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Nicole Kidman and Amy Adams on the Need to Be Flexible

December 8, 2018

The 2019 Golden Globe nominations are in, and Nicole Kidman and Amy Adams are on the list. Kidman is up for consideration for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, and Adams is up for not one, but two awards. In this Variety’s Actors on Actors interview, the two superstars speak with an easy rapport–like “kindred spirits,” as Kidman says–about on-set experiences as well as aspects of their processes.  

Nicole Kidman earned her nomination with her gritty, transformative performance as the alcoholic LAPD detective Erin Bell in the crime thriller Destroyer. Indeed, the Australian actress is on a hot streak. Her portrayal as a religious mother of a conflicted gay son in the coming-of-age drama Boy Erased is receiving great reviews and many accolades, and her role as Queen Atlanna in the much-anticipated Aquaman will soon hit theaters. On top of that, all of this attention is riding on the heels of her Big Little Lies multi award-winning performance as domestic abuse survivor Celeste Wright.

Known for her astonishing range and willingness to take risks, Amy Adams is being honored for her supporting role as the outspoken, tough-as-nails Second Lady Lynne Cheney in Vice opposite Christian Bale. Adams received another nod for her performance in HBO’s Sharp Objects for Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Film.

As a child, Adams remembers being raised to do as she was told, and she was not really encouraged to speak her mind. In turn, the American Hustle actress has consciously needed to teach herself to break through that more passive frame of mind when it comes to her acting career. Playing the ambitious Lynne Cheney, Adams told Kidman, “was strangely empowering because I would go on set and have these debates with [Director Adam McKay] as Lynne Cheney, so we would talk about the political events of the day, and I would imagine Lynne’s point of view.”

Both actresses expressed having a hard time learning lines in general and needing to dedicate a good amount of time to the task. Kidman shared, “I have a tough time learning lines. There’s different directors, and sometimes there’s improvising; sometimes you can move around the line and fill in, and other times it literally is to the rhythm, to every piece of punctuation. You take a breath when they want you to take a breath.”

With all the various styles of directors an actor encounters, Kidman says, “People say, ‘What’s your process?’ Well, it changes every film.”

Amy recalls how she had to learn to become more flexible, saying:

“I think that it’s so important to have the adaptability because you never know the actor you’re going to be working with, the direction, what the day calls for. I always find that if I go into a scene with an idea of how this scene is going to go, it never goes that way. And that’s when you get lost when you’re trying to steer the scene. I used to try to steer scenes and I would get really panicky. There was this scene in ‘The Master’ where I was supposed to wake [Joaquin Phoenix] up and he wasn’t waking up. I freaked out. I’d pour water on his head now; I’d be like, ‘You want to play that game, Joaquin, here you go.’ I didn’t roll with it, and I learned a lesson from that.”

While growing up, Kidman was a very shy child and even had a stutter which she only gradually overcame. But, contrary to what one might think, her shyness is still something she has to worry about. Kidman reveals, If I’m willing to speak up and not be obedient all the time, then I’m free, and I do much better work. But if I haven’t worked for a long time, I’m a little bit rigid and scared.”

Rather than shyness, Adams shared an obstacle that periodically interferes with her performance. It’s when she feels compelled to please somebody. “When I’m trying to please the director, I’m not thinking about the character anymore. You do a take, and they call ‘Cut,’ and I would immediately look for them to tell me if it was okay. And I had to train myself out of that,” Adams shares.

Kidman finds that while pleasing others can sometimes really work well on set, other times, being well-behaved can stop her from boldly incorporating her own ideas. “Now what I’ve trained myself to do is just do it. I never ask; I just do it. Because then it’s being true to the character and who I am.”

Aquaman will be released on December 21. And Destroyer will be in theaters starting December 25.

The Mystery of Acting

March 1, 2013

Christian Bale in The Fighter

There are a million ways that actors describe the mystery of the actor’s journey. When the audience sees quality acting, it’s instantly recognized, creating a visceral response and genuine emotional impact. But how does an actor tap into this abstract ability? As complicated as it is to perform brilliantly, it’s another challenge entirely to describe the process. Here are a few examples of actors attempting to deconstruct the mechanisms of an unforgettable performance:

“I’ve always remembered something Sanford Meisner, my acting teacher, told us. When you create a character, it’s like making a chair, except instead of making someting out of wood, you make it out of yourself. That’s the actor’s craft–using yourself to create a character.” –Robert Duvall

“All an actor has is their blind faith that they are who they say they are today, in any scene.” –Meryl Streep

“You’re creating a different world and the actor’s job is to be able to convince the audience to enter into that world, whether it be actually something that you recognize from your own life or not.” –Christian Bale

