Nicole Kidman, who ‘makes movies better,’ gets AFI Life Achievement Award


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Morgan Freeman spoke the words, but pretty much everyone who took the stage at the presentation of the AFI Life Achievement Award agreed: “ Nicole Kidman. She makes movies better.”

The line came in a video parody of Kidman’s AMC Theatres “we make movies better” ad that opened the Saturday night ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. It got huge laughs from the crowd of multigenerational A-listers there to honor the 40-year career of the 56-year-old Australian that has included roles in “Moulin Rouge,” “Eyes Wide Shut” and an Oscar-winning turn in “The Hours.”

Meryl Streep, Kidman’s “The Hours” co-star who presented to Streep the Life Achievement Award that she won herself in 2004, got laughs nearly as big when, in a mock-boastful voice, she described the hardest part of being “incessantly called the greatest actress of my generation.”

It’s when you come up against someone else who is “really, really, really, really, really, really great” and you realize they did things you couldn’t do, as happened with Kidman the first day they worked together on the HBO series “Big Little Lies,” Streep said.

Streep and their “Big Little Lies” co-star Reese Witherspoon both did spot-on, Australian-accented impressions of Kidman that had the audience in stitches.

Streep also drew tears from Kidman when describing what she believed motivated her.

“People call it bravery when an actress bares all and leaps off into the unknown and she dives deep into the darker parts of what it is to be a human being,” Streep said. “But I don’t think it’s bravery. I think it’s love. I think she just loves it.”

Kidman teared up for the first time in the evening when her husband and fellow Australian, singer Keith Urban, said she showed him “what love in action really looks like” when his substance abuse problems emerged almost immediately after they wed in 2006.

“Four months into our marriage, I’m in rehab for three months,” Urban said, looking at Kidman where she sat on a dais with their two daughters and other family. “Nic pushed through every negative voice, I’m sure even some of her own, and she chose love. And here we are 18 years later.”

Kidman said the night was the first time she allowed their teenage daughters to join her on a red carpet. She also has two children with her first husband, Tom Cruise.

She accepted the AFI award in the same venue where she accepted her Oscar in 2003 for playing Virginia Woolf in “The Hours.”

She thanked by name every director she has worked with, including Stanley Kubrick, Jane Campion, Baz Luhrmann, Sofia Coppola, Yorgos Lanthimos, Sydney Pollack and Lars von Trier.

“It is a privilege to make films. And glorious to have made films and television with these storytellers who allowed me to run wild and be free and play all of these unconventional women,” Kidman said, wearing a floor-length, glittering-gold gown. “Thank you for making me better at my craft and giving me a place, however temporary, in this world.”

It was announced back in November of 2022 that Kidman would receive the award, first handed out in 1973, whose previous winners include Orson Welles, Bette Davis, Alfred Hitchcock, Gene Kelly, Sidney Poitier, Barbara Streisand, Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro, Denzel Washington and Julie Andrews.

The ceremony originally was scheduled for June of 2023, but delayed because of Hollywood’s strikes. It will air on TNT on June 17.

Kidman also was nominated for Academy Awards for “Moulin Rouge,” “Rabbit Hole,” “Lion,” and “Being the Ricardos,” whose director, Aaron Sorkin, also sang her praises at the ceremony.

Others honoring her included Zac Efron, Miles Teller, Zoe Saldana and Mike Myers, who came on stage in disguise in one of the eerie orgy masks from “Eyes Wide Shut.”

Kidman began her career as a teen in Australia in films including “Bush Christmas” and “BMX Bandits.” Naomi Watts, a friend from those days, described meeting Kidman when both had to sit in a waiting room in bathing suits for two hours at an audition. Aussies Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman and Cate Blanchett all gave video tributes to the first from their country to win the award.

Kidman said in a video played at the ceremony that her appearance in the 1989 thriller “Dead Calm” brought her to the attention of, among others, Cruise, the only time his name was spoken Saturday night.

She had her breakthrough Hollywood role alongside him in 1990’s “Days of Thunder” — they would marry the same year — and also starred together in 1992’s “Far and Away” and in 1999 in Kubrick’s final film, “Eyes Wide Shut.”

She divorced Cruise in 2001, but her stardom only grew. Some of her biggest roles, and her Oscar, were still to come.

The role most often cited as a favorite during the awards show Saturday night was her musical turn in Luhrmann’s 2001 “Moulin Rouge.”

Freeman, the 2011 AFI honoree, in his in-person presentation that followed the video spoof, serenaded Kidman with the modified Elton John lines she sings in the film: “How wonderful life is, now you’re in the world.”

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