Nicole Kidman says that the late Stanley Kubrick once told her, “You’re a character actress, Nicole. Don’t play leading ladies. Go and find the character roles.” And if her work in the delightful “Paddington” is any indication, he was on to something. Kidman revels in the role of the villainous Millicent, a high-end taxidermist on a mission to kill, stuff and mount the titular talking bear.
“I was lucky because they had a pretty strong vision for [the character] when I came in, and they created me,” she says with a laugh. And as for how much research she put into her role? “I’d say ‘Taxi Driver’ and this film, that’s the research.”
But as a mother with two young girls at home, it would be understandable if Kidman had any reservations about getting so nasty and evil on screen. But far from it. “It was good because they were on the set,” she says of daughters Sunday and Faith. “Initially they were like, ‘Oh no, no no, please don’t be the one that wants to hurt the bear.’ But now they understand the behind-the-scenes, and strangely enough, my 6-year-old really loves the villain character, which kind of worries me.”
Any worry, though, was put to rest by the finished product. “It was really great because I got to watch the film with my mom, who is 74, and my 4-year-old and my 6-year-old. And to see that, and all of them were laughing at the same things, that’s amazing. So I just love that I can make a film that my family can enjoy,” she says. And as a bonus, “Paddington” puts to rest an old filmmaking adage, as far as Kidman is concerned. “They always say if you have a great time making a movie, the movie’s not going to be any good, but this movie is good, and we had a really good time. So that … that refutes that, right?”
And her biggest take-away from the film? One particularly deadly new skill — that didn’t quite make it into the movie itself as much as she’d like. “I did learn how to throw knives, which they subsequently cut out of the film,” Kidman admits. “I just remember [producer] David [Heyman] going, ‘It’s a children’s movie!’ I throw one knife now. But I’m saving my knife-throwing technique for another film. Or no, for real life! For Keith.”
In “Paddington,” Ben Whishaw — the “Cloud Atlas” star and the new Q from the James Bond films — voices the bear in question, which may come as a surprise to film fans who were following the production. “He wasn’t our initial choice. We started working with Colin Firth who’s brilliant and one of my acting heroes and comedy heroes,” director Paul King admits. “Really twisted his arm to try to get him involved in the project. He was almost, from sort of Day One, like, ‘I’m not sure my voice is going to turn out to be right.'”
How right Firth turned out to be. “We worked with him a lot and rehearsed with him a bit, and he’s terrific, but as the animation emerged, you just didn’t believe his voice coming out of this cub,” King admits. “It was almost a little too bass-y and too resonant. We tried doing some digital things to kind of make him feel a little lighter, but it sounded so Smurf-y, so quickly. It just didn’t feel right.” No hard feelings, though, right? “I’m so glad he wasn’t a young actor getting his big break, or I would have felt terrible,” King adds. “‘Well, you’re off to make the next Matthew Vaughn film. You’ll be fine.'”
Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter: @nedrick