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Nicole Kidman has returned home to Australia to star in her latest epic romantic adventure film Australia, directed by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) and co-starring fellow Australian Hugh Jackman – but ironically she doesn’t get to play an Aussie. The 41-year-old Oscar-winning actress whose credits include; To Die For, Moulin Rouge, The Hours, Cold Mountain and The Golden Compass stars as English aristocrat Lady Sarah Ashley in the epic romantic adventure film set in northern Australia during World War II. When Lady Ashley arrives in the outback to take over a sprawling ranch she has inherited, she reluctantly makes a pact with a cattle drover (Hugh Jackman) to protect her new property from a takeover plot by cattle baron King Carney (Bryan Brown). This leads the pair, along with a young Aboriginal boy, Nullah (Brandon Davis), to drive 2,000 head of cattle over unforgiving landscape to Darwin, where they experience firsthand the bombing of that city by Japanese forces. Married to Australian singer Keith Urban, Nicole gave birth to their first child, daughter Sunday Rose, on July 7.
What can you say about Lady Ashley’s journey in this film?
Well I play English, which is ironic, to go back to Australia to play an Englishwoman! But I become sort of what the essence of an Australian is, which is I think a survivor. I get stripped of all my barriers and pretenses and get stripped down and become this very raw, sensitive available human being. The film starts in a place of humor as far as Lady Ashley coming to Australia and not being ready for what she has to deal with. Baz is a unique filmmaker and it has his stamp on it, so there is a lot of humor that filters through and a quirkiness that is very Baz.
What kind of preparation did you have to do?
I have ridden horses all my life but I’d never learned to crack a stock whip and I’d certainly never learned to do any cutting, which is what you do with cattle on a horse. So I had to work hard at that, but at the same time I didn’t need to do much else working with Baz because he and I have a language that is very established. He doesn’t even have to talk to me and I understand him. He can just breathe and I know what his breathing means. I’ve worked with him on such a deep level that there is this tacit understanding.
How did you and Baz come up with your character?
The thing people don’t understand is that the way it always starts with Baz is so small. At the beginning of the film, when we were trying to find the character, they came to Nashville and we were in a hotel room with a suitcase and a hat and a couple of props and I’m on the back of the couch pretending to be on a horse and he’s got the little video camera saying ‘OK, ok, pretend you’re riding to Drover! ’ It’s like shooting a student film and that is how we started. And that’s the sensibility throughout the whole film, no matter what the scope. There were days where there was a very joyful, very abandoned approach to the creative process for all of us.
How was it working with the cattle?
At first it was terrifying but then it was addictive. To be up in Kununurra (Northern Australia) in this extreme heat on the salt flats, riding and rounding up and cutting cattle, when else am I ever going to get the chance to do that? When I arrived in Kununurra and felt the harshness of that land and the heat, I thought I’d last two days there. But at the end of shooting there for two months, I was looking around to buy property so that’s how that land and that area captivated me. I hope more people go up there and see it because it’s uncharted territory even for a lot of Australians. This is the equivalent of Africa in its own beautiful Australian way.
How was this experience working with Baz after Moulin Rouge?
I deeply love him; words can’t describe my devotion to him. It’s been said that I would walk over hot coals through fire for him and I probably would if he asked me. He’s such a dedicated artist and a great human being. His enthusiasm and joy and love of life are inspiring and I think that is why his movies do well. As much as they encompass love and loss and stories that aren’t necessarily happy endings, they are still full of hope because he is the opposite of a misanthrope.