Nicole Kidman has played a slew of transformative roles throughout her three-decade career. But rarely has a character had such a strong personal impact on her as Celeste — the mother of two trying to navigate her way through an abusive relationship that Kidman so beautifully portrayed in HBO’s megahit miniseries Big Little Lies.
The Emmy Awards agreed — she won for best actress in a limited series Sunday.
Filming scenes where her character often engaged in rough sexual acts to please her husband Perry (Alexander Skarsgård), seconds before (or in some cases, after) being slapped or pushed or mentally abused, Kidman was physically and emotionally naked. And she absorbed every bit of Celeste’s pain.
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“I felt very exposed and vulnerable and deeply humiliated at times,” the 50-year-old actress admitted in an interview for W’s August issue.
One scene in episode 7 particularly stood out for Kidman. “I remember lying on the floor in the bathroom…and I just wouldn’t get up in-between takes,” she recalled.
“I was just lying there, sort of broken and crying, and I remember at one point [director Jean-Marc Vallée] coming over and just sort of placing a towel over me because I was just lying there in half-torn underwear and just basically on the ground with nothing on and I was just, like [gasps].”
It would be moments like this when Kidman would have flashes of images of other women who had gone through similar situations. “I’m like, ‘This is authentic, this is the truth and this is what I have to do,’ ” she said. “And it would just come through like that.”
The effects of those feelings were hard to shake when the cameras stopped rolling though. “I would keep on a very brave face at work and then I would go home and I didn’t realize how much it had penetrated me,” she said. “It affected me in a deep way.”
“When I would go home, I would feel ashamed, and that’s the same emotions and the same feelings that Celeste was having,” Kidman continued. “So we were very much parallel in the feelings.”
Kidman was willing to expose herself for her performance, she said, because she felt it was important for the role. “I’m here to tell the story and to be true to the art, not to bring my own problems in terms of what I feel comfortable with, not comfortable with,” Kidman explained. “I’ve got to go work that stuff out so that I can come as a pure vessel to the work.”
And while she may come off as fearless, Kidman said she’s actually the opposite.
“I don’t see myself as fearless. I actually see myself as being fearful at times, probably because I experience fear but I kind of just walk through it,” she said. “I have an enormous amount of trust, probably to my detriment. I still, at this stage in my life and my career, implicitly trust, and that’s probably where the desire to be a part of something and the desire to contribute and not have my own inhibitions or my own censorship stop something or stop the artistic vision for a director or a story”
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Looking back on the show, Kidman is grateful that her role has had an impact on other women.
“I’m glad that it’s created the conversation,” she said. “I’m glad that it sort of pulled the veil off. I’ve received the most amazing e-mails from people saying I now understand why women stay or why people stay with an abuser.”
“If that changes one person’s life, that’s amazing for me,” she continued.
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The 69th Primetime Emmy Awards, hosted by Stephen Colbert, are airing live on CBS from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.