So I got to walk down part of the red carpet at this year's Golden Globes with Nicole Kidman.
Frankly, this whole last year in the movies has been about Nicole. It's the same way 2000 was all about Julia Roberts.
They were each always there, and then suddenly, they were really, really there.
To me, Kidman always used to look nervous in the movies. In Billy Bathgate, in that Irish fighting thing with Tom Cruise, in The Portrait of a Lady. She just did not look comfortable on screen. Maybe it was because of the incredible scrutiny she faced as Mrs. Tom Cruise. I don't know.
There were a couple of more memorable moments, and we latched onto them. In Dead Calm, the film she made B.T. (before Tom), Kidman was wonderfully freaked-out at sea. In To Die For, an anomalous picture with an incredibly witty script by Buck Henry, Nicole is delicious as the conniving murderess.
But more often than not, things did not seem to be going well. She was lost in Practical Magic, with Sandra Bullock and others chewing the scenery.
Suddenly, though, things have changed. She's come into her own. I was thinking this during Jez Butterworth's Birthday Girl, which opens next week. The release of Birthday Girl was held so that Kidman's triumphs in The Others and Moulin Rouge would give it a boost. This seems like a good idea since it's kind of a preposterous story.
Nevertheless, Kidman — who plays a Russian hooker exported to England to be a wife for a clueless Ben Chaplin — seems like she's in a groove. She's in the zone. And when you're in the zone, you can do no wrong.
Just ask Julia.
So here is where I stand with Nicole. Recently I interviewed her for Talk magazine's Oscar issue. It was a 90-minute phone call to Australia. I found her totally disarming, articulate and charming. She was as candid as she could be without dishing her failed marriage or tabloid headlines.
She told me how loyal she was to Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann, her friend, and to Ewan McGregor, the co-star with whom she did not have an on-set romance.
But let's face it: In The Others, Kidman delves into the film in a way that would be impossible in the music-video frenzy of Moulin Rouge. No singing, no dancing. But terror, as in Dead Calm, spreads through her, attacking her limbs, paralyzing her face. It's remarkable. And her beauty — that skin! — seems effortless.
I ran into her at the premiere of Birthday Girl last week at the Sundance Film Festival. You had to like her. She immediately struck up a conversation with two women when she learned they were my friends. She was not shy about being normal and inquisitive. She'd just come from Sweden, where she's filming Dogville with director Lars von Trier.
"We're all staying in a hotel together — it's like a dormitory," said Nicole, who is the daughter of academics. "Lauren Bacall is there! She's wonderful. We all have to entertain each other at night." The other actors in the picture include Stellan Skarsgård, Paul Bettany and Chloë Sevigny. Next week, Ben Gazzara will arrive.
"Who do you think will get Best Actor at the Globes?" Kidman asked us. "I hope it's Russell. I just told him he would."
Nicole had spent only a minute or so with Russell Crowe, her old pal from Australia who'd flown in for the premiere of Thirty-Odd Foot of Grunts: Texas, a documentary about his sort-of-awful rock group, Thirty-Odd Foot of Grunts.
Crowe was not much interested in socializing. Basically, he came and he went. At the Q&A session following his own screening, I was told he baited the audience. This much we know about Crowe — he likes rock 'n' roll, sheep and cattle, and has perfected public belligerence as a form of irony.
A few days later, the red carpet. Nicole — statuesque, shining — appears like Columbia, the gem of the ocean, with her parents, her publicist and a couple of friends. Her parents are tall, slim, attractive, and smart. They are not shy or quiet, which movie stars' parents should be so as not to steal the spotlight.
Nicole grabs me — recognizable faces on a red carpet are like yellow buoys in a dark, unlit ocean — and suddenly my press peers are calling out to me. What is going on? they wonder. What is Nicole saying?
She's saying, "That's my mom!" as her mother makes friends with the people from Brazilian TV. "We should do this show," she tells Nicole. Why? "I feel so sorry for these countries. No one talks to them."
Dutifully, Nicole talks to them, and then to a dozen more microphones. She's having fun, and she doesn't mind showing it. This is not the Nicole who was Far and Away. This is the Nicole who is here and now.
A couple of hours pass, and she wins Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy for Moulin Rouge. She loses Best Actress in a Drama for The Others to Sissy Spacek. In all likelihood, she will be nominated for an Oscar for the former, although the latter is the only way she could beat Spacek, who's become Oscar's odds-on favorite this year.
She hands the Golden Globe statue to her faithful publicist, Catherine Olim, who lets me hold it for a flickering second. Then Nicole takes it back. "Let's party," she says. She squeezes my hand conspiratorially. And off she goes.
Now that she's an award winner, has she changed? She spots my two friends from the Sundance night, who have transformed from ski chic to Hollywood glam. She stops them on the way into the Miramax gala. "You two look fantastic!" she says, before anyone can compliment her. She is utterly sincere. And so Nicole.