Nicole Kidman, her long red hair the color of autumn, is standing in her dressing room making tea. Her blue eyes sparkling, she turns her willowy 5-foot-10-inch movie-goddess body and smiles at her visitor. “Would you like a cup of Earl Grey?” she asks.
The question seems appropriate, because this season the talented 31 year-old Australian actress has been a perfect cup of tea for wildly appreciative audiences in London and New York. After a critically hailed run at London’s Donmar Warehouse -- where she won an Evening Standard Award for attracting people to the theatre -- Kidman is starring on Broadway at the Cort Theatre in The Blue Room.
The play, directed by Sam Mendes, is an adaptation by David Hare (Skylight, The Judas Kiss) of La Ronde , the classic and bitterly comic turn-of-the-century Viennese play by Arthur Schnitzler about love, sex and the randomly impersonal couplings and uncouplings that can characterize male-female relationships.
Kidman and her co-star, Iain Glen, each portray five characters in pursuit or in terror of the perfect connection. She is, in turn, a streetwalker, an au pair, a married woman, a young model and a star actress. And in one of those roles, for three fleeting seconds that have engendered more press than many entire productions receive, she appears onstage totally nude.
"It’s a very small part of the play," Kidman says. "The idea came from character. Iain said he felt that his character, the playwright, would walk around naked. I play a young model, and I responded, `What if you dress her?' There’s something tender about it. It’s not meant to be erotic. He puts on her panties and her little cardigan -- and obviously if someone is going to dress you, you have to be naked." Kidman admits that at first she had reservations about adopting her artistic suggestion. "I was a bit embarrassed, but once you get locked in your character, it’s far easier than doing nudity in film. You’re not surrounded by lots of cameras and crew. You’re just in the scene with the other actor, and you can get lost in your character far more easily than you can on film."
The idea for The Blue Room was born in London, where Kidman and her husband, Tom Cruise, spent the greater part of a year and a half making their next film, Eyes Wide Shut , the director Stanley Kubrick’s much-anticipated tale of sexual obsession and jealousy. The playwright Patrick Marber introduced Kidman to Mendes, the artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse.
"Sam gave me some ideas of what he was interested in doing, and one was adapting La Ronde," Kidman says. “He said David Hare was interested in it. I had seen almost every play David had written, and I couldn’t ask for anything better. I had been wanting for a long time to work on the stage again, but I didn’t want anything too big. I wanted to work someplace like the Donmar, a small experimental theatre. I liked the atmosphere."
The themes of The Blue Room also appealed to her. "They’re universal. They hold up today in terms of what people will do to get sex, the ways in which they will change their identities to get what they want -- the ways in which people are constantly searching, and how things can change so dramatically after sex. The lure and the power of sex are so interesting -- how instead of making people feel closer, sex can often repel them or can create great pathos. The emotions are all heightened and extreme. That’s what I, as an actress, liked about it."
Kidman was born in Honolulu to Australian parents and lived for a while in Washington, but her father, a biochemist, and her mother, a nursing instructor, moved the family to Sydney when she was four. "I went to a drama school where theatre was the most important thing. I wanted to be on the stage. My parents always took me to the theatre. They were involved in amateur musical societies while I was growing up and would do shows like Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music."
But then at age 14 she was cast in an Australian film, Bush Christmas -- "I played a freckle-faced ruffian" -- and her movie career began. That career has so far included Days of Thunder, Far and Away, Batman Forever, Portrait of a Lady, To Die For -- for which she won a Golden Globe Award as Best Actress -- and the recent Practical Magic , with Sandra Bullock.
When The Blue Room ends in March, she, Cruise and their two children will be off to Australia, where Cruise is to film Mission Impossible 2 . "I’ll get to be at home with my mom, dad and sister, and I’m going to do a lot of cooking, because I like to cook.”
One other things she may do in Australia in late 1999 is a production of Strindberg’s Miss Julie. "I’ve been studying the play for a couple of years, and I find the psychology of the character fascinating. It’s a very difficult play. In some ways that makes me more attracted to it."
For now, though, there is no doubt that audiences are very attracted to Kidman. One critic in London called her performance in The Blue Room “pure theatrical Viagra."
"I felt slightly embarrassed when I read that," she says with a laugh. "I felt that I don’t live up to it."
But as thousands of happy theatregoers will attest, live up to it she does.