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From ‘white trash’ to white gloves — Nicole Kidman on playing Charlotte in ‘The Paperboy’ and Grace Kelly in ‘Grace of Monaco’

Thelma Adams
The Reel Breakdown
December 12, 2012

"Precious" made Nicole Kidman do it! The passionate redhead saw Lee  Daniels's movie about an abused overweight Harlem teenager who overcomes adversity -- and some really crazy TV tossing -- and felt she had to work with the notoriously nutty director in "The Paperboy." The Oscar winner for playing the veddy, veddy British Virginia Woolf in "The Hours" took on the role of the oversexed, inmate-loving Southerner Charlotte. All in the name of art!

Kidman, who is courting supporting-actress awards for a role that had her (spoiler alert!) peeing on Zac Efron, talked to Yahoo! Movies from Brussels, where she plays Grace Kelly in "Grace of Monaco." Talk about going from white trash to white gloves! When asked if co-star Efron, who parades around in his underwear throughout "The Paperboy," was the movie's sex object, Kidman's voice rises: "I thought I was!"

Thelma Adams: How did director Lee Daniels sell you on this role?

Nicole Kidman: They sent me the script overnight, and because I'd seen "Precious," I read it immediately. Lee didn't have to sell me on it at all. It was something so different from what I've done. As an actor that's the territory I wanted to tap into, particularly as I get older. I really want to go to different places artistically. I will not say no to a director.

TA: And in "The Paperboy," you play a girl who, like the song says, just can't say no.

NK: I will not censor myself through my own inhibitions. I'd rather not do the piece. I've turned things down that Lars von Trier would offer me because I would not be able to go there right now. As I get older, my barometer for what I consider daring gets broader. It's not about doing something to be shocking. I found this woman fascinating. Charlotte chooses to be with men in prison. Out of my research meeting similar women came her character's psychology.

TA: You have a crazy scene with John Cusack, who plays the inmate of Charlotte's affections, where their characters have intimate relations in a prison interview room. Tell me about it.

NK: The scene is truthful. It was on the page, but it wasn't, because there were only five or six lines, and then it just grew into that scene. It shows Charlotte's absolute obsession.

[Related: Director Roger Michell talks to our Thelma Adams about filming 'Hyde Park on Hudson,' casting Bill Murray, and following 'The King's Speech']

TA: Were you at all distracted because there was nothing private about the interaction? You were surrounded by other men on set, actors playing lawyers, guards, and journalists ... and the filmmakers.

NK: Charlotte doesn't see anything else there. From the minute John's inmate comes in, all of her desire, and the need to be needed by him, is the thing that keeps her alive. But when he's out of prison, he's a different thing. From the women I've interviewed, when they're out of prison, then it becomes too real. That comes from not wanting anything really intimate. Charlotte wants the fire but not the burn. It's dangerous territory. The fragility of her attracted me to her.

TA: Now you're shooting Grace Kelly for "Grace of Monaco," which strikes me as less dangerous territory. You're talking to us from the set in Brussels, and you've just wrapped for the day. What is the challenge in playing Grace Kelly?

NK: I'm so in it right now. She's very different from Charlotte, obviously, but it's still about finding the character's humanity. I still look like her while I'm talking to you. I'm still all done up like her. We've been shooting for two and a half months in Monaco, Nice, and Paris and have another month to go.

TA: Could anybody be more different from Charlotte, with her fake tan, than Princess Grace?

NK: It's definitely different from Louisiana in the summer where I was dressed in that sweaty blue dress with that tan. There was such a refined quality to Grace. It's lovely to embody that. It's only a small period of her life, four or five months.

TA: And it's a great cast, right?

NK: The best. Frank Langella plays my priest, and Tim Roth plays my husband, Prince Rainier III. I love working with the actors. With John Cusack and Matthew McConaughey. They're good, and that's what makes it fun. I look at Frank [Langella] there giving everything every day. He's 74, and he still has the enthusiasm and curiosity of a 20-year-old. I would hope that's what I'd bring at his age. I don't want to become jaded.

TA: There are two recent movies about Alfred Hitchcock and his blond leading ladies, "The Girl" and "Hitchcock." How big a part does the director play in "Grace of Monaco"?

NK: Only a tiny bit. That's not what the movie's about at all. It starts with Grace being offered "Marnie."

TA: The part that went to Tippi Hedren, Melanie Griffith's mother. What movies, other than your own, do you love this season?

NK: "Amour." "Amour." "Amour." I'm so crazy for that film. It breaks my heart, but it's blindingly real. It just pierces our psyche and deals with that subject matter of aging so elegantly and poignantly. Michael Haneke is such a great director. I'd crawl over hot coals to work with Haneke.

See the trailer to 'The Paperboy':

'The Paperboy' Theatrical Trailer