Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell have had quite the year together. It began with a sensual sponge bath, and Kidman practically sweating through her frilly white frock as her hands grazed Farrell’s body. Now she’s playing dead, splaying her limp body across their bed while Farrell masturbates. Quite the year indeed.
Of course, these encounters occurred solely for the big screen. The sponge cleansing was part of “The Beguiled,” Sofia Coppola’s Southern Gothic drama about a pinched Civil War-era boarding school whose residents wrestle for the affections of a wounded soldier. And the peculiar cadaver-like sex games existed for “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” Yorgos Lanthimos’ thriller about a copacetic family who fall prey to an unprecedented spell. In the latter, Kidman and Farrell portray doctors trying to keep their two children alive.
Beneath their ominous surface, the two movies are slyly humorous, their wry whimsy distracting from overwhelming dread. Kidman, who recently won an Emmy for “Big Little Lies” and appeared on “Top of the Lake,” and Farrell, who co-stars in the forthcoming Denzel Washington vehicle “Roman J. Israel, Esq.,” are superb in both.
Their intimacy transcends the screen. In person, they talk over each other with the familiarity of old friends. I met them on a Saturday afternoon at A24′s Manhattan office, the day after “Sacred Deer” opened in limited release. The movie expands to additional theaters this weekend before its nationwide rollout, on Nov. 3, will aim to recapture the indie success of Lanthimos’ previous dystopian jaunt, “The Lobster.” Our conversation, reprinted below, has been condensed slightly to clarify Kidman and Farrell’s crosstalk.
This has been a big year for both of you. Having traveled to so many festivals, sets and award shows, I assume most of your time has been spent on airplanes and in hotels.
Farrell: [To Kidman] Much more for you. I’ve been in one place for five months.
Kidman: I fly in and fly out. I go straight home. I’m going home tonight. I’m very, very disciplined about getting home.
Do you get to nap for a minute?
Farrell: [To Kidman, who lives in Nashville] You’re going to Napville.
Kidman: Ha! He’s going back to London. When do you go to London?
Farrell: I’ve spent an average of seven hours a day in a trailer.
Kidman: Yeah, he’s been in London for five months.
Farrell: Five months! In the same hotel room, eating club sandwiches.
What are you working on?
Farrell: “Dumbo” with Tim Burton.
Kidman: Which I can’t wait to see.
Farrell: It’s lovely. I mean, you never know what it’s going to be.
Kidman: “Dumbo” is a devastating story. It’s my favorite. I’ve read it over and over again, but it used to break my heart.
Farrell: The script is very sweet, but there are moments in the script that ...
Kidman: The mother!
Farrell: Oh yeah, Mrs. Jumbo. She’s broken.
Kidman: It’s terrible! They’re awful to her!
Farell: Oh my god, she’s not treated kindly in the film.
Kidman: See! But I have trouble with any of that. I had trouble with “Bambi.” As they say, the other deer movie.
“The Beguiled” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” were both intimate shoots for the two of you. How different were the tones of each set?
Farrell: “The Beguiled” was a lot sunnier.
Kidman: It was very femme.
Farrell: It was very feminine. It had the power of the feminine energy there, but also the lightness.
Kidman: We were all in beautiful white, drifting around.
Farrell: You’re dealing with women and girls at different ages, in all these beautiful frocks and having the fucking time of their lives. There was a wooden picnic table outside the house that we shot at, and in between takes, at the wooden picnic table, everyone would just stand there and chat away.
Kidman: It was fantastic.
Farrell: It was lovely. It was really nice. You would never tell on the set that the things that were explored in “The Beguiled” were anywhere close to the story that these people sitting at the picnic table were part of telling, ever. But if you’d arrived on the set of “Sacred Deer,” you’d go, “Something might be a little off here. What’s happening?” Just a little bit.
So you weren’t making “Girls Gone Wild” parodies and performing “Hamilton” numbers?
Kidman: [Laughs] That’s what we were doing! We lost our minds!
Which movie came first?
