That Time Nicole Kidman Set Absinthe on Fire

By
Photography Herb Ritts

Published July 9, 2019

That Time When is Interview’s weekly trip through the pop cultural space-time continuum, where we return to some of the most overlooked moments from issues past. In this edition, we revisit our May 2001 issue with cover star Nicole Kidman–Aussie icon and acting chameleon–and her conversation with Baz Luhrmann about their wild time filming Moulin Rouge.

Some actors fall victim to pigeonholing, but Nicole Kidman is not one of them. Whether it’s becoming one of the brainwashed Stepford Wives, getting serious in Yorgos LanthimosKilling of a Sacred Deer, or most recently, slapping Meryl Streep in Big Little Lies, Kidman’s proven that she can be whoever she wants. When fellow Aussie Baz Luhrmann set out to cast his future hit Moulin Rouge (2001), it was Kidman’s performance on the Broadway that caught his attention. A delivery of roses, 25 auditions, and maybe a little absinthe secured Kidman the role of Satine, the seductive chanteuse of Montmartre’s legendary cabaret. In our 2001 Interview cover story, the pair reflect on how their time on set was every bit as lively as you might expect:

BAZ LUHRMANN: We did a lot of work, but we also had—

NICOLE KIDMAN: Fun! Great fun. We had those incredible dinners, drinking wine and absinthe.

LUHRMANN: Ah, the absinthe. What exactly happened? Mind you, this is not one of those namby-pamby interviews where we skirt around the point! So what happened with the absinthe? Do you remember at all?

KIDMAN: I remember flames, I remember lighting the absinthe, but I don’t remember much else. No, wait—I remember dancing wildly at one stage. On the chair, on the table. And watching videos.

LUHRMANN: That’s right! You know, Nicole, the extraordinary thing is the parallel between the film and all of our lives. I mean to a harrowing extent. The profound amount of tragedy… the characters in the film, their needs and their wants and their drives—

KIDMAN: I think that’s because we spent so long doing what you cast us to do, and at the right time. I was so ready to do a love story, but then all those tragic elements that came in, in terms of dying and the layers — not that I died, but — in terms of just going through it all, the emotional weight of that, by the end, was just so powerful. I’ve never been so exhausted, yet so satiated at the same time. Creatively, I didn’t want to make a movie again after I’d finished this one.

Thankfully, she did. Despite juggling motherhood on set and a split from Tom Cruise, 2001 still gave us The Others, and a portrayal of Virginia Woolf the following year. Moulin Rouge lives on to be a classic, both for its soundtrack (a mix of Ozzy Osbourne, Fatboy Slim — and Beck?) and of course, its acting. Kidman secured a second win at the Golden Globes for her performance, and remained the object of Luhrmann’s directorial pursuits for the next seven years. But right now, it’s her character as Celeste Wright in Big Little Lies that’s got everybody talking. In the words of several Twitter users; “Nicole Kidman, I would die for you.”