Australian-American actress, producer and Hollywood sweetheart Nicole Kidman returns once again to exhibit her versatile acting chops on the big screen as she takes on the role of Gretchen Carlson, a former television co-host at Fox News who in 2016, filed a lawsuit against then CEO and Chairman Roger Ailes on claims of sexual harassment. This timely biographical feature film titled Bombshell is the brainchild of director Jay Roach and writer Charles Randolph, and co-stars other big names such as Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie. The storyline comprises of the allegations made against Ailes by several female employees and centres on their journey in setting out to expose his figure as an authorial man swathed in media-oriented power. Although brazenly radical in subject matter and towered by a number of contradictions in political views, Bombshell does not appear to be the first project Kidman has been involved with which verges on the margins of the extreme; dealing with the stark depiction of society’s underbelly and an exploration into the nature of the vulgar.
Growing up in Sydney, Kidman was enrolled in ballet classes at the mere age of three and immediately showed a premature natural acting talent in her primary and high school years. Her interest in villainous characters was cultivated early on as she cites her experience of seeing Margaret Hamilton’s performance as the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz as a primary source of inspiration for pursuing a life-long career in acting. At the Australian Theatre for Young People, she took classes in drama, mime and performing throughout her teenage years and continually received praise and encouragement to embark upon becoming a full-time actress.
In 1995, Kidman landed the lead role in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For, a criminal comedy mockumentary which aided as the first step in bringing her closer to worldwide recognition. Her character, Suzanne Stone, is an aspiring broadcast journalist who will stop at nothing to attain a worldwide level of fame and recognition. Her obsession with screens and voyeuristic forms of looking soon leads her into recruiting high school subjects Jimmy, Russell and Lydia as part of her TV documentary, Teens Speak Out. Ironically, it is this self-recorded documentary that later serves as evidence for Suzanne’s plotted murder of her husband Larry through the help of the students.
The film and novel of the same name are based on the criminal case of Pamela Smart, a convicted American murderer who seduced a fifteen-year-old boy and conspired with him and his three friends to have her husband killed. This darkly disturbing backstory underlies the colourful, scholastic visuals of the film and poses a challenge for newcomer Kidman in balancing the image of hidden malice with a dolled-up, perky façade—a challenge which she seems to have risen remarkably well too, as Mich LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle critiques,
“She brings to the role layers of meaning, intention and impulse. Telling her story in close-up—as she does throughout the film—Kidman lets you see the calculation, the wheels turning, the transparent effects to charm that succeed in charming all the same.”
Not to mention also her win at the Golden Globe Awards for Best Actress. Kidman was seen to, therefore, stun audiences with her ability to intermingle a performance of charming naivety with cold-hearted ruthlessness, portraying marvellously the dangers of fame obsession in the multimedia age.
A passion for narratives of tragedy and doomed fate continues in Kidman’s depiction of English writer Virginia Woolf in The Hours (2002), a psychological drama film directed by Stephen Daldry and co-starring Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore. The storyline focuses on three women of different generations whose lives are interconnected by Woolf’s novel, Mrs Dalloway. Apart from Kidman’s drastic physical transformation (with the aid of a conspicuous prosthetic nose) and her shift in mannerisms, posture and accent appear astoundingly similar to Woolf, with Kidman herself commenting that “All you know is: Everything starts to flow, and suddenly you’re walking differently, you’re talking differently, you’re thinking differently, your whole demeanour is in relation to what you’re shooting a lot of the time, mood-wise even.”
This immersion into the physical state of her character no doubt filters into the emotional sphere as well, forcing Kidman to venture into the dark and troubled mind of the writer during her final days leading up to her suicide by drowning in the River Ouse. Drawing upon research into the psychological science of nervous breakdowns, depression and bipolar disorders, Kidman delivers a showstoppingly poignant performance, eventually earning her positive critical reaction and an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Over fifteen years later, Kidman still refuses to shy away from topics that disturb, subvert and provoke as she slips into the character of Gretchen Carlson, who alongside Megyn Kelly, strives to take on the head of Fox News and the illegal wrongdoings he has committed within the workspace. First announced in May 2017, following the death of Ailes, the film has emerged in the opportune time for its meaning to take root as we are able to look back on the pre-Me Too time of political and feminist struggle and align our present societal climate with it. In the two years since the momentous event of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, audiences have been ready for a dramatisation of the isolation, humiliation, and fear that comes with the experience of and admittance to sexual harassment.
Bombshell’s release date is set for 24th January 2020 in the UK.
Words by Shir Ariya
Graphics by Séverine Denis-Lessard