• Golden Globe Awards

Out of the Archives, 2002: Nicole Kidman on Playing Virginia Woolf

This year Nicole Kidman won a fifth Golden Globe as Best Actress for her performance as Lucille Ball in Being the Ricardos. Back in 2002, she spoke to the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press about playing Virginia Woolf in The Hours, directed by Stephen Daldry, based on the novel by Michael Cunningham.
Kidman had this reaction when the British director offered her the role of the legendary writer: “Virginia Woolf is an iconic female in literature and in history. Stephen Daldry called me up and said, ‘You should go and read some of her novels again and we’ll talk some more.’ I had read “Mrs. Dalloway” at school and I had not connected with it at all. But it was strange, because of where I was at in terms of my life, suddenly everything that I read in relation to her seemed so relevant, so deep and so profound; her voice spoke to my soul.  So, when that happens as an actor, you say, ‘I have to do this.’  That was the initial jumping off the cliff for me to decide, ‘Okay, I am going to attempt to play her.’ To play people that historically existed is a very strange and a very beautiful feeling at the same time.”
After gladly accepting to play the role, she later found herself in a different state of mind, but eventually was okay with it: “When I received the offer, I was fine about making the film, but by the time we got to shoot it, my life had basically fallen apart, so I was in an emotional frame of mind where I was open enough to be able to receive her. I basically absorbed her, and all of the things that she was struggling with got under my skin. I have subsequently fallen in love with her. She’s an extraordinary woman and I’m so privileged to have been able to put a small part of her essence on-screen.”
Kidman had been a reader from a very young age and that is what fed her acting. “I grew up with parents that encouraged me to read, I started reading when I was three, I remember sitting under the bedcovers with a flashlight reading. So, I really credit literature with giving me my love of characters, thus giving me the desire to act.  When I read “Middlemarch” (by George Eliot) I was Dorothea, when I read “War and Peace” (by Leo Tolstoy) I was Natasha, when I read “Madame Bovary” (by Gustave Flaubert) I was Emma Bovary. My imagination as a child and as a teenager was fed by these extraordinary books and then it translated into plays like those by Chekhov. I was very drawn to the Russians, because of the angst.  That’s why to play Virginia, one of the great writers of all time, was a delight as much as it was difficult because it’s me paying homage to the brilliance of being a writer and how relevant that is.”
The storyline of The Hours showed how Virginia Woolf’s 1925 novel “Mrs. Dalloway” spoke to a woman in the 1950s (Julianne Moore) and to another woman (Meryl Streep) in 2001: “What is so lovely is that Virginia is now dead, but she has written this novel, which means that history feeds us and teaches us, basically the dead still give us gifts, and that is really a profound thing. It is so important that we do deal with death, and each one of us deals with the loss of somebody that we love, so death and loss really resonate.”
Kidman learned from her mother’s example and from her words of wisdom how to overcome her fear of death: “For me, I used to have a huge fear of death. I had seen my mother struggle through breast cancer, how an enormous amount of pain had wreaked havoc on her body, so obviously a lot of my fear was related to that. But my mother always said this to me, ‘As you get older and you go through experiences, bad things happen and good things happen, you understand that life is a journey, and it is going to end. So, coming to terms with that end is very important, with the feeling that you’ve lived a full life in the best way you can, and not being too hard on yourself.’ And once you start to grapple with those ideas, it becomes all right. Part of the fear of death is the unknown, we don’t know what’s coming up next, but you have to start dealing with and it’s frightening when you see people that have completely blocked it and will not deal with it.”
There was another message in The Hours that she found interesting: “The other message in this film is that it’s so important not to judge too harshly peoples’ choices. Virginia’s struggle fed her creativity, she said, ‘I want to live my life. Don’t tell me how to live it. It may not be ultimately the healthiest way for me, and I may end up dying far sooner, but at least I will have lived it to the degree that I wanted to, and it was my choice.’ Those themes resonate and are very important now because there’s a lot of judgment in the world and it’s something that we have to be very careful of. I look with great affection at Virginia as this rare creature, and I am astounded by her genius.”