BAZ BAMIGBOYE: The filmmaker who turned down Nicole Kidman

BAZ BAMIGBOYE: The filmmaker who turned down Nicole Kidman

Nicole Kidman has won an Oscar and worked with cinema greats such as Jane Campion and Stanley Kubrick. But that cuts no ice with her budding filmmaker daughter, Sunday Rose.

The teenager, known as Sunny to family and friends, makes amateur films on her iPad and, according to her mother, is ‘chomping at the bit to go to film school . . . but at 13 and a half, she’s too young’.

And despite having an award-winning Hollywood star under the same roof, the last person she wants to cast in her pictures ‘is her mum’, Nicole told me.

‘I’m like: ‘Do you want me?!’ And she says: ‘No!’ she added, laughing down the line from her farm in Sutton Forest, 90 minutes south-west of Sydney, where she has been spending time with musician husband Keith Urban, Sunny and sister Faith.

‘She may change her mind,’ she added; but given that her daughter’s been a film nut since she was eight, she doubts it.

‘The great thing about her age group is that they can make films on their iPads and iPhones. They learn to edit, lay in sound,’ the 54-year-old marvelled.

Nicole Kidman pictured at the Being the Ricardos film premiere in New York last month. She plays Lucille Ball in the film

Jane Campion, who directed Kidman in The Portrait Of A Lady 26 years ago, has mentored her daughter, advising Sunny to go to art school as a first step towards understanding visual framing.

‘As Keith says: ‘You’ve got to learn rhythm guitar before you learn electric’,’ Nicole said.

We’d been chatting about how teenage girls are discovering, and relating to, the comedic and business know-how of Lucille Ball, the legendary funny lady Kidman portrays in Being The Ricardos. 

Aaron Sorkin’s delicious drama, which is streaming now on Amazon Prime, is set behind the scenes of Ball’s signature TV hit I Love Lucy, which she made with her first husband Desi Arnaz.

‘I thought women in their 20s might be enthralled,’ Kidman said, ‘but I didn’t think younger girls would be.’

She believes Ball’s renewed popularity is down to the fact that ‘she’s such a cool woman, and a cool woman is timeless’.

Lucille’s gift for physical comedy was just what the nascent television industry of the late 1950s and early 1960s needed — and what she needed, too, lifting her from barrel-scraping B films to become a national treasure.

Kidman noted that Ball showed a ‘talent to withstand so many failures, and to turn lemons into lemonade, to quote Beyoncé!’.

Alia Shawkat as Madelyn Pugh, from left, Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance in a scene from Being the Ricardos

Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball, left, and Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz in a scene from the film

Mastering Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue required weeks of work, too. She found that the experience of playing pioneering scientist Rosalind Franklin in the play Photograph 51, for director Michael Grandage in the West End, helped. 

If she could ‘absorb all that scientific data’, she could do the same with Sorkin’s whip-smart script. ‘He likes writing a lot of words!’ she commented. 

Kidman is contemplating a return to the stage, perhaps in 2023, in a new version of a Greek tragedy. ‘It’s in my future,’ she said, though she refused to name the play.

More recently, she participated in one of eight, 30-minute dramas for an anthology series called Roar that will be shown later in the year on AppleTV+. She and fellow Australian Judy Davis, working together for the first time, play a mother and daughter in a tale of magical realism.

The actress had an all-too real experience working with director Robert Eggers, along with her Big Little Lies husband Alexander Skarsgard, Anya Taylor-Joy, Willem Defoe, Ethan Hawke and Bjork on the film The Northman, in cinemas on April 22.

 ‘Alex leads the Vikings, of course,’ she said, adding that she plays a Viking queen in a supporting role.

‘There was so much mud in that film. I was covered in it. And it was so bitterly cold.’ But she was still up for it. 

‘I’ve always loved extremes. And Lucille, for me was, extreme — without the mud! Nothing comes close to her.’

Wham bam thank you Dan, a real robot hunk

Dan Stevens relished the chance to play a bionic man, hardwired for love, whose native tongue is . . . German.

Stevens — who found early fame in Downton Abbey, playing the frightfully British Matthew Crawley — had to be fully prepared for a sex scene with a very human woman, hired to give an ethical assessment of Tom, the android he plays in I’m Your Man.

‘There was some sort of modesty pouch involved,’ he said, of the scene with co-star Maren Eggert, who plays Alma, the scientist who must assess whether Tom’s algorithms are in proper working order.

The German-produced film — a delightful, screwball comedy — is one of 15 movies on the Oscar shortlist for best international picture.

The beauty of I’m Your Man, directed by Maria Schrader, is that as Stevens notes, ‘it doesn’t get bogged down in the technology’. 

Instead, it opts to look at the ethical questions posed by the prospect of a non-human hunk, in a light-hearted way.

Dan Stevens (pictured), of Downton Abbey, stars in I’m Your Man – directed by Maria Schrader

The German-produced comedy film is one of 15 movies on the Oscar shortlist for best international picture

Stevens (pictured) plays the frightfully British Matthew Crawley in the film with co-star Maren Eggert, who plays Alma

Dancing the rumba in the opening sequence helped the actor establish Tom’s virile physicality — which Stevens said was based on the moves of Cary Grant. 

‘Grant’s a very stylised performer,’ he said, ‘and we were re-making his movements — how he’d walked and so on — for Tom.’ The android’s snappy chat-up lines were also borrowed from Grant.

Stevens studied German at school, though the fact that it’s not his first language was actually helpful.

‘The comedy comes from the off-timing of Tom’s delivery,’ he said. ‘A lot of that robotic concentrating is just me trying to remember my German.’

Stevens spoke, and sang, impeccably in English in TV drama Legion and the blockbuster live-action movie Beauty And The Beast.

