Hollywood diva Nicole Kidman told a little anecdote on Saturday about how the 2001 Oscar-winning musical Moulin Rouge turned heavily to Bollywood for inspiration and used the anecdote to illustrate her love for Indian cinema.
The Academy winner and humanitarian revealed another little-known fact about her life at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit 2015, recounting her childhood dream to be in a musical.
“We stole a lot from Bollywood on Moulin Rouge as you probably are well aware. I watched a lot of Bollywood films and when we did Moulin Rouge we would sit in Baz Luhrmann’s office and he would screen all these Bollywood films and that’s when I fell in love with them,” she said.
“I’ve never been offered!” remarked the 48-year-old Australia-born actor and mother of four when session host and entrepreneur Suhel Seth asked her if she was never attracted to Bollywood and “have they tempted you”.
Her new film, Lion, has an Indian connection too. Partially set in Kolkata, it was shot in Tasmania. “It’s about a young boy from Calcutta, who is adopted by an Australian woman and it’s a true story and he wrote a book which is unbelievably emotional. It’s a beautiful story about him finding his birth mother…,” she said.
“I always wanted to be in a musical. It was possible and within reach if I worked hard enough. I was an actress: I would to drama school, I would catch a bus alone and my parents told me at 13 ‘if you want to go you have to get yourself there, we’re not driving you’.”
From her first acting assignment, playing a sheep in a Nativity play as a child where all she did was bleat “meh-meh, meh, meh” (Kidman did a bit of ventriloquism at the session for sound effect), to finding fame in Batman Forever, she won her first Oscar for her roles as Virginia Woolf in The Hours (2002).
“I wanted to be what I call an international actor. I wanted to be able to work in all countries, play all different roles, telling many different stories and part of my drive is the idea of us all coming closer through art,” she said.
Kidman, a goodwill ambassador for the UN Development Fund for Women since 2006, dons many roles in real life — actor, wife, mother and philanthropist. “I come from a family that had a very powerful social conscience. We would sit around the dinner table every night, as a family and we would discuss issues. We would discuss politics, we would discuss ideas and that’s some of my greatest memories of my father and my mother,” she said.
“I do view the world as a family and I know that sounds simplified and the more you can keep it simplified is better. I always speak passionately about women’s issues and women’s rights which I’ve done because my mother was a feminist and I was raised as a young feminist and now I’m the position to be able to help.”
For her philanthropic endeavors, such as raising money for disadvantaged children across the world, the UN honoured Kidman with its prestigious title, Citizen of the World.
The actor spoke about Photograph 51, a play she is in. “Before I did it I said ‘this play could be a disaster and make no money or it could be incredibly successful and make a lot of money, whatever that is, all my money is not my money and it will be given away to cancer research and mental health research, because that was in the name of my father.”
Watch Kidman speak at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit here
“And the Actors Benevolent Fund because I care very much about how actors are taken care of how they don’t have much and so they have these funds that help particularly older actors,” she said.
Seth broke the reverie with “which is the one director you would long to work with?”
“I know Steven Spielberg personally, I’ve always wanted to work with Steven. I would love to work for Michael Haneke … Stephen Daldry is a close friend and he directed me in The Hours,” Kidman replied.
She lit up while talking about Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, in which she was pitted opposite former husband Tom Cruise. “It was extraordinary. We didn’t think it was going to be his last film. It was like being with a film professor with whom I was for two years. He was educating me. And he was so willing to teach me. He was actually father of daughters. So he took on a paternal role for me as much as he was a film director.”
“When I got the phone call that he had died, that is still so edged in my brain. I remember collapsing on the floor screaming because I was so close to him … When you look at his films, you realise he was the true genius. He was probably the pinnacle because he managed to make so many different films. His movies never fell off,” she said.
Fielding an audience question on one thing that scares her, Kidman responded: “In the more immediate sense, I would say violence. They way we are violent towards each other. The all-pervasive nature of technology, a powerful thing no doubt, also worries me. The fact that, in some way, technology is drawing us away from human connect worries me. So many things heal through conversation and human contact. The power of the physical is a healing tool. The fact that connect is going away, frightens me.”
What about her thoughts on the girl child, considering the skewed sex ratio in India? “I think education, as a whole, in terms of understanding why we need woman to have equal opportunities. That is what we are always trying to educate people on … So primarily we have to take care of the families, the men, the women and both the sexes. If the family thrives, the world thrives.”
During the two days of the Hindustan Time Leadership Summit, global leaders will come together to talk how India can become the world’s bright spot. Politicians and political thinkers, cricketers and actors, doctors and spiritual leaders will put their minds together in bringing out the best that India can do.
On day 2, other speakers include Mehbooba Mufti, Dr Lawrence Summers, Marianne Williamson, Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Justice Mukul Mudgal, Dr VS Ramachandran and Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.