Nicole Kidman: I’m not good when I have to be the girl next door

"I'm not interested in playing myself and I'm not interested in playing the same thing over and over again..."

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While it would be wrong to suggest that Nicole Kidman has turned her elegant back on Hollywood entirely, she has certainly put some geographical distance between herself and the world’s movie capital – and in many ways, her past.

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Born in Hawaii and raised in Australia, these days she lives in Nashville with her husband, Aussie country singer Keith Urban, and their children, Sunday Rose (four) and two-year-old Faith Margaret. Her work now has to fit in around touring schedules, nursery school timetables and what she likes to call “real life”.

“When I’m offered a role, I literally say, ‘is this going to work for our family?’ And I ask Keith about it and there have been times when he’s said ‘no’ and I’ve not done it, and there have been times when he’s said ‘yes’ and we make it work. And I’m absolutely fine with that because I want my children and I want my marriage more than I want anything else. So it’s really that simple.”

It is, she says, all about the balance between work and home. And she knows, from painful personal experience, that success – even fabulous, Oscar-winning success – without a happy home life is rather hollow.

Back in 2003, she won the Academy Award for best actress for her brilliant portrayal of Virginia Woolf in The Hours. It was a career-defining moment that capped an incredible run of films – Moulin Rouge!, the year before, had also seen her nominated for the golden statuette – and established her at the very top of her profession.

But her private life was in turmoil. Her marriage to Tom Cruise (they have two children, Isabella, 20, and Connor, 18) had ended in a blaze of headlines in 2001, and Kidman was alone.

“There was that whole time from when we took Moulin Rouge! to the Cannes film festival and then all the way through to winning the Oscar for The Hours… that was a very strange time in my life because it was the collision of professional success and personal failure, and that’s just a very strange thing.”

Ten years later, Kidman is back at Cannes for the world premiere of crime thriller The Paperboy, dressed in a figure-hugging knee-length cream dress by her favourite designer, L’Wren Scott (Mick Jagger’s other half).

Despite fretting about shading her alabaster skin from the Mediterranean sun – “I’ll get scorched!” – she is radiant. Yet she confesses, “When I won the Oscar it was kind of a mix of popping open a bottle of champagne but at the same time feeling incredibly lonely because I didn’t have what I have now.”

But this time around she has a husband she’s clearly besotted with and children they adore. The couple met in 2005 and within a year they were married and she had moved to Nashville.

“He’s given me a home. He’s given me really strong love – he’s given me a love shield,” she giggles. “I have my girls and my husband and I have a very, very strong real life to counterbalance my fantasy life now.”

Even so, her career is going gangbusters. Longevity is the name of the game, she says, and Kidman, 45, has followed Meryl Streep into what were previously considered dangerous waters for women. She’s passed 40 and has come out the other side to portray some very diverse women. She plays a lonely widow who has a fractured relationship with her emotionally distant teenage daughter in the dark, psychological thriller Stoker and a brash but vulnerable woman who marries a convicted killer on death row in The Paperboy.

“I love that Emmanuelle Riva, who is 86, was nominated at the Oscars [for Amour]. That’s glorious. That says something great about the longevity of an actress’s career. Everyone always says ‘oh, they only have a shelf life of 40 years’ and you look at that and you go ‘no way’.

“My desire, particularly now as I get older, is to play character roles. The Paperboy (in cinemas from Friday 15 March) is a character role and so is Stoker, and Grace of Monaco [also out later this year]. And it’s a great thing being a character actor – the leading lady thing is fine but the interesting stuff is the character parts. I’m not interested in playing myself and I’m not interested in playing the same thing over and over again. I’m not good when I have to be the girl next door. That’s just not my thing, so the more extreme the better in a way.”

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The Paperboy is in UK cinemas from 15 March