He also dabbled in comedy as the outlandish Russian singer Alexander Lemtov in the film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, with Will Ferrell.

The actor travelled from his home in Los Angeles to shoot I’m Your Man in Berlin during the summer of the first wave of the pandemic. 

‘It was a big step,’ he told me. (The film is available now on Curzon Home Cinema.)

Stevens will be seen later in the year as Watergate inside figure John Dean, in TV drama series Gaslit, which also stars Julia Roberts.

Rusty dancer takes West Side glory 

When the call came to audition for Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, actor, dancer, singer Mike Faist didn’t want to put a foot wrong.

The room was full of the best dancers in the world, all hoping to land a role in the film adaptation of the legendary stage show created by Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, Arthur Laurents and Stephen Sondheim.

Its famously energetic choreography helps tell the story of rival gangs the Jets and the Sharks — but the thought of having to put on his dancing shoes in such exalted company made Faist want to hide.

‘I said I’d be happy to audition, but did I have to dance?’ he told me. He’d been out of practice for a decade since appearing in Newsies, with its electrifying choreography, on Broadway.

(He subsequently appeared in the original New York production of Dear Evan Hansen, which featured less energetic numbers.)

But then he got a grip. ‘It’s West Side Story, you idiot. Of course you have to dance!’

Mercifully, choreographers Justin Peck and Patricia Delgado could see that Faist, while rusty, was ‘definitely on a different wavelength’, so they went to his aid.

(L-R): Mike Faist as Riff, Paloma Garcia-Lee, Jess LeProtto as A-Rab, Eloise Kropp as Dot, Garett Hawe as Skink, Ben Cook as Mouthpiece, and Maddie Ziegler as Velma in West Side Story

(L-R): David Alvarez, Ariana DeBose, Ansel Elgort, Rita Moreno, Director Steven Spielberg, Rachel Zegler, Mike Faist, and Josh Andrés Rivera attend the Los Angeles premiere of West Side Story, held at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California last month

 Spielberg had his eye on the 30-year-old because he’d been impressed with his acting. So Peck ‘was like, I guess we’ll make it work!’ Faist recalled, grinning widely on our Zoom call. 

And he certainly found his feet as Jets leader Riff. The performance is one of the highlights of the film, that also includes standout work from Ariana DuBose as Anita.

Faist grew up in Gahanna, Ohio, with his mother, a probate lawyer, and father, who manages and fixes up properties for investment. 

In his spare time he would help out with construction work, and take dance classes.

His first part was playing a munchkin in The Wizard Of Oz. When his mum took him on a trip to see a Broadway show ‘I knew I wanted to move to New York and do theatre’.

He said that along with loving the craft of acting, you also ‘have to love the weirdos that also love it — and you have to accept that you’re one of the weirdos’.

Speaking from his home town, where he’d moved back to be with his dad who’d had major surgery, he told me working with Spielberg had inspired him ‘to chase joyous experiences’.

After shooting West Side Story, he appeared in Amazon TV drama Panic, and last autumn completed work on the film Pinball: The Man Who Saved The Game.

Watch out for…

Shaq Taylor who will don prosthetic facial fur — and horns — to play the monster in the Alan Menken and Howard Ashman musical Beauty And The Beast, at the London Palladium from June 24 to September 17. 

Taylor will join Courtney Stapleton, who plays Belle. The show has been on a UK tour — currently at the Sunderland Empire, followed by short seasons at Birmingham Hippodrome and Manchester’s Palace Theatre — before heading into the West End.

 Taylor begins rehearsing on Tuesday. But he’s already aware that his character ‘has a heart within this beastly form that he’s been given … there is something, deep down, that’s pure’. 

Shaq Taylor (pictured_ will play the monster in the Alan Menken and Howard Ashman musical Beauty And The Beast at the London Palladium from June 24 to September 17

He added: ‘I think people miss that a lot. They just see a dangerous beast.’

Taylor, 27, studied drama at Brighton University and Arts Ed and has appeared in The Girl From The North Country at the Gielgud and Jesus Christ Superstar in Regent’s Park. 

He’s currently appearing with Rosalie Craig in Hex at the National Theatre. 

The musical — last performance tomorrow night — is still officially in previews, having never opened for critics. 

The NT insists it will return in November, after a fix.

Fondly remembering Sondheim & Company

Stephen Sondheim was able to see celebrated director Marianne Elliott’s re-imagined gender-swap adaptation of his musical Company on Broadway before he died last November. 

He also caught the show several times during its award-winning season at the Gielgud in London.

A new documentary about the production will feature interviews with the music titan. 

Sondheim had agreed to sit for one final, extended conversation for the cameras, but alas, it was scheduled for ‘the day after he died’, Chris Harper, a producer and partner in Elliott & Harper Productions, said ruefully.

Patti LuPone and Rosalie Craig in Marianne Elliott’s re-imagined gender-swap adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company 

Patti LuPone performs in the 2011 New York Philharmonic Orchestra Spring Gala Benefit Performance Of Stephen Sondheim’s Company at Avery Fisher Hall in New York

Rosalie Craig as Bobbie in Stephen Sondheim’s Company directed by Marianne Elliott at The Gielgud Theatre in 2018

The documentary, called simply Company, will be shown in the U.S. on May 27 on PBS. 

It’s hoped a sale can be made to a UK broadcaster. Patti LuPone, who won awards in London for her hymn to the Ladies Who Lunch, was being interviewed in New York, where she’s in the NY production, this week.

The film will also feature footage of the London cast, including Rosalie Craig, who starred as Bobbie — a role originally written for a man; and Katrina Lenk, who plays the part on Broadway.

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