Kidman: We did “Sacred Deer” first. We were in Cincinnati in a hospital getting depressed.
Farrell: Yeah, I was depressed by the end of it. Truly enough, I was. Shooting in that hospital was funky as hell. And then, because we shot kind of in continuity, when we got to where we were going to shoot the final act, at the family home, we walked into the home the first day to shoot. They called the actors to the set to rehearse, and I got there before the rest. I walked in and there were people taking lights and cameras and wires, but none of the cast. [...] Two beds were there and two IV drips beside the beds with nobody in them, and I literally went ... [sighs].
Kidman: “This is weird.” The imagery.
Farrell: Because by that stage, we were also allowed the comfort of keeping up with our characters in continuity, so if the story gets more dense and more disturbing as an audience member, trust me — even though we were breaking the fourth wall every day as actors, it got more dense, more tiring, more oppressive the more we went on.
It must have been nice to wrap and later reunite for a more joyful experience.
Kidman: Yeah, we went, “Oh, good, let’s go to New Orleans and go to a plantation,” which is also very dark.
But you had that Sofia energy to keep it light.
Kidman: We kept it light. And Sofia is very femme herself, very quiet. Yorgos is quiet, though. They’re both similar in that regard. They’re not loud.
Farrell: They’re spare in their direction.
Kidman: They don’t really raise their voice.
As in “The Lobster,” the tone of “Sacred Deer” is very specific. A lot of the dialogue has a methodical, almost rehearsed feel to it, which adds to the overall unease.
Kidman: There’s no discussion of the tone, though. It almost just happens, right? I’m not sure how.
Farrell: I swear to god, and it’s not going to keep me up all night thinking of the mystery of what we do, but there was never a memo sent out by Yorgos on “The Lobster.” I can tell you I once heard him give direction to an actor, who I’ll never name. The first day, this actor was doing their scene — I won’t even say the gender — and the actor delivered a line in a scene with me, and I hear Yorgos from 40 yards away, with his little monitor in his hand, say, “Don’t try to be so naturalistic!” That’s the only time I heard reference to something else going on as far as tonality of speech. The actor came in, and he — oops — delivered the line, and it was a lovely reading. In any other film, that would be that actor’s interoperation, and that would be OK. In any other film, with any other director. But in Yorgos’ world, it was just not in keeping with the tonality. But it was never said. I think it’s just a case where what’s happening is so extraordinary that for us to bring our own personalities and our own contemporary naturalism would be to nullify the extraordinariness of it. It would paint some emotion on the film, and the film wants to leave that as a vacuum that the audience fills for themselves.
Kidman: It just bleeds in.
Farrell: Nicole told me earlier that I said, “Don’t rehearse it too much or read it too much.”
Kidman: Yeah, “Don’t worry about all the preparation. Just show up ready to go.”
Are you unaccustomed to that lack of prep?
Kidman: Yeah, except, at the same time, I relish the idea of being in new company and trying new things and always being molded and morphing into different places. I love that. I don’t want to do the thing I know how to do. I want to do the thing I don’t know how to do.
Farrell: But it is liberating. The paradox I find in Yorgos’ work is an exercise in containment and control. In “Dogtooth,” that family was contained; those children were controlled. “The Lobster” is about societal containment and control. There’s almost a culling of the population, if you don’t find a partner within 45 days. “Alps” is controlling pain and controlling the sadness and mourning that comes with the passing of those you love. And this, again, is very much about control. The doctor feels completely in control of his life. His wife is completely in control of her life. They feel completely in control of their family life. They’re living a version of the American ideal. So, as an actor, that same thing is present. You feel like there’s a sense of control because you’re sustaining emotion rather than expressing it. There’s something really liberating in that, in doing as little as possible and not having to personalize the story you’re telling. You’re still feeling. As Nicole has said many times, you’re still feeling, you’re still thinking. But it is more internal, and I think that allows room for the audience to have what I hear are the experiences they’re having, which are pretty strong reactions.
