Take a seat at a suburban Nashville diner on a random morning and you may see a tall, curly-haired Australian actress eating an egg-white omelette amongst the regulars. On this particular sprin gmorning, waiting in the corner booth of Noshville, I hear a hoot of laughter and then Nicole Kidman appears, casually escorted by country singer Vince Gill. Before sitting down for a full breakfast one booth over, he drops her off with me and announces that he's turning 60 the next day. "Say hello to my boyfriend," he says to Kidman, referring to her husband, Keith Urban.
Noshville is quite something. It's a New York–style deli in Green Hills populated by a demographic that makes Kidman and me look as if we belong at the kids' table. "Oh, I love this place," she says, bopping around like, yes, a kid. "I do everything here."
Kidman, who turns 50 this summer, is in her element, both physically and metaphorically. At the start of a four-month break from back-to-back projects, she's taking a breath and spending time with Urban and their two daughters, Sunday and Faith. After a three-decades-plus acting career — both amply rewarded and deliberately esoteric — she is in the unusual and glorious position of coming off the massive HBO hit series Big Little Lies, which, in this age of binge-watching, was addictive-appointment viewing. The miniseries, co-produced by Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, among others, and co-starring Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley, was pretty mainstream for Kidman, and its success gave her an old-fashioned kick. "I was like, 'Yeah, I'll do this because I want to work with my friends.'" She laughs. "And, luckily, my friends are talented."
VIDEO: We Put Nicole Kidman's Aussie Knowledge To the Test
June 23 sees the release of Sofia Coppola’s gothic Civil War drama, The Beguiled, a remake of the 1971 Clint Eastwood classic. Kidman plays the headmistress of a girls’ school faced with a wolf in Colin Farrell’s clothing. Buttoned-up but ballsy, her character is the opposite of Kidman herself, who is the dictionary definition of sensitive. But I guess that’s why they call it acting.
LAURA BROWN: I still can't get over Big Little Lies. What a triumph for grown-up ladies.
KIDMAN: I always say when women unite and work together, we're very powerful. One, because we're very loyal. And two, because once we're in it, we're all multitaskers, and we can get stuff done. It's a beautiful thing when you can actually make a project work based on true friendships.
LB: How gorgeously old-fashioned.
NK: It's a lovely way to work if you can. Because as much as they say "Business is business, personal is personal" or "Don't take it personally," I think we all take it personally, right? I don't know how not to. I'm a sensitive person, and I deal with people in that way as well.
LB: You have always valued intimate friendships.
NK: Yeah, if I'm going to have a party, I want to have it with my girlfriends and my friends and my husband's friends. We have dinner parties or go away together. We're actually trying to organize a girls' weekend away right now. We're group-texting "What date can you do?"
LB: You and Naomi Watts have been friends for more than 30 years. How often do you see her?
NK: I maybe don't see her, but we talk a lot. We were on the phone for an hour the other day. She's the one I'm trying to get a trip together with, just to have some time.
LB: What are you doing for your 50th birthday?
NK: Haven't decided.
LB: Do you want to do something big?
NK: No. Me, big?
LB: "Big" as in "go away somewhere."
NK: Yeah, maybe. Keith and I might go on a hike with the girls. Or just go to the beach, swim, and be together. Naomi is trying to get me to have a party. I'll probably go to Australia and see her and my mom.
LB: You travel like mad. Do you sleep well on planes?
NK: Yeah, I'll always choose a night flight. I kind of bed down. I put on my jammies. I change the time. I've read all those things about how to combat jet lag—in your magazine! I even travel with my own pillow. My comfort thing is my own pillow, like a baby. I've got baby qualities. [Laughs]
LB: You just finished Untouchable, and now you're off for four months, right?
NK: Yeah, I'm going to go on some field trips for UN Women. [Kidman is a longtime UN Women Goodwill Ambassador.] And I'm going to do all the self-care things I haven't been able to do because I was working. When you have kids, there's a big syndrome where you put everybody before yourself, and I fall into that habit regularly. I've got to get my daughters to school, and school starts early.
LB: I love how Keith came to the cover-shoot set yesterday and then sort of peaced out. You are so easy with each other.
NK: He was going to come down and pick me up, and I was like, "No, don't worry. Just have dinner with the kids, and I'll be running home."
LB: Everyone notices how physically close you two are.
NK: Yeah. You've been to our parties. It's friends and family.
LB: And, when I was with you in Sydney last Christmas, your priest! He was amazing.
NK: Father Coleman, our family priest—he's 90. He's done a lot for us: weddings, births, baptisms, and funerals.
LB: You surround yourself with the people you love and trust. Does that help when you leave to shoot or to promote something for weeks at a time? How does one fuel the other?
NK: As much as it looks really glitzy, acting is a job for me. I'm not a celebrity who's going to go out just because. That's not my nature.
LB: The duck on the pond is you in a Gucci dress at a première, but the legs are going underneath the water all the time.
