When 'Rabbit Hole' premiered at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, we fell hard for the quietly powerful film about a pair of spouses (Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart) trying to rebuild some sense of normalcy only a few months removed from the death of their young son. Lionsgate snatched it up a few weeks later, and the distributor has done an impressive job of building up some steam for not only Nicole Kidman's superb lead performance, but also for the very fine film as a whole.
As 'Rabbit Hole' prepares to arrive in theaters on December 17th, we were invited to share a brief chat with actor / producer Nicole Kidman on the dangers of making "sad" films, the delicacy of good storytelling, and the importance of fear in an actor's craft.
As you may know, I've been a huge fan of the film since the moment I saw it at TIFF, and that opinion comes from a single guy, never had children...
Nicole Kidman: Thank you, thank you! We are trying so desperately to get people to go see it. It seems like such a terrifying experience to a lot of people, so you can imagine just how grateful we are.
I imagine it's hard for a casual viewer to get past the basic premise.
Nicole: Absolutely. We keep trying to say that the experience of the film is not putting you through the wringer. That's not the point of it.
Of course the subject material is very "sad," but the film as a whole is also rather uplifting.
Nicole: Yeah, and funny too, which sounds very strange to say about this material.
Watch an exclusive clip from 'Rabbit Hole' below
How important is it to bring some realistic humor to a tale this potentially melodramatic?
Nicole: I think it's hugely important because ... in real life, most of the time, you can still laugh at different times through enormous pain. There's still some place where humor will arrive and I think families need that. It's a film about a family trying to connect with each other, trying to stay together, trying to heal each other -- triggering responses and causing pain when they think they're trying to help and ... it's so complicated. Out of that comes that kind of strange humor that acts as a release, and that's part of the reason I thought (director John Cameron Mitchell) would be so good for this film. He's got that ... he's able to feel when it's OK to let the audience breathe a little bit.
What is it that made you so intent on hiring Mr. John Cameron Mitchell? His 'Hedwig' is a very good film, but tonally quite different from this story.
Nicole: I just got him on the phone (and also I really believe that talent is just talent; a lot of times a person can simply be typecast. I've always tried to break out of that as an actor, and I believe it happens to directors as well), and I knew he'd responded very strongly to the material. After only a few minutes I thought "He can do this. He can absolutely do this," and also that he's been through something tragic, when he lost his brother as a child, so he has a "motivation" for doing it. And at the same time he's intrinsically kind of ... raw. That's who he is as a person. He'll tell you anything. He's very open, and that's what you want for a film like this.
The first responses I got from people after seeing 'Rabbit Hole' were "from the play?!?" and "I've seen the stage version; it's amazing!" And then I learned that it had won the Pulitzer Prize, which is also rather impressive. How did playwright (now screenwriter) David Lindsay-Abaire take to the idea of a film adaptation?
Nicole: He was interested right away! I would hope the reason it was interesting was that we said we wanted him to write the screenplay and that we'd do everything to protect the material. That's what we can offer you. We can't offer you loads of money but we can offer you that. He was immediately receptive and I think because he's lived with it for so long, his ability to then write the screenplay very quickly and put in all the characters that are only talked about in the play -- to bring them to life -- he was so adept in doing it. I mean, we did three drafts, and we had a script we could send out to people. That's very rare, and even the first draft only required a little bit of massaging -- and then we sent it out and so many people responded.
The movie "feels" like a stage play only in that it deals with actual people and human emotion, but visually and structurally, this does not feel like a filmed play.
Nicole: Thank god! It's about getting in close to people. (John) was able to put the camera right there and was able to capture some moments through just a look or a touch or even some silence.
In a recent interview you touched on how your perspectives changed rather drastically between agreeing to do the film and then actually making it -- mainly because you'd recently had a baby. Was it a scarier prospect as the mother of a newborn?
Nicole: It is not in my nature to run away from something I'm afraid of. I might want to, but I feel like I'll fail if I do that. So even though I'm scared and all of those things, that tells me that I have to go there. I tried to do it on 'The Hours' as well, because I really didn't want to do that film. I was just suddenly terrified to play Virginia Woolf. (Producer) Scott Rudin just said, "We're not letting you out."
And when the money came together for 'Rabbit Hole', I was really not ready. I just wanted to be absorbed in the bliss of having my baby, but I felt, for whatever reason, this is the time to do it. I can't control when I should do it, so I just need to jump in. So a lot of it is just relinquishing control as well.
That's a good segue to a clip we're about to debut (see above) called "Seduction..."
Nicole: (laughing) The attempted seduction!
Let's call it the 'Al Green' scene. But, as a strong example of the film as a whole, this scene has an actress getting wounded, mean, icy ... how do you know when (or if) to pull back so an audience doesn't dislike this woman?
Nicole: (pause) I don't know! (laughing) I mean, I just play it how I feel it. An enormous amount of "Becca" is inside me and sometimes I'll lash out quickly ... but as you say, she is so wounded and so "raw," she's trying to put up a good front but the turmoil inside... I think that scene shows you that all of the things that are going on inside her: she is still so angry, she still blames herself, she still has enormous guilt, she has rage at life at the unfairness of it all...
It's a great balance, really. Even at Becca's meanest moments, I never once "hated" this woman, and that's one of the biggest keys to the film's success.
Nicole: Oh, good. I would be mortified if people hated her. I love her.
'Rabbit Hole' opens in select cities on December 17th.