‘Do You Cry Easily?’: Nicole Kidman and Chris Rock Interview Each Other — and It Gets Deep

·13-min read

Chris Rock (“Fargo”) and Nicole Kidman (“The Undoing”) sat down for a virtual chat for Variety‘s Actors on Actors. For more, click here.

Chris Rock, it turns out, loves Nicole Kidman as much as the rest of us do. During a conversation with the Oscar-winning star of “The Hours,” Rock reeled off a few favorite Kidman performances — from “To Die For” (“One of my favorite movies ever,” he said) to “Destroyer” (which he called a “drugged-up cop” movie) — before confessing that he’d watched basically everything she’s ever done. And he’s already lining up to buy tickets for “Being the Ricardos,” the Aaron Sorkin film in which Kidman plays Lucille Ball opposite Javier Bardem’s Desi Arnaz.

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Even in the middle of filming as Lucy, Kidman held up her end of the bargain. She’s been bingeing the fourth season of Noah Hawley’s FX on Hulu anthology series “Fargo,” in which Rock plays 1950s crime boss Loy Cannon. It’s a meaty turn for the comedy star that could earn him a spot in the Emmys race. He might see Kidman there: Last winter, she followed up her Emmy-winning role in “Big Little Lies” by returning to HBO in “The Undoing,” playing Grace Fraser, a wealthy New Yorker whose life is rocked by her husband’s arrest for a grisly murder.

Nicole Kidman: You and I, we’ve met before.

Chris Rock: I dated a friend of yours, and you dated a friend of mine.

Kidman: I remember being in the apartment, and you coming over, and I think it was around 3 a.m., hanging out. Do you remember that?

Rock: It was a different lifestyle. It was very rock ’n’ roll.

Kidman: I’m glad I lived that. That’s good memories.

Rock: People don’t realize you’re seven-and-a-half feet tall.

Kidman: Stop. I’m not. Don’t say that because then I won’t get work. So many men don’t want to work with a tall woman, you know.

Rock: I love a tall woman. Bring them on. The taller, the better.

Kidman: Well, maybe there is something in our future. But you’re a great writer. How do you come in and work with another great writer? How do you come in and do “Fargo”?

Rock: It depends on the writer. Me and Noah, we had conversations about things that I maybe thought were missing occasionally. Good actors ask questions. That’s what I learned. And that’s how I try to contribute with him.

Kidman: Do you do an enormous amount of preparation? What was incredible to me, and everyone says this — and you probably hear this — is that you have such an appealing voice. Your voice is vocally warm. And that, juxtaposed against Loy and what he’s doing and his motivations, was so fascinating. It’s great casting.

Rock: You know what’s weird? I’d done a movie with Morgan Freeman years ago. And I would watch them give him pages, and he would literally in rehearsal be so good. I always say acting is 80% voice. Some people have a voice that is believable, no matter what the hell they’re saying. And some people, you can see a lie coming a mile away.

Kidman: But your tone of voice is what we love. In “Fargo,”that works in the role. It works comedically for you, but it works dramatically.

Do you go through the whole history of him? Do you come up with a whole path that leads you to stepping on set? Or are you just “OK, I show up, and I’m going to fly it”?

Rock: I try to cross out this list, to find all the parallels to me and the character so I’m not acting per se. I think, “OK, look, I could’ve been a gangster. I know gangsters that don’t yell.” I just find all these things I have in common with the guy. I find that, especially if you’re not playing a historical figure, he is who you make him. And the closer he is to me, the more fun we’re going to have.

Kidman: And the confidence.

Rock: Then I’m going to have confidence in it. Now, you’re from Australia.

Kidman: I’m from Australia, yeah. I was born in Hawaii.

Rock: Oh yeah. And you dated Obama. Just the one that got away.

Kidman: There’s a few others from Hawaii, but Obama is definitely the shining star.

Rock: You get a part. You have this accent that you walk around with every day. So accent or no accent? How hard is that to maintain?

Kidman: I don’t think about it too much. I’ve always come at it through feeling. The technical aspects of performance for me are really interesting. They’re almost like homework. And then in you come, and that can fluctuate depending on what’s going through my body, my heart, my mind at the time. The great thing about an accent is you can always go and fix it in looping.

