With several Nicole Kidman films due out this year -- including ones in which the Australia-born actress plays a villainous taxidermist, a mysterious amnesiac and a Hollywood star turned bona fide princess -- Kidman will again be a familiar face in theaters.
While maintaining a steady presence in Hollywood for more than two decades, the 46-year-old Academy Award winner has been focusing more in recent years on raising her two daughters with her husband, country star Keith Urban, in Nashville.
In her latest film, "The Railway Man," which opened earlier this month, Kidman plays a nurse and supportive wife to World War II veteran Eric Lomax (Colin Firth). In this autobiographical screen adaptation, the couple confronts his past as a prisoner of war in Thailand, where he was compelled to help build the "death railway," a 258-mile stretch of treacherous train track running into Burma, constructed during the Japanese military occupation in 1943.
Later this year, Kidman will also play the heavy in "Paddington," a fantasy about a Peruvian bear (Firth again) that visits London; an amnesiac who suspects the people around her (including Firth) are not who they appear to be in "Before I Go to Sleep"; Hollywood's Grace Kelly in "Grace of Monaco"; and Gertrude Bell, an archaeologist, explorer and British political attache in the Mideast at the turn of the 20th century in "Queen of the Desert."
In an interview, Kidman talks about her career and playing Lomax, Bell and Kelly. ("Grace of Monaco'' will be the opening film May 14 at the Cannes Film Festival.) Here are excerpts:
Q You've played many characters over the years, but how do you approach the ones based on actual people, like Virginia Woolf ("The Hours," for which Kidman won a best-actress Oscar), Grace Kelly and Patti Lomax?
A Patti is different because she's still alive, and was able to give me information about herself. I didn't meet her until I started filming. Everyone kept saying, "Do you want to meet her?" I was like, "No, I'd really like to be able to watch her in an interview." Actually, the producer sat with her for hours -- he's a very good friend of hers -- and taped her and sent me the tapes. I basically had access to her whole life, stories about her, her mannerisms and behavior, like I was a fly on the wall.
Q You have three films with Colin Firth ("The Railway Man," "Before I Go to Sleep" and "Paddington"). What is it about him that compels you to work with him?
A I just enjoy him. I really enjoy his brain and his talent, but he has a really great sense of humor. Me and millions of other women in the world go, "Wow! Colin Firth!" My mom adores him. My sister adores him. I've just got so many friends who go, "Oh my gosh. Colin Firth." I now know him in a different way, but I have such respect for him as an actor.
Q Tell me what it was like to play Grace Kelly. Have you seen the film yet?
A I have not seen the version that's showing at Cannes, but obviously I will. I may be seeing it opening night (May 14) at Cannes. It was the chance of a lifetime to play her. I really admire her, and I think she has such otherworldly qualities. I think she has an aura about her. I don't know if I'm able to capture that, but I was honored to have the chance to. We'll see. It's only a six-month period of her life that we depict. It's a fairy tale. It's not a heavy drama. It's got beautiful costumes. It's sumptuous.
Q You've had the chance to work with some incredible filmmakers throughout your career. What was it like teaming up recently with director Werner Herzog for "Queen of the Desert"?
A I call it "Werner World" ... just a different realm. It's glorious. I said to him, "Werner, I feel like I've been in a dream with you for the past two-and-a-half months, and now I've got my feet back on earth." I'm at a place where I'm so interested in exploring things and going places that I haven't been. I want my life to be full, so that means all of us -- my family -- up and moving to Morocco and doing this so we can have the experience.
Q Between your schedule and Keith's schedule, how do you balance everything?
A (All the) time when we're not working, we spend together. That's it. It's that simple. We have a very simple life but an extraordinary creative life, if that makes sense. I'm lucky that I've got a partner that's totally committed to making it work. We have two little girls that we adore, and we're very blessed, in the sense of having a family. We certainly talk about everything. We make the decisions together.
Q Where are you most happy these days -- in Nashville or on a set somewhere or back in Australia?
A Happiness, that's obviously different for everybody, but what I call my joy, the thing that makes me feel incredibly satiated, is my family. And then I get to go and play out all of my ideas and feelings through all these different characters. Then, I come back to just being mama.