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The Oscars

They Really Can Relate

Nominees Nicole Kidman and Helen Mirren discuss voices, roles and the directors in their lives.


Mirren: We talked about it but when you're together that long, it's not a "will you marry me?" kind of thing. You know you're going to spend the rest of your life together by then anyway. So we had a four-day wedding for 16 people and ... no ancient aunts, just really good friends and really close family. Anyway, that's the marriage thing.

Q: How do you prepare for your roles?

Kidman: When I'm working and I see somebody else's film, I rarely take the film in, but I come up with great ideas during that [time]. It gives me the time to think about my character. I think it's because you're sitting alone in a dark space.

Mirren: It's background while you're thinking.

Kidman: Yeah, I can actually daydream during the film.

Mirren: I find myself sort of walking around, shopping. I'm not actually shopping, I'm just walking around the shops, often with my lines, and I find that a quick way to learn. So shopping is perfect for thinking. I find, going into a film, is a little bit like going into a nunnery. You're in this tunnel, and until the film's done, you're not really going to come out of it.

Kidman: You have no life.

Mirren: You have no life, and I can't sort of have lots and lots of fun on the set. I hope I'm reasonably nice on the set, but I can't socialize, especially on the kind of schedule that I work.

Kidman: The concentration that it takes. I just did this Lars von Trier movie. We had six weeks to shoot the movie.

Q: How was it working on that film?

Kidman: It's all set on the soundstages. It's very Brechtian. We don't use props. We just have this chalk on the ground, where the town exists, and it's interesting because we wanted to make a film where you take the walls away in society and how you can actually see everybody doing their business as if they were in town. So all the actors had to be there all the time.

Mirren: Oh really, like in "Gosford Park."

Kidman: The dog in the film is actually the chalk mark, and we all sort of go to pat the dog, but the dog is just a chalk mark. It's either going to work or it's going to be a disaster. I was very frightened.

Q: What was so frightening about it?

Kidman: Certain people that I'd run into would tell me stories about him. The Chinese whispers--they can be so detrimental. So, I went there thinking, "Oh my gosh, I'm in a bit of a fragile state, and this is probably not the smartest thing to be doing right now," because the script, it was pretty harrowing. But then I got there, and the first week was rocky, and he said, "I want to take these walks with you in the forest." And it would snow, and we'd go off into the forest, three or four times a week, and we'd just talk, hold hands, and walk in the forest.

Mirren: I love that.

Kidman: Sounds very like a fairy tale. He had written this film for me. I was in every scene, and that was the journey that we were going to take, and the walks suddenly became as important as the filmmaking.

Mirren: I was just thinking about that relationship between actors and directors. It is really, really misunderstood by the public at large. It's also misunderstood by lots of directors.

Kidman: That's so true.

Mirren: The great director just--I mean, what do they do? I'm not sure that I can actually articulate it. But I know it's something to do with making an environment comfortable enough for you to create within.

Kidman: Steering you, guiding you, prompting you. Altman loves actors, doesn't he?

Mirren: In a very practical way. He's not real sentimental about actors. He's very practical and not a lot of stroking goes on and not a lot of "oh, that was wonderful."

Kidman: What's really lovely, off the camera, is the little tiny hand movement that says, "Got it."

Mirren: If you think they mean it. [Sotto voce, a little play between herself and the presumed director:]

"We've got it, Helen."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, yes, yes, love. We've got it."

Kidman: What about "Oh, don't worry, I'll be able to piece it together." It's sort of like you failed me.

Mirren: Bob Balaban, who is one of the producers of "Gosford Park" and also acts in it, and I did a film called "2010," here in Hollywood. And one day he gave me the most brilliant piece of acting advice. He said film acting is like Zen. He said you aim the arrow and then you let it go, just let it land where it will, because you can't really control where it's going to land. You think you're aiming at the bull's-eye of the performance but, with film, you never really know, because film is so ...

Kidman: Because they edit it.

Mirren: But also just the thing of film on one's face. You look at it after and you go, I didn't know that I did that.

Kidman: Do you watch dailies?

Mirren: No. I can't handle dailies for that very reason. I'd be obsessive. I'd want to go back and reshoot everything.

Q: In "Moulin Rouge," you descend from the ceiling on a trapeze. What was it like making that scene?

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