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‘Enchanted audiences for decades’: Nicole Kidman first Australian to receive top US film award

Nicole Kidman's international career (pictured in July this year in London) took off after the 1989 psychological thriller Dead Calm.

Nicole Kidman's international career (pictured in July this year in London) took off after the 1989 psychological thriller Dead Calm. Photo: AAP

Acting royalty Nicole Kidman is set to add to her film and television awards, becoming the first Australian to receive America’s highest film honour, the 49th American Film Institute Life Achievement Award next year.

Already the recipient of an Academy Award, a British Academy Film Award, two Primetime Emmy Awards and six Golden Globe Awards, the 56-year-old darling of the screen joins the likes of Julie Andrews, Denzel Washington and George Clooney for the prestigious nod at the Dolby Theatre in April.

“Nicole Kidman has enchanted audiences for decades with the daring of her artistry and the glamour of a screen icon,” said AFI Board of Trustees Kathleen Kennedy.

“She is a force both brave in her choices and bold in each performance.”

“[She] has captured the imaginations of audiences throughout her prolific career, delivering complex and versatile performances onscreen … seamlessly moving between independent and studio films,” the AFI said in a statement confirming the date of the gala tribute on Monday.

So how did the star of the screen get to where she is today?

Hawaii-born, Sydney-raised Kidman made a guest appearance at industry festival SXSW in her home town last month, giving the 2500-seated audience a masterclass in what it takes to be the best of the best.

She described herself as someone who will “literally just jump into things” and is “willing to fail”, saying her experiences taught her the importance of second chances.

Making mistakes.

“I’ve been in that position where people have gone, ‘Oh, you’ve had some failures, you’re over’, and it’s like really? You’re telling me that, no way. Give me another chance,” she said.

She’s worked behind the scenes, knocked on doors, worked the room, and never gave up.

“I have peed in the bush,” Kidman told the audience.

“Because there was nothing around and we had very little time when we were losing the light. So, it’s like, go behind the tree.”

“I’ve worked enough to know now, you never fight the situation,” she said.

“If that’s what it is, then you just stay very, very calm, almost like in a trance. Because if you do fight it, you’ll get even worse.

“It will give something to the scene.

“Don’t resist it, don’t fight it … a lot of the mistakes are the things that actually make it magic,” she said.

Indeed, she has created a lot of magic on screen over the decades.

After making her debut on screen at age 16 in a remake of the Australian holiday classic Bush Christmas followed by BMX Bandits, she first came to the attention of American audiences with her critically acclaimed performance in Phillip Noyce’s psychological thriller, Dead Calm.

“I see myself as a global actress,” she told Jenny Cooney in 2021 in a conversation with Jenny Cooney about Australians & Hollywood for the National Film and Sound Archive.

“I can go around the world and work in all different countries. But my intrinsic make-up was from Australia and I learnt how to make films here, where you would be so lucky to have any sort of amount of money to make a film.

After two small films, she was cast in Dead Calm alongside Sam Neill,”[which] for me was when [I realised] I’m going to get to do this for a little bit longer”.

“Then it just snowballed, and I think every actor hopes for that.”

Indeed it did.

Ex-husband Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman with the late Princess of Wales in 1992.Photo: Getty

Her place in Hollywood began to take shape, and after working on Days of Thunder and Far and Away with her then-boyfriend Tom Cruise, the offers came rolling in.

Some were memorable films throughout the 1990s like To Die For … some, like Batman Forever, Practical Magic and The Peacemaker, maybe not.

The NFSA asked her about ambition when she looks at her career.

“Picking yourself up and not being felled when you’re down. And when something happens where, what is perceived as a failure, not letting it be the thing that cuts you off at the knees and stops [you].

“Where you just go, okay, get on with it.

“And wanting to be a part of storytelling.”

Nicole Kidman in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge! Photo: AAP

Her storytelling continued to pay dividends as one of the hardest working actors in the business, developing a catalogue of work with the major studios and streaming giants, both on screen and as a producer with her company, Blossom Films.

“I’m … the recipient of an enormous amount of knowledge and talent and wisdom and guidance. I can’t even name all the names but there’s been so many people in the Australian film industry that have gone out on a limb for me, that have given back to me, that have fought for me.

“And all I can do is literally bow down and say, ‘I am so grateful and I’ll pass it on, what do I need to do?’,” she tells the NFSA.

In 2003, she won an Oscar for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in The Hours, for which she also won a Golden Globe and a BAFTA Award.

She received Oscar nods for her performances in Australian director Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!, John Cameron Mitchell’s Rabbit Hole, Garth Davis’ Lion and Aaron Sorkin’s Being The Ricardos.

The Hollywood foreign press loved her, awarding six Golden Globes  including for her performance in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For. Her next Golden Globe came in 2002, winning best actress in a musical for Moulin Rouge!.

Then came her critically acclaimed performance as American TV icon Lucille Ball in Aaron Sorkin’s Being The Ricardos.

25 greatest Australian films since 2000

Nicole Kidman and Sunny Pawar in a scene from Lion. Photo: AAP

Small screen series for the streamers

Developing, starring in and producing limited series for the small screen has also been a success story for Kidman.

“You have to be diverse and you have to be willing to go different places,” she says.

In television, Kidman successfully launched limited series Big Little Lies in 2017 and Kidman received Emmy, Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild awards for her portrayal of Celeste.

In 2021, she was back in HBO’s The Undoing opposite Hugh Grant and then released two limited series, Nine Perfect Strangers, Roar, and most recently in Paramount+ original series Special Ops: Lioness.

She recently wrapped production on upcoming Netflix series The Perfect Couple (with Liev Schreiber and Dakota Fanning), will be seen in  Expats, Netflix’s, A Family Affair, and thriller film Holland, Michigan for Amazon Prime Video.

Nicole Kidman and husband Keith Urban at the 94th Annual Academy Awards last year. Photo: Getty

Kidman shares two teenage daughters with fellow Aussie and country music star Keith Urban whom she married in 2006.

They split their time between their US base in Nashville and Australia.

The SMH reported in May the couple had bought their sixth apartment in the harbourside suburb of Milson’s Point for $7.5 million. Their real estate portfolio also includes property in New York City, Beverly Hills, Nashville, and other Australian locations.

After a nod to her career in 2017 at Cannes, she will now be the first Australian to be awarded America’s highest film honour.

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