Welcome to a new series here on Cinematical where we select an actor or actress and the role we think is their all time best.
There is no doubt about it, Nicole Kidman is a big old movie star. But, what's always struck me as a little odd is that when you ask most people what they think of the actress, more often than not the reactions aren't all that positive. As for box-office, it's not like her numbers are going to blow you away either. But neither of those things have stopped Kidman from joining the ranks of A list actresses. So yeah, her career has spanned two continents and she has become an icon of glamor, but when it comes to her work as an actress, I happen to think that she peaked in 1995 in Gus Van Sant's dark comedy, To Die For. In Van Sant's film, Kidman played Suzanne Stone, a loose approximation of Pam Smart (the high school teacher who was convicted of conspiring with her 15-year-old lover, and his three friends to kill her husband), a ruthless and truly terrible person who will use her looks and just anything else she can get her hands on to make her dreams of stardom come true.
It was her role in the Aussie thriller, Dead Calm, which had Kidman as a grieving mother in a fight to the death with a psycho on the open sea that first caught the attention of Hollywood. Kidman had a charisma and natural beauty on screen that must have seemed like the perfect fit for blockbuster stardom -- and that's where things started to change. In her subsequent roles in the big budget racing flick, Days of Thunder, she was basically 'the girl', before turning to her first Hollywood role as a bad guy in the '93 thriller, Malice. But her turn as a con-woman in that film was no match for her performance as the murderous meteorologist in Van Sant's black comedy.
When it comes to creating an irredeemable character, Kidman's take on Suzanne Stone is unrelenting. In To Die For, Kidman's doll-like features take on a brittle and plastic quality and every trace of her leading lady presence is stripped away and replaced with over-processed hair and cheap power suits. It was Kidman's ability to change her entire demeanor, even altering her voice ever so slightly to create a character that is half tabloid journalist and half Barbie from hell. For once, Kidman wasn't relying on glamor, likability, or even a self-conscious attempt to be seen as a 'serious' actress. In To Die For, she was wiling to be something more sinister and much more unpleasant -- a person willing to do whatever it takes to be famous.
I always thought there was something about the character of Suzanne Stone that was the perfect match for Kidman and that's why she could make Suzanne's desperate drive for fame believable in the midst of the highly stylized commentary on celebrity in America. The role of Suzanne gave Kidman the chance to use her skill with portraying cold or detached characters to her advantage for once. There isn't a hint of vanity in her performance as Suzanne Stone, and it was the last time that Kidman ever truly let her movie-star image fall to the wayside. Maybe that's why I count this role as her best, because for me, in To Die For, she wasn't trying to be a movie star, she was just an actress doing a hell of a job.