'Reese and I were frustrated that we weren't being offered complex, interesting roles'
Having recently turned 50, Australian star Nicole Kidman talks to John Hiscock about ageing, family, new career goals and making a comeback
"I have fallen off the cliff a few times," says Nicole Kidman with a smile, when reminded of her role in Grace of Monaco. The film about Grace Kelly, which opened the Cannes Film Festival in 2014, was a disaster, lambasted by critics as "stiff", "stagy" and "side-splittingly funny", despite not being intended as a comedy.
But the fact that Kidman can smile about that episode, and acknowledge it is one of several flops on her CV, speaks volumes. Having recently turned 50, the Australian actress seems at peace with the choices she has made in her 30 years in Hollywood - choices that have marked her out as one of the most experimental stars on film's A List.
"I love auteurs," she says. "I love the directors that have a really strong vision. And I like supporting first-time filmmakers because it's a great thing at this stage of my life, now I have some sort of power, to be able to support and facilitate someone's career."
This passion for her art has seen her star in Stanley Kubrick's orgy-filled Eyes Wide Shut, Lars von Trier's Dogville, a three-hour film shot on a bare sound stage, Jane Campion's flawed adaptation of Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady, and many other low-budget projects that not enough people went to see. It is a million miles away from the sort of films her ex, Tom Cruise, makes, or any other Hollywood big hitter for that matter.
Kidman genuinely seems to care more about exploring new ideas than she does about attracting large audiences. (A report in 2007 by Forbes magazine compared stars' salaries with the box office earnings of their recent films and concluded that Kidman was the most "overpaid" leading lady in Hollywood.)
Of course, there have been hits: The Hours (for which she won an Oscar for her role as Virginia Woolf), the gothic horror film The Others, Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge!
And last year's Lion, in which she played Sue Brierley, a woman whose adopted son went on an epic journey to find his birth mother in India.
But it is only this year that the results of Kidman's experimentation have finally fully coincided with popular approval, first on TV, in the hit show Big Little Lies and then at Cannes, where she appeared in three films and a television project (the second series of Jane Campion's neo-noir thriller Top of the Lake).
Kidman co-produced Big Little Lies, HBO's darkly comic mini-series, with her friend, Reese Witherspoon. "Big Little Lies came about because Reese and I were frustrated that we weren't being offered complex, interesting roles," she says. "So we found this book and said, 'Let's get this made'. And we created our own opportunities and then gave our girlfriends roles." [The show also starred Shailene Woodley, Zoe Kravitz and Laura Dern.]
"For it to have been such a success was astounding because we thought, 'Well, this will hit a small demographic of women who have kids at school,' but it penetrated. I'm astounded at the way in which this series has worked globally. It's like being in a massive hit film."
Now, inevitably, plans are under way for a second series, and Liane Moriarty, the author of the book on which the series was based, is exploring new storylines.
"If we can match what we did before we would be foolish not to try and put it all back together," says Kidman.
"If there's a way to take these women's lives further, it would be interesting and so lovely if we could do it." If not, she and Witherspoon have already optioned the rights to Moriarty's latest book, Truly Madly Guilty. As well as exploring her own boundaries, Kidman enjoys challenging the limits that she feels are imposed on women in film and television. She is proud of the fact that two of her projects in Cannes - Campion's Top of the Lake and Sofia Coppola's film, The Beguiled (for which Coppola won the Best Director prize) - boasted women directors.
"That was a triumph for Sofia," she says. "Statistically, it's not easy for women directors or writers, so for someone like Sofia to be acknowledged like that, it's big. And for Patty Jenkins to have such success right now for directing Wonder Woman is helping the cause of women in the industry. But it hasn't changed things yet."
Kidman is doing her best to help the changes along, and if no projects take her fancy she is in the enviable position of being able to produce her own, via her company Blossom Films. "It's allowed me to find things that I may not get offered and I wouldn't get the opportunity to do," she says.
Kidman is also proving an actress's career does not have to come to a shuddering halt as soon as she hits middle age. "It's been a wonderful year for me," she says. "Things work in mysterious ways, right? And I'm just thankful to have been given all this in the year I turn 50."
How does it feel to reach such a landmark? "It feels sort of like an accomplishment," she says. "But I still try to conduct myself with the abandon of a 21-year-old."
Born in Hawaii to Australian parents (they returned to Australia when their daughter was four), Kidman made her screen debut at 15 and broke into Hollywood in 1989 in the thriller Dead Calm.
She met Cruise when she was cast opposite him in the blockbuster Days Of Thunder, and went on to adopt two children with him before the couple divorced in 2001. Kidman has admitted she felt lonely after the divorce - after winning her Oscar in 2003 she sat in her hotel thinking: "I still don't have a life, what is wrong with me? Who do I jump on the bed with, and celebrate with, and order pancakes with?"
But she is now happily married to singer Keith Urban, with whom she has two daughters, Sunday Rose (8) and Faith (6), and celebrated her birthday at their home in Nashville.
Then it was back to work - on the superhero movie Aquaman, in which she will play Queen Atlanna who, she says with a laugh, is a "mermaid warrior".
"I always want to try new things. It's a small role, so it's not like I have to commit an enormous amount of time to it. And, it's shooting in Australia, so I get to go home and be near my mum." (Her father died in 2014.)
She may be at an age when a lot of actresses find it tough to get work but for Kidman there are more opportunities than ever - as an actress, producer and, maybe even, a bit further down the line, as a director. "Who knows? Hopefully it ain't over yet," she laughs.
- The Beguiled is showing nationwide