“Never relax, and mean what you say.” –James Cagney

“Speak clearly and be human.” –Victorian actor, Henry Irving

“Part of being an actor is letting things come about organically as opposed to forcing them.” –David Duchovny

“Part of the reason of being an actor is you like playing other people’s lives and exploring all the psychologies in that and the emotions.” –Nicole Kidman

“Acting deals with very delicate emotions. It is not putting up a mask. Each time an actor acts he does not hide; he exposes himself.” –Rodney Dangerfield

“Being an actor means being an instrument for someone else. I want to give myself completely.” –Catherine Deneuve

“Well, I think any actor can probably identify with being a professional liar. You don’t always look at yourself that way, but I know a lot of days I do.” –John Cusack

“As an actor you become that lighting rod between the person who made the play and the audience.” –Christopher Walken

“Studying cows, pigs and chickens can help an actor develop his character. There are a lot of things I learned from animals. One was that they couldn’t hiss or boo me.” –James Dean

“In the beginning was the Word. Man acts it out. He is the act, not the actor.” –Henry Miller

“Well, in order for me to be successful … In order to be a great artist–musician, actor, painter, whatever – you must be able to be private in public at all times.” –Lady Gaga

“That’s what sets apart one actor from another, and that you can’t teach. You can’t give someone that. When you’re working, putting a character together, or in a scene, that’s where things will happen that you have to have the intuition to notice them, and to register them.” –Gary Oldman

“There’s a fine line between the Method actor and the schizophrenic.” –Nicolas Cage

“Oh yes. I’m an actor, so I just learn my lines, and show up and do it. I gave it a little bit of thought.” –Anthony Hopkins

What great actor did I miss? Please share your favorites. And more importantly, how about sharing your own personal philosophy on the mysteries of this intriguing craft?

“It Only Takes One”

February 18, 2013

Naomi Watts in The Impossible

“It was total naivety that got me to Hollywood. I thought it was going to happen straight away. I told myself, ‘Give it 5 years, there’s no way I’ll be here after that if it doesn’t happen.’ Cut to ten years later!” –Naomi Watts

British-Australian actress, Naomi Watts‘ performance in the real-life thriller, The Impossible is being described as nothing less than “astonishing.” In fact, she’s currently an Academy Award nominee thanks to her portrayal of Maria Bennett, one of the victims of 2004’s devastating Indian Ocean tsunami. And after 20 years in the business, Naomi’s career is still growing by leaps and bounds. Watts is currently shooting the long-awaited biopic, Diana, in which she plays the legendary Princess of Wales. Is there a bigger role for any star in the known universe? Probably not. But Naomi’s ascent to mega success was not, by any measure, a shoe in.

As a teenager living in Australia, Naomi shared a cab after an audition with a girl who would become her best friend, Nicole Kidman. Later on, Watts moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of her acting dream, but desired roles proved hard to come by. And finding agents, producers and directors proved to be frustrating as well. She struggled with serious money woes including not being able to pay the rent, and losing her medical insurance. Sound familiar? Of those early years, Watts says, “I had gotten to a place where I truly believed everything I was called: ‘not sexy,’ ‘not funny,’ ‘too intense,’ ‘desperate.’ All those labels they gave me, I took them because there wasn’t a trace of my true self left.” 

Naomi Watts and Nicole Kidman

She was forced to take jobs outside of the industry–one of which was working as a nanny for Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise. Nicole kept Naomi motivated and enlivened her spirits through ten years of rejection, near misses in important callbacks, and having to suffer lesser roles on TV shows and B-list productions. Naomi credits Nicole for keeping her in the game:

“Oh my God, I mean, I considered myself fairly sensitive, but I don’t think a strong person could cope with it over and over again… there were moments when I was sure I was done. Oh yeah, but I didn’t have a plan B really, I didn’t. [Nicole] She kept saying, ‘It’s just going to take one thing, one thing, Nay, and you know, if you’re in a hit film…then everything changes.’”

That one hit film proved to be David Lynch’s psychological thriller, Mulholland Drive. When she auditioned for the role of Betty Elms/Diane Selwyn, Naomi says, “I was literally at the lowest place, and yet he (Lynch) managed to pull away all those masks.” What followed was an outpouring of best-breakthrough-performance and best-actress awards for Watts.

Nicole was right. It only took one.

So as tough as it is, hang in there, actors! It only takes one pivotal role and your whole life could change. And be sure to find supportive friends. Hey, come to think of it, be sure to be a supportive friend. If we’re not going to help one another, what’s the sense?