Finally, Nicole Kidman says, she feels she is exactly where she belongs, professionally speaking. She may have been rated one of the most powerful celebrities in Hollywood just a few years ago; she may still be one of the most instantly recognised and photographed faces on any red carpet; she may be – and, indeed, is – one of Australia's richest women, worth $320 million, according to Business Review Weekly's last count.
But here she is promoting Stoker, a strange thriller directed by a South Korean art-house king of weird, Park Chan-wook. At 46, Kidman is becoming an art-house actor. "In the second half of my life, I don't want to succumb to any complacency," she says. "I want to push myself and keep pushing myself to places of discomfort and discovery. I am still very curious."
In a sense, this is nothing new. It has been easy to forget, in the midst of the stories about her marriages and divorce, her surrogate pregnancy and her Oscar, her frocks and her Botox – the heartbreak and the glamour of being Nicole Kidman, as it were, served up on full-gloss paper – how many films she has made and how very good she can be.
Of course, there are the bloated Hollywood turkeys, but the best of her 57-odd roles – the killer newsreader Suzanne Stone in To Die For, the Russian mail-order bride in Birthday Girl or the bereaved mother in Rabbit Hole – roll right out of left field. As Stanley Kubrick told her when he directed her with Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut, she didn't look like a character actor, but that was why she was hired.
Stoker fits that picture. It is a stylised, chilling gothic story of a cloistered widow whose husband's handsome long-lost brother, Charlie (Matthew Goode), turns up and moves in. For the brittle, lonely Evelyn, this certainly spices up an empty life. The same goes for her sullen teenage daughter, India, played by a quite brilliant Mia Wasikowska. The house itself is bathed in luxurious gloom: wine glasses tinkle and the grand piano beckons those whose fingers might well become entangled. But this is not a love story: the place rather reeks of death.
Park Chan-wook sought her out for the role, Kidman says; she responded because she had seen and admired his cult horror Old Boy. Director Park, as she calls him in true Korean style, speaks no English. That concerned her, obviously. "But when I met with him, he had such a strong vision of the film already, which was fantastic," she says. "He just said he wanted to make a film about bad blood. It sounded very Korean! How that is passed on through a family, whether that actually happens, nature versus nurture; all that was really fascinating to me."
Is she enjoying work now she has settled into this groove? "Only if the people are good," she says. "I have less patience for mediocrity." Home has a stronger pull, too. When Kidman and Cruise divorced in 2001 and their two adopted children stayed with him, she slid into depression. She and second husband Keith Urban, she once said, met in 2005 as "two lonely people"; they married the following year. Only four months later, he checked into rehab for alcohol and cocaine addiction after Kidman and friends "staged an intervention".
It was hardly an easy start to a new life, but it worked; Urban said later it bonded them. "To see love in action to that degree . . . I'd never experienced anything like that," Urban told Oprah Winfrey.
Their daughter Sunday, named after art patron Sunday Reed, was born in 2008; a second daughter, Faith, was delivered early in 2011 by a surrogate. Kidman was 43 and, as she told a magazine, had many failed attempts at pregnancy behind her; a second natural birth was not going to happen.
Work has to fit around home life now. "It's not even balance," she says. "I say, 'Is this going to work for our family?' And Keith and I sort of talk about it, and there are times when he's said no and then I don't do it. And I'm absolutely fine with that because I want my marriage and want my family more than I want anything else." They have a house in Sydney and a farm in Sutton Forest in the southern highlands, but most of the time they are in Nashville. She is fine with that, too. "I love music and beyond that, I love the nature; we can go to the Smoky Mountains and rent a cabin, you know. We have a very quiet life there, which is great."
Does all this mean that, more than a decade since her crushing divorce, she is happy? There is a moment's hesitation. "Yes," she agrees, finally. "Happy in the sense that I have my girls and my husband and I have a very, very strong real life to counter-balance my fantasy life now. My fantasy life used to outweigh that more and now I've kind of balanced it, which is a lot healthier." As she speaks, the PR minder is shuffling her out of the door. "I smile now!" she adds quickly, proving the point with a grin. It's the last we see of her.
Stars Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Matthew Goode, Jacki Weaver
Directed by Park Chan-wook
Genre Hitchcockian chiller
Buzz Opinions run the gamut from those infuriated by the director's studied stylisation and the predictability of the genre plot to the totally convinced, who describe it as "exquisite filmmaking".
Opens August 29