperament, not of actual brain wattage. But more on that some other time.)

Nicole Kidman, Nicole Kidman ... Oh, right: the Wife and I watched a recent movie she starred in called "Birthday Girl," an attempt to marry two British genres, the whimsical/eccentric tale of comic woe, and the startling and abrupt yet larky lad gangster pic. A not-successful attempt, I should say.

But Nicole was pure candy. Her hair was dark and full of soft gypsy tendrils; her clothes were flowing Eastern-Euro exotic; her eyes were dark and smudgey with makeup, frank, and shy-but-eager. At one point she deduces that a man she barely knows yet wants to marry is secretly into bondage, so she presents herself to him, holding out her wrists with a rope draped over them. Ah, the sweet, heaven-sent wickedness of the moment.

It occurs to me how important a part of her appeal that is: with her teeny mouth, big eyes, translucent skin, and charming physical gracelessness, she's perpetually about 13 years old, teetering between childhood and adolescence, still fresh and eager yet bursting with unendurably naughty thoughts, a little girl who's playing at being a sexy star, and who's transported by the pretence.

Does she work for you too?



posted by Michael at November 21, 2002


Nicole Kidman's performance in Eyes Wide Shut was much more than a daring choice it was an astonishing tour de force, and if there was any justice in this world she would have won all manner of awards for it. But the film as a whole was what's the word I'm looking for? flawed, not to mention the fact that most people never saw it, so she never got the recognition she deserved.

But check out the scene where she's stoned and confesses a fantasy she had when she was on holiday. It's the center of the film, and it's an amazing piece of acting, which is much more than you can say for the piece of wood playing her husband.

P.S. Much impressed with your fecundity today: no fewer than six different posts! How do you expect us all to keep up?

Posted by: Felix on November 21, 2002 08:41 PM

Eh, no, Nicole doesn't do it for me at all. I usually go for pretty redheads, but there's just something....ewwww, about her. But, everyone has vastly different tastes in the opposite sex, which is a good thing of course. (She just looks mean to me, like she would be very cruel in real life.)

My ideal of feminine beauty is Kimberly Williams (as represented by an actress - in real life I have a different outlook). She starred in the two Steve Martin "Father of the Bride" films as the bride. Now there's one hot babe!

When it comes to actresses I track and try to see what they are in, I used to follow Ellen Barkin till she dropped out of sight. I dug Blair Brown a lot, till she too evaporated. Sigourney Weaver still intrigues the hell out of me. But, sadly, most of those actresses don't get work anymore, so the ones I hunt for these days are Helena Bonham Carter, Jodie Foster, and Helen Hunt.

I think I would like Hilary Swank, but I hated the movie "Boys Don't Cry" (because it attempts to foster the lie that "Brandon Teena" was murdered solely because she was a transvestite and gay rather than the fact she was a criminal who hung with other violent criminals, and they have a baby involved in a scene where an actress gets shot - the reaction of the baby is heartbreaking; he clearly thinks it's real). Anyway, now when I see her in a flick, all I can think of is that horrible movie, so she's kind of ruined for me, which is sad because I think she's really good.

Oh well. Rambling. Must stop.

Posted by: Yahmdallah on November 22, 2002 10:30 AM

Hi Felix, I confess that I giggled and snoozed my way through "Eyes Wide Shut." Nothing about it (numerous high heels and g-strings excepted) worked for me, including Nicole. But I know that some hardcore buffs think it's a misunderstood masterpiece. I'd claim that it's a perfectly well understood botch, but opinions are opinions... Are you one of the "misunderstood masterpiece" crowd? I'd love to read someone making a good case for the movie...

Hey Yahmdallah, I like some of those thinking-man's-sex-symbol actresses myself. Ain't it interesting the way one's own tastes and the general public's sometimes do and sometimes don't overlap? Jodie Foster, for instance: is she really a star with the general public? And if so, given her many, er, shall we say "tight" qualities, how to explain that?

And it's good to see you going on about "Boys Don't Cry," which I also hated. Beautifully made, but what a gruesome, unpleasant (and thought-policed)experience. Time for a backlash. You'd be the man to lead it, I can tell.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 22, 2002 11:31 AM

Great observations on Nicole from Michael! I don't think she's as much an actor as she is an adventurer. She picks sexually revealing projects that a lot of women in Hollywood wouldn't and yet she has more of the Garbo mystery about her than other actors her age.

Posted by: Polly Frost on November 22, 2002 06:36 PM

Good lord, what a bunch of good film (and acting) critics we have stopping by. Makes us Blowhards want to try a little harder -- tough audience!

Thanks to all of you. Interested as well, if anyone should care to join in, in the actresses who strike you as potential stars. I like Minnie Driver (who has played the game and apparently lost) and Miranda Otto (who doesn't seem to have played the game). Diane Lane, too -- but is she, and has she become a star? Could she?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on November 22, 2002 06:44 PM

For me, Kidman was never better than in Flirting, John Duigan's 1991 sequel to The Year My Voice Broke, in which she plays an uptight (but not, we discover, irredeemably so) senior at a girls' boarding school. The focus of the film is on the budding romance between Noah Taylor (at the boys' school down the road) and Thandie Newton, but Kidman, billed third, has plenty to do: as an upperclassman, she's supposed to ride herd on the likes of Newton, but she finds herself more admirer than admonisher. You want "teetering between childhood and adolescence"? This is, I think, where she patented that particular vibration.

Posted by: CGHill on November 23, 2002 12:50 PM

I agree with Mike, Nicole Kiddman is better than many people think of realize. I had just heard of her when I saw "To Die For" and thought she was damn good. Plus I loved "Moulin Rouge". It reminded me of a Ken Russell movie (which you guys should check into, he's made a lot of great and chancy films with a wild streak). Minnie Driver is cute and sexy too. And for us older fans, check out Helen Mirren who oozes interest.

Posted by: Gar Dude on November 24, 2002 04:25 PM

Hello: I am having a disagreement with a friend of mine. Is Nicole Kidman a blond or a redhead. Please settle this disagreement.
I say she is a blond.

Thank you and best regards,

Posted by: Gary Husband on July 3, 2004 06:44 PM

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