It’s certainly a world apart from “Dumbo” or “Aquaman,” where bigger tends to be better.
Farrell: [To Kidman] Did you do “Aquaman”? Was it fun?
Kidman: Yeah, it was crazy. But [director James Wan] is Australian, and I’ve followed his work, so it was fun for me. I’m only in a little bit of it, but it was fun because that really was a set where my kids came, and they were fascinated by that. That does not happen. Usually it’s terrible for them. It’s like a punishment.
Farrell: Yeah, same, same, same, same.
There’s a wizardry to those movies that’s more enthralling for a child.
Kidman: Yeah, they sat by the monitor and they were like [mouth agape]. I’m kind of proud of that. But your son doesn’t even have that with “Dumbo,” right?
Farrell: No! He was in the trailer. The fucking stage door is 10 feet from the trailer door, and he was like, “Nah, I’ll see it when it comes out.” It’s great, though. There’s one set called Nightmare Island that did blow his mind, but for me it only blows the child’s mind for a little bit of time because they see through the artifice. Whereas, for an adult, it blows my mind for longer because it’s bringing me back. So the artifice of it is so beautiful that it’s connective tissue for a childhood I’ve since departed from. And for a child, initially, it’s like, “Yeah, that’s beautiful, but why isn’t anyone doing anything? There are no animals in the cages.” You go, “They’ll put it in in CGI.” He’s like, “Whatever. Done.”
Kidman: [Laughs] “There’s no animals in the cages!”
Farrell: I’m going, “There will be a werewolf in there! There will be a polar bear that lost its shit in Central Park!” It’s so brilliant.
Nicole, the Amazon executive who was recently suspended for sexual harassment was quoted saying he would pass on “Big Little Lies” if there wasn’t a lot of female nudity, even though you had multiple nude scenes on the show.
Kidman: [Looks confused.]
I guess you hadn’t heard that?
Kidman: No. I was there in the room when we were deciding where to put it, and no. I would say that’s completely untrue. There was no script.
Apparently this was party chatter. He essentially told colleagues he wouldn’t green-light it if it didn’t meet his nudity quota.
Kidman: No, HBO was given the first look.
Farrell: Men and their party chatter.
Kidman: I think we were pitched and we had our choice, and we chose HBO. We didn’t have a script at that stage when we pitched it, so that just sounds like ... [shakes her head].
Farrell: [To Kidman] But you had just you and Reese? Or just yourself?
Kidman: Reese and David E. Kelley and myself and [Liane Moriarty’s] book.
Farrell: Pshhht. Guys.
Kidman: And we said, “This is what we want to do with it.” We had a number of different people. I truly believe projects end up where they’re meant to end up. I already had a relationship with HBO, Reese loved HBO because of what they were able to give us, and that was just where we ended up. We’ve all got other projects with Netflix and Amazon, so I don’t know what that is. I’d not ever heard that.
Colin, were you surprised to learn there would be a third “True Detective” season, given the mixed reception to the second go-round?
Farrell: I was pleasantly surprised because it had just been a while since the second. Not that I think it’s a bad idea. I think [series creator Nic Pizzolatto] is an incredible storyteller and a really original storyteller. He’s just a really fine man of letters, to be honest with you. He’s kind of a polymath. He’s quite brilliant, so the idea that he would take the potential tone of the world he likes to explore ― I reference that from the first two seasons, even though the second season didn’t have the response that the first season had ― I think is a really cool thing. I can’t wait to see from the embers, as well, because there’s a little bit of feeling from the flames to it, you know what I mean? I think Nic, being the show creator, took the beating more severely than all of us, and I would still do the second season over again. I had an amazing time. There was some extraordinary writing in it. Who’s going to be in it?
Farrell: Oh, lovely! Oh, beautiful. Anyone else?
I think he’s the only one announced so far.
Farrell: Oh, gorgeous. Oh god, I wonder what the story is.
Kidman: Ma-her-sha-la! A lovely name.
Lovely name, lovely face.
Kidman: He is a beautiful man.