So in an accent, I’ll put the time in. I’ve had to put in an enormous amount of time on Lucille Ball right now, because she has a very particular way of speaking.

Rock: Oh, you’re playing Lucille Ball? Oh man. I love Lucille Ball.

Kidman: Doesn’t every comedian love Lucille Ball?

Rock: Oh, my God. Lucille Ball has this thing. She could learn anything in a weekend. So they would, like, write something on the show where she plays the tuba, and she would go, “I can’t play the tuba. Give me two days.” She’s Mount Everest. Just one of the most talented people to ever roam the earth.

Kidman: I am way out of my comfort zone right now, Chris. I’m free-falling.

Rock: What haven’t you done?

Kidman: I’d like to be funny. I’m never cast funny.

Rock: Oh, you could be funny. You’re playing Lucille Ball. You better be funny.

Kidman: Lucille Ball is hopefully funny. The strange thing about Lucille Ball is that everyone thinks we’re remaking the “I Love Lucy” show, and it’s so not that. It’s about Lucy and Desi and their relationship and their marriage. It’s very deep, actually.

Rock: They had a complicated marriage. It was one of the first —

Kidman: She was a trailblazer. She formed her production company. Desi was Cuban, and she had to fight to get him on the show. They had just so many things in their marriage that are so relevant today, and what she was also dealing with in terms of everything that artists deal with, where you’re up against big corporations. And you’re like, “No, this is art.”

Rock: Let’s not downplay the fact how hard it must’ve been to be a woman at that time going through, you know, just like, “I’m the boss. Not him. I’m the boss.”

Kidman: It is still tricky.

Rock: It is still. I’ve fired people because they couldn’t listen to a woman. I was like, “How come he’s not doing …?” And then I realize, “Oh.”

Kidman: And so why can you listen to a woman?

Rock: Me and my mother. I don’t know. When I was starting out as a comedian, you know, Joy Behar and Susie Essman took me under their wing. I just always was around these powerful women. I mean, even in comedy, the clubs were run by women.

Kidman: God, that doesn’t get talked about that much. That’s amazing.

Rock: Everybody talks about how stand-up is a boys’ club, but stand-up’s been run by a lot of women for a lot of years. Even right now, it’s Estee [Adoram] at the Comedy Cellar in New York. Lots of powerful women that called the shots.

Kidman: I don’t know anything about your life with your mother.

Rock: Relationship’s great with her. And maybe it’s a Black thing or whatever. If you’re confident in front of me, I’m just attracted to good. I’m a “good” snob. If you’re good, I like you. And I’ll listen to you.

Kidman: That’s logical.

Rock: And if you’re not? Oh boy. I might be a little short with you.

Kidman: I grew up with a father who was a psychologist. I have his ability to see things from many different points of view, which I’m so glad to have as an actor. I’m really willing to change. I’m always willing to say I’m wrong, and I’m always willing to say I’m sorry.

Rock: I find the great actors are self-aware.

Kidman: You would hope you’re not rigid as an actor. I always say you can’t be a control freak as an actor, because you’re not in control. How is your access to your emotions? I like asking men this.

Rock: Access to my emotions?

Kidman: Do you cry easily?

Rock: I don’t cry easily, but I get angry easily.

Kidman: Why is that the easier emotion?

Rock: I don’t know. It might be an easier emotion to play.

Kidman: That’s hard for me. I exist more in probably a state of raw fragility in my life. So therefore, that’s something I can shift into when I perform. But things like anger — I can access them, but they’re harder for me to access.

Rock: You know what’s weird about you? Every time I see you on the screen, you’re one of these actors. You don’t have a character-actor bone in your body.

Kidman: No!

Rock: Every time I see you, you’re just the lead.

Kidman: I’m a character actor! Please!

Rock: I mean, you play great characters. What I’m trying to say is: There’s something about you that’s always kind of in charge, that’s always in control. You’re not the damsel, ever.

