When Lee Daniels” “The Paperboy” debuted at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival last May, the reviews were hardly glowing. The Twitterverse was full of salacious tweets of crude acts by an Oscar winning actress and snarked about over-the-top Southern campiness – all out of context, of course. Even In Contention”s own Guy Lodge seemed torn over the film seemingly want to like it, but only rewarding it with a B- (and that was one of the more initial positive reviews). In fact, so few of my peers seemed to champion it (and those who didn”t like it hated it), that I tossed it in the back of my mind as a disappointing misfire for Daniels. Financier Millennium Entertainment decision to distribute the picture themselves seemed to be the final nail in the coffin. If no mini-major was going to take the time to acquire a “sexy melodrama” starring a mostly shirtless Zac Efron, Nicole Kidman, John Cusack and Matthew McConaughey it wasn”t worth rushing to see, right?
In the months that followed “The Paperboy” made the cut at the Toronto and New York Film Festivals, but by September this pundit was distracted by awards season and Daniels” latest wasn”t seriously on anyone’s radar. Press screenings were missed and before you knew it, “The Paperboy” wasn”t even in theaters anymore (at least in the LA area). This was just going to be a film I”d have to catch on a long flight across the Atlantic or on a premium cable channel next year. So, when a screener for the picture arrived before Thanksgiving weekend it piqued my curiosity. Millennium must believe in this picture more than I thought. A few hours over the holiday break were reserved to view the now infamous “Paperboy.” And ever so humbly I’ll admit I made a huge mistake in not watching it earlier.
Hardly a misfire, and obviously not for everyone, “The Paperboy” is an original American melodrama soaked in an anger and passion for the deep south of decades past. It”s a grand genre experiment filled with superb performances across the board and it has a swagger and confidence you can”t get out of your head. Moreover, the praise for Kidman in particular appeared warranted. Her performance as the sexually charged Charlotte Bless is 180 degrees from many of the uptight characters she”s been pigeonholed as by both Hollywood and the indie film community. Kidman is raw and uninhibited without one forced note through some incredibly challenging material. And in a perfect world, she”d be right up there for consideration in the best supporting actress race. “If” it was a perfect world.
Cue a phone call direct from France on Thursday afternoon…
Hi Greg, it”s Nicole.
Q: Hey there, thanks so much for taking the time after a busy day on set.* I”m embarrassed to say I finally caught up with “The Paperboy” on screener and was surprised how much I enjoyed it.
Well, a lot of people didn”t see the movie, so that”s part of the reason I”m doing this, y”know? To support it.
[*Kidman is currently shooting “Grace of Monaco” in France where she plays legendary movie actress Grace Kelly.]
Q: When it played at Cannes were you surprised by some of the reaction? Or did you expect it based on the material? I have to be honest, it felt like a movie that would have gotten a stronger reception at a festival like Sundance.
It”s out of the box, but a lot of the films I do are like that. It”s a different kind of movie and probably Cannes was not the right place for it. Probably somewhere like Sundance would have been much better for it, but that”s all sort of Russian Roulette in some ways. You just never know. I”m just glad that screeners have been sent out and that people have been able to see it. I think it”s very much an actor”s piece. I think Matthew is amazing in it. I think Zac is amazing. I think John Cusack is so good in it. I mean, Lee wanted it to look like it was shot in 1968. I”m just glad people are seeing it.
Q: Y”know, with material like this I could easily see how any number of accomplished actors might not be able to hit the tone your director was looking for. As a cast, how did you all get on the same page?
I think because we were all down in Louisiana. It was like we were in a bubble together. Strangely enough, John and I never spoke as John and Nicole. We only related to each other as the characters. I suppose all of us-Lee is a very particular personality and he has a very particular way of directing. And it”s very rough and very, kind of, spontaneous and that”s really exciting as an actor. I mean, you”ve got to make it real. There is a lot of improvising. There is a lot of just shooting. He just shoots and shoots and shoots. It feels very much like renegade filmmaking. And when you”re doing it together you all get in the same rhythm. You”re all sort of like, ‘Let”s just go for it.”
Q: Does he rehearse or…?
Nope, we never rehearsed. It was just basically all of us in character. We rarely stepped out of character. And we were shooting in extreme heat because it was the middle of summer in Louisiana and that helps. All that stuff – it”s hot, we”re shooting fast because we have no money and so it has this sort of abandoned quality to it which is good, I think. It makes it very raw.
Q: How did Lee explain how he envisioned Charlotte to you?
He made me sit down with five different women who had relationships with men in prison and I had to interview them and that was really confronting. And they were really honest with me and it was hard to hear some of this stuff but it was amazing for the character. Prior to that it was like, ‘How do I get into the psyche of this woman?” And then as soon as I entered into these really intense conversations with these different women I was like, ‘O.K., O.K., I get it now.” That”s probably how I went, ‘I just have to step into her skin and never step out of it.” And that”s really how I could do some of the sexuality of the role. I haven”t done that before and, y”know…I”ve only seen the movie once. I was like, ‘O.K.! I didn”t know that”s where they had the camera!” And I never looked at the monitor, I try to stay away from all that. I”ve made so many films and I don”t even know that much about lenses. I know very little about the technical side of things because I feel as an actor that”s unnecessary.
Q: So, you won”t look at the monitor ever during a shoot?
No, no. Unless I”m made to by the director — and some director”s make you — I don”t. I feel as an actor so much of your job is about trust. It”s not about controlling it”s about letting go. Some directors love that and go, ‘Oh, I need you to move your head this way or do that,” but my choice if I”ve given the choice is not to look. I don”t want to be aware. My whole thing is not to be aware is to be “in” and to “feel” and to “be.”
