“When I Met Keith It Was Like I Came Home”

After some dark days, Nicole Kidman has come back stronger than ever with TV’s Big Little Lies and an anchor in musician-husband Keith Urban

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Who is the real Nicole? Behind the red-carpet glamour and the insane background babble of tabloid gossip, friends paint a different picture of the Australian actress. Intense, passionate and funloving are just some of the words used to describe her by industry insiders. Other descriptors include mischievous, curious, compassionate, brave, smart, and intensely loyal. When asked if Nicole recognises herself in those words, there’s a sharp intake of breath. “I hope so. They’re fantastic words… I try to live that way,” says the actress who has just wrapped up a successful second season of HBO’s Big Little Lies.

Her career is a jumble of vastly different projects, some huge hits, some artistic failures; and it’s this willingness to push boundaries, to allow failure, that makes Nicole so appealing to directors. This month, she’ll be starring in The Goldfinch by auteur John Crowley.

Power Of Acting

As luck would have it, Nicole struck on acting young. “I wanted to be a ballet dancer, a lawyer or an actress and then at 12 it was, ‘No, I just want to act’,” she says. “It was always like my sun and moon. It was a place where I could escape and it was also a place where I could explore. It was the place I could go to where I could be soothed.”

And soothe it did. In the midst of her divorce with Tom Cruise, which seemed to have come out of nowhere, it was acting that gave her reprieve. Director Stephen Daldry, who cast her in The Hours, reveals that Nicole's real-life pained emotions at the time worked in his favour for the Virginia Woolf biopic. He recalls, “That volatility and the vulnerability, the emotional openness was a huge bonus to playing Virginia.”

Nicole responds, “That’s part of the journey of an actor and Stephen was able to shape that because I wasn’t able to,” she recalls. “For me, it wasn’t, ‘Oh my gosh I can put all of this emotion into Virginia’. In a weird way Stephen gave me the solace and ability to go, okay. The work was the recipient of that.”

It resulted in Nicole winning an Oscar and while she later described the award as “an epiphany” for her professionally, she also said that when she was up on stage holding the statuette, “I was the loneliest I’d ever been”.

Finding Love Again

That was in 2002, a year after her divorce and Nicole thought she would never heal. She was wrong. She was introduced to Keith Urban at the G’Day LA Festival in 2005 and while it took four months for the country star to pluck up the courage to call her, the attraction between the two was instant.

“It was like I came home. It was like every part of him was familiar, even though I’d never met him before,” says Nicole. They married the following year in Sydney, and looking at them today – 13 years on and two daughters later – it’s clear their love is elemental.

“You have to remember we met later in life,” says Nicole. “I think there’s something special about that because we were both desperate to find that person, but we’d also reached that place of going, ‘Gosh, I wonder if it’s ever going to happen’. So to then have that happen and also be given the chance to have children, that’s enormous.”

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It was like every part of him was familiar, even though I’d never met him before

– Nicole on meeting Keith for the first time