Kidman: I don’t want to be the damsel — unless it’s a great role. I don’t define myself as a leading lady. I want to be a character actor, probably because I started when I was 14. And at drama school, you would always play 80-year-olds; you would play boys and girls. And then you come out in the real world, and it’s like, “Where are the roles?” Now I’m just playing the girlfriend.

Rock: You’re not the girlfriend.

Kidman: Give me the most extreme, interesting things. I grew up watching opera, going to art films, and seeing those French, Italian, Russian films that are all subtitled. And my dream was to work with auteurs. So I love auteurs.

But bravery is something you’re good at. Initially with comedy, you have to be incredibly brave, right?

Rock: You have to be brave to not listen to your agents and to not listen to your reps. And the bravery is realizing, oh yeah, they’re in show business, but none of these people are artists. And I have to go on what I feel.

Kidman: So were you advised to go in the direction that you’re going in now?

Rock: No. I’m a comedian. My friends — and they’re going to be nameless — have lifestyles that are so extravagant, they can’t say no to anything. So they don’t even work for themselves. They work for Bentley. They work for Fannie Mae mortgage company. They work for three divorces, and they end up in these places.

OK. Now we haven’t talked about “The Undoing.” You’ve been married a couple of times, so playing the wife is —

Kidman: Hey! I’m on my second marriage and my last marriage.

Rock: I’ve had one marriage. And another one will be fine. If you’ve got another friend, tell her to call me.

Kidman: You’re the marrying kind.

Rock: Once you get married, you’re a spouse. You’re just looking for a country to grab hold to that takes your passport.

Kidman: So what’s the question?

Rock: Your marriage looks so great. You guys look so happy. I mean, we all look happy, but you guys look really happy. So the untrusting wife thing?

Kidman: I have a really good partner, yes, in my real life. In “The Undoing,” not so good.

Rock: How is that? Playing this unhappy woman?

Kidman: Starts out very happy and gets the rug pulled out from under her. Well, having a partner like Hugh Grant, who I’ve known. I love working with people that I know because I’m quite shy. And so, working with someone that I’ve got a history with or know well, I feel so much freer and safer. Having Hugh as my husband was fantastic for me.

But it was beautifully written, this show. We had this director called Susanne Bier, who’s fantastic with nuance. So I could get really lost in being this woman who basically, I mean the title, “The Undoing,” her whole life just sort of becomes undone and she has to find her resilience, or find the desire to leave him and to exist on her own. There’s a lot of complexities to it, which is what I was really drawn to.

Rock: I thought everything was top-notch. Just the way it captured that part of New York, that Upper East Side-y thing that does not exist anywhere.

Kidman: White privilege that is coming tumbling down. Did you have to shut down on “Fargo” while you were shooting?

Rock: We shut down. Whew. That was a crazy day. We shut down in March. And it was one of those things where you’re filming, and other productions were shutting down around us. And people were walking off the set, like the grips. What was the Will Smith movie with the zombies? Everybody’s got to get off Manhattan. It was crazy.

Kidman: Oh, I know. We finished just before, but we had the whole post-production. And when our show came out, it was the right time, and it was seen by so many people. I’m fascinated by people that had to stop in the middle and hold the character, and then still deliver that performance.

Rock: It was hard. I mean, I lucked up in the sense that I used the pandemic to get in shape. I learned to swim, and I had a trainer and a nutritionist. I came back kind of looking like the guy. Mentally, yes, I had to wrap my mind around even wanting to do it, and then feeling free enough to actually do the scenes.

I had to leave my attitude at the door, because you’re like, “Why are we even doing this? I have a mask on, and we’re worried about people dying. Is acting really important right now?”

Kidman: When I was coming back to start [“Being the Ricardos”] here in L.A., it was the hub. I came back in February, and I was terrified, honestly. I was scared. There’s a freedom when you perform where you want to feel like I can touch you, I can breathe on you.

Because acting is about energy, it’s about freedom. We are actors. There’s not really many jobs where they go, “No, you have to work without a mask.” There’s one other profession where you’re paid to kiss someone. Or not kiss. Do something else, right?

Rock: Right, right, right.

Kidman: That’s about it.

Rock: Whew. Sometimes these two professions are confused. There’s some overlap, but that’s a whole ’nother interview.

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