Q: Do you usually only see your films once or was it just this one in particular?
I love the process and I tend not to be as focused on the actual film. Even though on some films [such as] ‘Rabbit Hole,” I produced that film so I saw it so many times. And, ‘Moulin Rouge”? Baz wanted me to see that film so I must have seen it 15 times. And then there are other films I”ve only seen once. Occasionally, I”ll be flicking around on TV and go, ‘Oh!” (Laughs.) And I”ll watch a little bit of it, of something. I have made a few movies now I realize.
Q: I”m sure for some of them you”d go, ‘Wow, I don”t even remember that day.”
‘Wow, I don”t even remember that film!” (Laughs.) No, I remember them all. But, there are times when I sit down. Like I sat down and watched ‘The Others” recently and went ‘Wow, Alejandro really did a great job with that.” And then I”m like, ‘I”m so glad I was in that.” (Laughs.)
Q: Was it the script or was it working with Lee? What made you sign on?
I think it was the combination. I loved ‘Precious.” I think it was the combination of Lee and the character. And there were great characters throughout the whole thing. It”s not a plot driven film. It”s a character film. And that as an actor is really appealing and the strength of the character. I”ve never been offered a role like that before and there is something really beautiful about her tragic kind of journey and the damage. Yet, she”s tough and she”s always pushing through and trying to survive. I find that very endearing.
Q: You and Matthew and John have all made pictures somewhat of this scope, but Zac has never made a movie like this.
No, it was luck [Lee cast him] and he was so good and he was up for anything. I think he”s got so much ahead of him. He obviously has a beautiful face, but I loved the quality he brought to the character and in the scene where he comes to the door he”s suddenly a man. [His character is] like, ‘Hey, you can be with me” and ‘I want you to be with me” and I”m like, ‘No, no.” I loved what he did with the arc with it. I think he”s a really strong actor and I just hope he gets the opportunity to shine.
Q: What made you pick your current project ‘Grace of Monaco”?
The director again, I get devoted to my directors. Olivier Dahan (‘La Vie en Rose”), I really wanted to work him and the script really was really interesting to me. It”s only a certain part of her life. It”s only a six-month period of her life and what”s it about is really interesting. And it”s a French crew and a French director and that”s different for me. I”ve never done that before.
Q: You”ve played historical figures before, but was this daunting or…?
It”s daunting, but at the same time where we were shooting people new Grace and we were shooting in front of about 500 extras and they were very, very supportive. They really said, ‘Oh, you remind me of her.” And that was nice to hear because I was terrified, of course.
Q: Not just with ‘The Paperboy,” but ‘Fur” and even ‘Rabbit Hole,” you”ve made very challenging films over your career. Does that give you the confidence to look at a project and go, ‘Yes, this scares me, but I know I can do it”? Or is there always a measure of fear when you take on a new project?
I dunno. I suppose it”s just the fear, it”s more…Y”know, I always harken back to drama school, because in drama school you do everything. You do every role. You do all ages. You could play a male, that”s what you”re being trained to do. And, I try and approach my career like that. I try not to get too overwhelmed by it or try to think in terms of the magnitude of the world and just think, ‘I”m gonna try this.” And I think that”s just from lessons of people who”ve had long careers. I try to stay curious and I try to stay brave. That”s the way I approach it. I never think of pleasing people. Is this something that sparks my curiosity? Everything else? The analysis of it doesn”t really interest me that much. I really try to stay in a place of simple curiosity.
Q: That”s refreshing in many ways. I know with many actors they feel that they need to mix up the indie films and commercial films. Do you ever find yourself thinking that way?
No, not now. I used to, probably earlier in my career. But, no, no [not now]. (Laughs.) I probably should, it just doesn”t feel right.
Q: Are you having more fun than you”ve had in the past?
I feel more stretched if that makes sense.
Q: In a good way?
Yeah, yeah. I don”t want to get complacent in my old age. In my career or in my life I think complacently is one of my biggest fears.
Q: As someone who has been the awards season game yourself many times over the years do you have any favorites?
‘Amour.” ‘Amour.” I am just in love with that film. I love Michael Haneke. That film to me is just a masterpiece. Have you seen it?
Q: Yes, oh yes.
I”ve only seen it once because it was so powerful it went into part of my psyche. I think just to do with the subject matter and how he handled it. And the performances are blindingly good.
Q: And Emmanuelle Riva in particular is quite good.
Oh, yes! I start crying when I think of her. I hope people see it because it”s one of those things where it needs [exposure and publicity] for people to see it. I know it won the Palm d”Or and all that, but those sort of films need people to go. I”m a huge, huge fan of his and I think this is one of his best movies.
After our call ended with holiday pleasantries, I kept reflecting on how refreshing the conversation had been. Let’s consider this for a moment: Does anyone from “The Paperboy” have a genuine shot a nomination over the next few months? Does Kidman think she”ll really land a SAG or Oscar nomination for the role? Probably not in either case, but she’s clearly so proud of the picture she was willing to take the time after a long day on set to talk about it. Because, even if you aren”t a voter. Even if you are and already have your ballot filled out and sent in the mail. Even if you”re a critic who has decided who you”re voting for in your critics” group year-end awards. Maybe, just maybe, you”ll finally watch the movie and judge it for yourself. You may be surprised at what you find.
“The Paperboy” will be released on DVD and Blu-ray January 22.