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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 February, 2003, 17:22 GMT
Sharing the lure of Woolf
By Manoush Zomorodi
in New York

A scene from The Hours
Nicole Kidman: Pulling out the stops for a best actress Oscar
Nicole Kidman has won huge acclaim for her role as Virginia Woolf in The Hours. Its director, Stephen Daldry is also building on his success with Billy Elliott.

Nicole Kidman is virtually unrecognisable as Virginia Woolf in Stephen Daldry's The Hours. The actress wore a prosthetic nose and changed her voice to a low growl to become the famous feminist author.

"I became pretty obsessed with her. I listened to her voice, which I didn't want to mimic but I tried to absorb it," Kidman told BBC News Online.

"We played around with my face, to find the character. I think your face is your tool. You can't be attached to that, you've got to be willing to change it."

The film is an adaptation of Michael Cunningham's 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

It follows Virginia Woolf's creative process in writing her 1925 novel Mrs Dalloway and how her book greatly alters the lives of two fictional women, one from the 1950s and one present-day.

I got on like a house on fire with all of them
Stephen Daldry
The women's three lives interweave, as the housewife, the modern Manhattanite, and Woolf all try to cope with loss.

Producer Scott Rudin, who has made notable films like The Truman Show and Iris, felt that despite the mostly interior narrative Cunningham's book was worth bringing to the big screen.

He secured Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep in the lead roles early on, making the job of attracting funding far easier.

The film was made for the relatively modest sum of $22m (£13.8m).

Theatre roots

Director Stephen Daldry was the last to be brought on board.

Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep: Mother died during filming
Rudin invited Daldry to direct before his cinematic debut, Billy Elliot, had even been released. Billy Elliott went on to receive three Oscar nominations.

Daldry, who established himself as artistic director at London's prestigious Royal Court Theatre, told BBC News Online he could not pass up the chance to work with Kidman, Streep and Moore.

He took the unusual step of conducting rehearsals with all three, lasting several weeks.

"The great advantage with all three women was that they've all worked in the theatre," Daldry said.

"I got on like a house on fire with all of them. But I needed to rehearse to work out the structure of the scenes and to work out the basic dramatic tensions that are going on.

"With a text this dense, you have to spend quite a lot of time talking it through as well as staging it.

Delays

I was choosing material that was pretty dark and those choices are made because of what you're feeling at the time and what you want to express
Nicole Kidman
"They never acted like Hollywood stars to me. They always came in incredibly knowledgeable and prepared."

Despite the smooth on-set relations, production was slowed by many unforeseen bumps.

Reshooting was scheduled to take place on 13 September, 2001, which became impossible after the events of 11 September.

A further delay was caused by the death of Meryl Streep's mother.

When shooting finally resumed in January of this year, Moore was already seven months pregnant.

Other delays were caused by troubles with choosing a composer, before finally selecting Phillip Glass.

And the planned première at the Venice Film Festival was scrapped because of what has been referred to as "unresolved issues" between Scott Rudin and Harvey Weinstein, co-chair of the studio Miramax.

Julianne Moore
Julianne Moore: Also rated for performance in Far From Heaven
The troubles seem to have had little effect on the buzz surrounding the film, although some critics wonder if the film's depression and grief themes will inhibit the film's general appeal.

All three actresses were seen as potential Oscar contenders, well before the nominations.

Kidman's nomination for best actress for her role comes as no surprise.

She was nominated for Moulin Rouge last year and missed out, but since her very public break-up with husband Tom Cruise in 2001, many think she still has Hollywood's sympathies in 2003.

Kidman said her role in The Hours came at a difficult time for her.

"I was choosing material that was pretty dark and those choices are made because of what you're feeling at the time and what you want to express," she said.

"I thought my life was going to be one way. I got married at 22 years old and that was it - I thought I was going to be married for the rest of my life."

I think audiences will be astonished by her, in the fact that she is a transforming actress
Stephen Daldry on Nicole Kidman
But she said the Woolf role helped her.

Transforming actress

"A writer who is now dead can impact you so greatly, while you just sit in your bed and read a story. Just studying her was cathartic for me at that time."

Daldry said Kidman so completely inhabited Virginia Woolf that he believes audiences won't even think of her as Nicole Kidman, star.

"Obviously you get to know someone when you're shooting and I got to know Nicole as Virginia Woolf. In a sense I had an easier relationship with her when she was in makeup.

"I think audiences will be astonished by her, in the fact that she is a transforming actress."

Daldry was also surprised that Kidman insisted on doing stunts herself. In one scene, she submerges herself in a river.

"I don't like to set boundaries and I would feel very strange about putting a double in to do the part of Virginia where she drowns. I would feel weird about that and I scuba dive so I was happy to do it," she said.




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