Director John Cameron Mitchell reunites with his Rabbit Hole star Nicole Kidman for quirky drama How To Talk To Girls At Parties. He tells Laura Harding about dressing up the actress in a huge black and white wig, running lines during the interval of her West End play and why we need punk in modern times more than ever.
Croydon in 1977 is probably the last place you would expect to find Nicole Kidman. And yet there she is, unexpectedly wearing a huge ragged black and white wig, dressed in a ragged tuxedo, with a silver key dangling from her neck, black eyeliner slashed across her face.
The actress plays the imperiously named punk matriarch Queen Boadicea in How To Talk To Girls At Parties, the new film from Hedwig And The Angry Inch creator John Cameron Mitchell.
"I don't think she saw the wig until the day," he says. "It was very last minute. She had just won the Evening Standard theatre award on the West End for Photograph 51."
The film is a reunion for Kidman and Mitchell after he directed her in the 2010 drama Rabbit Hole.
The Australian star was so keen to do the part, she rehearsed with her old pal during the intervals of the play.
"It was hard for her to schedule it, but it was just a six-day thing and she was very game," says Mitchell.
"She just said, 'Do it like you would, do the character out loud, and I will just copy you', so that was how she learned it.
"I was being my version of Malcolm McLaren meets Vivienne Westwood with some sort of indeterminate east London/Australian accent, and that is what it was.
"This role runs the gamut of what she has. I've never seen her do a role like this where she's nasty and dirty and her fingers are never clean!"
That Mitchell would think of her for such an unusual role came as something as a surprise for Kidman.
"John is one of my dearest friends and I adore him," she says.
"I was in London in a play and he said, 'I've got this cameo role for you', and I said, 'Yes of course, I'll do anything for you, my John.'
"I love that he's bold and he just tries things."
"I play the punk mother figure and represent the anarchy of the era.
"I love that John thought of me, because I would have cast someone different.
"As soon as I met with costume designer Sandy Powell and she showed me this look she had for me and I put on the clothes, I thought it was fantastic."
Based on the short story by Good Omens author Neil Gaiman, the film focuses on a shy teenage punk rocker who sneaks into a party, meets a group of girls who come from outer space and falls in love with one of them, played by Elle Fanning.
"It's a real romance between a punk and alien," Mitchell says.
"It's a mixture of cultures and subcultures. Both the aliens and punks are tribes on the fringe in the normal grey 70s world of Croydon.
"Neil Gaiman was almost signed to a punk band in 1977 and always wondered what might have happened. In a way this was re-claiming the punk youth I never had and the punk stardom that Neil almost had."
The film continues a renegade aesthetic that appears in much of Mitchell's work, from his films Hedwig to Shortbus and even his acting appearances in Girls and The Good Fight.
"In everything I do I try to keep in the spirit of do-it-yourself, don't fit in too hard, but also bring in the audience," he says. "I always want my films to be entertaining with other stuff underneath, other themes that you might not expect in a romance like this.
"This is by no means a reconstruction of any punk history. This is a punk fairy tale, a teenage romance with an unexpected Brexit theme."
Mitchell is convinced that punk could play a role in healing social divides in the modern world.
"I usually like to originate material myself, but there was something about this," he says.
"It draws on Neil Gaiman's youth as a punk in Croydon and in some ways we need a punk spirit more now than perhaps we did in the '70s because of a feeling of darkness, harshness and doom that's suffusing everyone now.
"In the film there is an unexpected discussion of what punk could be in a healthy way for society now which is very much scared of the outsider and frightened about the future.
"That was certainly happening in the '70s here and in the US, which is where punk came from, and I think there does need to be a new kind of punk to answer it, which is different from people screaming on social media.
"That's not punk, that is actually just screaming, and anger is not necessarily productive if it's just trying to tear down or trying to make you not pure enough.
"The danger that punk had was it became conformist very quickly - if you're not this, you're not punk.
"That kind of reminds me of the PC police now. You can't use certain words, otherwise you're anathema or insensitive, so you end up with allies tearing each other apart which happened a bit during the late '70s too."
How To Talk To Girls At Parties is released in UK cinemas on May 11