Nicole Kidman emerges from some dark days to the light of an Oscar nomination 

From Dogville to Birth and The Hours, Nicole Kidman has never been one to shirk a screen challenge. But her harrowing new film Rabbit Hole takes it to another level. She plays Becca, a woman torn apart by grief after the death of her young son, Danny. “I think I was drawn to the material because it’s the thing I most fear,” she says. “That sounds very strange, to want to go there, but that’s what I get from it as an actor – to go to places that are terrifying to you.”

Yet when you consider 43-year-old Kidman’s recent news, tackling such a topic must’ve been torturous. Earlier this month, she and singer-husband Keith Urban announced the birth of Faith Margaret, born with the help of a surrogate mother. Their second daughter – they also have two-year-old Sunday Rose – it makes Kidman a mother-of-four, given she also has two adopted children, Isabella and Connor, from her ten-year marriage to Tom Cruise.

“It certainly had an affect on my life,” she says of filming Rabbit Hole, which has just seen the Australian nominated for an Oscar for the third time in her career. “I thought I was handling it well. But on this particular film I would wake up sobbing or panicked, which is a horrible thing. At different times of the night. It didn’t happen a lot – like three times. But
that’s a lot for me in a period of six weeks. And I was disturbed. Disturbed in a place that I couldn’t even quite feel, if that makes sense.”

As distressing as the shoot was, Kidman is clearly devoted to the film, which co-stars Aaron Eckhart as her husband. Not only did she produce it (only the second time she’s done this, following the 2003 Jane Campion film In The Cut), she also pulled out of Woody Allen’s forthcoming You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger to shoot the film, when the financing fell into place. It’s rare, she says, when she gets the chance to go so deeply into a character – as she did with her Oscar-winning turn as Virginia Woolf in The Hours. “I’m just glad I got the chance to go to a place that feels like I should go,” she says.

It’s certainly no surprise that Kidman followed Rabbit Hole with Just Go With It, a lightweight comedy with Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston, if only to give herself a breather. Like anyone else, she’s not afraid to admit that she’s had her own bleak periods. “I know that feeling, sitting in complete distress,” she says. “You look around at people laughing – and you go, ‘Will I ever, ever laugh again? Will I ever feel those emotions that seem like they’re so far away? Maybe I had them but I’ll never ever be in that place again.’”

While Kidman doesn’t get specific, she may well be referring to the collapse of her marriage to Cruise, which curiously coincided with an upturn in her career. No longer in the Cruiser’s shadow, Kidman collaborated on Moulin Rouge! with Baz Luhrmann, gained her first Oscar nod and didn’t look back. But surely work alone cannot save you. Has she ever resorted to religion or therapy? “A bit of both,” she smiles. “I’ve used different things. But I was raised a strong Catholic, so I still have parts of that that vibrate through me, and I have a strong faith.”

Born in Hawaii, Kidman spent her childhood years in Australia, after her parents moved back to Sydney when she was four. “I was raised by parents that are quite stoic,” she says. “I was taught
to behave like that – that’s what you do. And my parents come from that generation. Push on through, it’s all OK, you’re going to be fine. And that probably is how I approach my life.

In my work, I get to explore the things that are inside that I don’t necessarily discuss that often. Or that I do discuss with one person – my husband. But I’m lucky to have that outlet, because it keeps me sane!”

Having just got Trespass, a home-invasion thriller with Nicolas Cage, in the can, Kidman is now preparing to work with director Philip Kaufman on a TV movie about the romance between Ernest Hemingway and WWII correspondent Martha Gellhorn. Yet how long she’ll carry on acting remains to be seen.

“There is a time when I won’t be doing it,” she says. “I find it quite tiring. Not so much physically, but emotionally.” When you make a film like Rabbit Hole,
it’s no wonder.

» Rabbit Hole out now on general release.

James Mottram