How Nicole Kidman Puts Women First in Hollywood
It makes sense that “Big Little Lies” became a series on HBO rather than a feature film at a major studio. As superhero and other tentpole movies dominate the release schedules of the major studios, even bona fide movie stars like Natalie Portman, Daniel Craig and Bradley Cooper are bringing their projects to places like HBO, Showtime, Amazon and Netflix.
“There’s not as much of a separation anymore,” Ms. Witherspoon said in a telephone interview. “There’s a bigger pool to work in, the talent base is much broader than it used to be, and it’s become sort of a blur — what is television, what is a movie?”
Just two and a half years elapsed between conception to finished project. In the spring of 2014, Bruna Pappandrea, Ms. Witherspoon’s former partner in her production company (Pacific Standard), who is also friends with Ms. Kidman, read a galley of “Big Little Lies,” thought it was great and called Ms. Witherspoon, who was in New Orleans shooting “Hot Pursuit.” Entranced by the book, Ms. Witherspoon got Ms. Kidman, an old friend, to read it, too.
Ms. Kidman said she was drawn in by the many moods of the book, by its strong female characters, and that “as much as it’s about women who are feuding, who are trying to destroy one another, it’s also about friendships.” (The character she plays, Celeste, seems to have a perfect life, including a hunky younger husband played by Alexander Skarsgard, but it’s a facade that begins to peel away as the series goes on.)
She called Ms. Witherspoon back. “I said, ‘I’m in if you’re in,’” Ms. Kidman recalled. “And she said, ‘I’m in. Now all we have to do is get it.’” That meant persuading the author, Ms. Moriarty, at home in Australia, to sell them the exclusive rights.
Ms. Kidman was on her way there for a vacation, and she and Ms. Moriarty met in a coffee shop in Sydney. Ms. Moriarty said she had not expected much from the meeting. “I’ve had other books optioned before, and other authors have said, ‘Never get too excited until the day they start shooting,’” she said by telephone. “And Nicole said, ‘If I option it, get excited because I don’t just option things for the sake of it.’”
Ms. Witherspoon then enlisted Jean-Marc Vallee, who directed Ms. Witherspoon in “Wild” — “And then Reese sends Jean-Marc an email,’” is how Ms. Kidman described it — and the two women then hired David E. Kelley (“Ally McBeal,” “The Practice”) to write the screenplay
At first they weren’t sure which network would be the best fit. But Ms. Kidman had worked with HBO before, as the star of “Hemingway and Gellhorn. “I knew what they had to offer in terms of really allowing a project to percolate and grow,” she said.
What ensued was a burst of all-female networking activity that Ms. Kidman compared to the way the A-list friends from the “Ocean’s 11” films conduct their business. She and Ms. Witherspoon began working the phones. “Reese and I were like, ‘“O.K., let’s go for it,’ and suddenly Shay was in” — that’s Ms. Woodley — “and she signs on because Laura Dern, who’s one of her best friends, goes, ‘I’m in and I’ll talk to Shay,” Ms. Kidman said.
The experience has been rewarding enough that she and Ms. Witherspoon’s production companies last year optioned Ms. Moriarty’s latest book, “Truly Madly Guilty.” (Ms. Kidman’s company has also optioned a novel called “The Expatriates,” which has what she calls “three amazing roles for women” and is set in Hong Kong.)
With HBO, Ms. Kidman is also working on the dramatization of another novel she optioned, “Reconstructing Amelia,” about a mother who sets out to find out why her daughter committed suicide. (Naomi Watts is in discussions to play the main character, Mr. Amato said.) Ms. Kidman said she feels intuitively that this one ought to be a film, rather than a limited series, which appears to be fine with HBO. “It’s delicate, the balance, how you make these things,” Ms. Kidman said, of the decision to embark on a series or a feature.
Mr. Amato’s job means that he meets a great many people pitching their projects. Many actors have production companies, or wish they had production companies, but their levels of commitment and engagement vary wildly, he said.
“Not all big stars are as in the weeds as Nicole and Reese are on ‘Big Little Lies,’” he said. “It’s very unusual when you have a megastar who’s also a producer sitting around the table doing their homework. It’s meaningful when it comes from people who found the project, who put all the elements together and who are also going to put themselves on the line as actors.”
The two women’s involvement included making decisions about locations and budgets, helping shape character arcs and taking part in script meetings. “We got to put loads of ideas on the table,” Ms. Kidman said. “As an actor, you don’t get to do that, but as a producer you have to be there.”
She and Mr. Saari, her producing partner, mentioned another project: a film adaptation of “Cuddles,” a sharp and unusual vampire drama that Ms. Kidman had seen Off Broadway. “I feel like I’m in a position now where I have a little bit of power, I would like to throw it behind people that need it,” she said, speaking of Joseph Wilde, the young British playwright who wrote “Cuddles.”
“Did you option that?” Mr. Amato asked.
“Yes, we’ve got a script, and it’s out with a director,” Ms. Kidman responded. She remained mysterious on the subject of where it might end up.
Ms. Kidman said that the transformation of television had created a vast menu of possibility for actors, and for producers.
“There are so many great stories out there and so many talented people,” she said. “We probably would not have been able to do this — ‘Big Little Lies’ probably wouldn’t have been made — if it hadn’t been made for TV.”
(New York Times)