NK: The duck on the pond part of it is 20 percent of my life, but that's my choice. I'm naturally an introvert.
LB: Tell me a bit about the process of getting into a character. When you're in a difficult role, do you still feel gutted when you get home?
NK: On Big Little Lies I was completely disturbed by it. It penetrated. Everything does in different ways, but that's the place you exist in when you work creatively. There's no other option. It's a pull. I would have to find somewhere else to place all that energy otherwise.
LB: How long does it take you to come down from performances?
NK: Some I'll shed the minute I walk away, and others not so much. Celeste on Big Little Lies took a long time to walk away from. Also, that was dealing with [domestic violence] issues that are very, very present. I meet people all the time who are going through it. And I experienced it in that way [onset ]where I would come home and be physically hurt at times. And Keith was like a soothing balm, because I came home to a man who wasn't like that. But I had a foot in both worlds. There were points where I was on the floor just crying, and I had to stay in that. I was deeply affected by it. But that's the nature of things when you're really trying to be authentic.
LB: You always push it with your choices. How ambitious are you?
NK: I'm not. I think when I was younger I had all these incredible dreams and ideas. Now I ride it. I'm sure there's a flow to things, but I wouldn't know how to decipher it.
LB: You could completely rest on your laurels—and your Oscar—at this point.
NK: I believe in giving it everything you've got, doing your best so you don't walk around going, "Gee, I wish I'd just committed to that a little bit more." You're not always going to nail it.
LB: You're such a tenacious entertainer.
NK: Is it tenacious? I don't know what it is. Art has given me so much. It's saved my life at times.
LB: You have to find the thing in life that's going to drive you and save you, the thing you can contribute to whatever field it is—theater, fashion…
NK: There are dreams attached to fashion. When it's presented in a way where you go [gasp], it just makes you feel good. It allows me to express what I'm feeling, as in, I want to wear that because that's actually my rebellion right now. Or that's my way of fitting in. Or it's my way of saying no. Or it's my way of saying I'm different. I grew up with a grandmother and a mother who loved clothes.
LB: Who were the first designers who really spoke to you?
NK: I remember when I first met with John Galliano and I would see him working in Paris at Dior. And also Karl Lagerfeld, all of those Chanel dresses. But then, you know, [costume designer] Janet Patterson was one of the greats. She did The Piano and The Portrait of a Lady.
LB: Do you keep a lot of stuff?
NK: I'm giving my wedding dress, the Balenciaga one that Nicolas Ghesquière did for me, to an Australian exhibit called "Love." I'll support anything that supports love. Truly. Isn't it the essence of everything? It can heal so many things. Good love, sweet love, kind love, gentle love, powerful love. There are so many different forms of love, which then leads to loss, which then leads to all the primary emotions. We all know children who were raised with love. You can see them.
LB: You've raised children at two different times in your life—Isabella and Connor, who are 24 and 22, and now Sunday and Faith, who are 9 and 6.
NK: I suppose the basis of who I am is maternal. I'm the oldest child in my family, which probably has a lot to do with nurturing and taking care of people. So, yeah, a lot of my forces are maternal. I mean, they're romantic too. I've always chosen to have really deep, intense romantic relationships. I don't flit around, Laura. I don't dabble. That's who I am, and my mother's always said it: "You're just a child who attaches."
LB: "Nicole Kidman, she didn't half-ass it. She gave it the full ass."
NK: I really like to get in there. My relationship with my mom is really intimate and real. I hear deep truths from her, because, at 77, she's been finding them for a lifetime.
LB: I think you bring them out in people too.
NK: That's why I have girlfriends I've known for literally 30 or 40 years. They're the heroes in my life—they've navigated unbelievable things, raised their kids, and are still right in there with open hearts and bright eyes. And my sister, Antonia, who's getting her law degree right now and has six kids, can you believe her? And she is in her 40s. She's still in Singapore. That's my younger sister.
LB: There's a quiet strength to the women in your family.
NK: Yeah. And we've got cousins—everyone, we're all very close. We're very female-driven. I think that's why the loss of my dad three years ago was so, so devastating, because there are only a few men in our family. My sister does have the four boys now, though, so they're coming up through the ranks.
LB: I met your dad once, at dinner. I could have talked to him all night. I found him so wise.
NK: I believe he's up there looking out over us. I'm hoping. I feel him. Anyone who's lost a parent they were close to can relate. And it's good to talk about it, because it keeps them a part of the world.
LB: When you're working, do you find it hard to keep up with everyone? How do you?
NK: I call. People text, and then I text back "Just call me." I like the voice. Keith and I don't ever text. We call. That's just what we've always done. We're old-school.
LB: What's a perfect day for you?
NK: On weekends, we just hang—wake up, get the paper. We eat together as a family, breakfast and dinner always. We're very, very tight. It's how I was raised. It's what I know.