Nicole Kidman stars in Lee Daniels' "The Paperboy." (Millennium Pictures )
NEW YORK -- By his own admission, Lee Daniels sets out to "discombobulate" actors on set.
But he made his star Nicole Kidman actively uncomfortable when he asked her to say the N-word during a scene in their new movie, the period melodrama "The Paperboy."
The polarizing film, about a journalist and a murder in 1970s Florida, is a simmering pot of race and class, with Kidman’s Charlotte Bless a vixen who speaks her mind. In one scene, Daniels wanted her to aim an N-word at a black costar. But the actress bristled at the idea.
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On Wednesday at a press conference at the New York Film Festival, the disagreement again reared its head.
As Daniels recounted his puzzlement that Kidman wouldn’t say it, Kidman replied, looking slightly annoyed, "I didn't feel like it was right for the character," then after a second, "I have a son who's African American and I just didn't feel it was right. It wasn't right."
Daniels said that he was initially frustrated by Kidman’s stance and expressed that feeling to his producer. The producer replied that so far during the shoot Daniels had put Kidman’s character in a compromising sexual position, as well as had her pee on Zac Efron, so maybe best to cut her a break. Daniels relented.
Still, the director took a generally direct line with his actors. As Kidman’s costar David Oyelowo put it, Daniels “feels it is his job to push you out of your comfort zone; he feels the truth will be accessed” that way.
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He asked Kidman to do her own makeup, which he thought “freaked her out at the beginning” (Kidman: “I thought when am I going to shoot the film if we're all doing our own hair and makeup?”) and said he “expected Zac Efron at catering.”
“We’re putting on a play … we’re on the run, we’re on the move,” Daniels said.
But after blanching, Kidman said she eventually thought it was the best approach. “I thought just go with it,” she said. “I want to be in places I've never been before.”
She added that she’s reached a point in her career where a director with an unusual or even pushy approach was exactly what she craved. “I want to go home at night and feel discomfort,” she said.
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