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Nicole Kidman’s AFI Life Achievement Award: ‘No One Deserves More’




Nicole Kidman's AFI Life Achievement Award: 'No One Deserves More'

Nicole Kidman has been an international treasure for forty years. Whether you follow her many wigs (“The Undoing” is our favorite), admire her structured and committed performances, or simply stand and salute before every AMC Theaters screening, you probably honor her in some way.

While five Best Actress Oscar nominations and one win (for “The Hours”) have been adequate indicators of her success and staying power, conversations have been going on for years about a lack of recognition for her remarkable artistic consistency.

“How many times does Nicole Kidman have to prove herself?” asked author Anne Helen Peterson in a 2017 essay for BuzzFeed, an essay that examined how appreciation is or isn’t meted out to women in Hollywood, using Kidman as a template.

“While male actors can bask in the brilliance of a single performance for years, female stars must reapply for greatness annually, fighting the industry-wide impulse for gossip about their personal lives and their appearance in order to spark any substantive conversation about their capabilities. ‘ Peterson wrote almost a decade ago, on the heels of the successful first season of ‘Big Little Lies,’ starring Kidman.

After a delay in 2023 due to the SAG-AFTRA strike, the American Film Institute hopes to right this cultural wrong by presenting Kidman with the Life Achievement Award on Saturday. The tribute, broadcast on TNT, provides a glorious cinematic spectacle, as our screen idols are put on stage and an army of famous faces emerge to pay tribute to them between film clips.

AFI President Bob Gazzale, who wrote the upcoming Kidman show and serves as executive producer, watched about 80 films and series from the actor’s archive in an effort to capture her versatility. Only with Kidman do you get a remake of ‘The Stepford Wives’ alongside an adaptation of Phillip Roth’s ‘The Human Stain’. Or ‘To Die For’ by Gus Van Sant together with ‘Just Go With It’ by Adam Sandler. Or Jonathan Glazer’s criminally underrated ‘Birth’ next to the campy ‘Batman Forever’.

Gazzale caught up Variety to discuss his big plans for Kidman, provide an inside look at AFI’s selection process, and have a few surprises in store.

There are so few formats like the Life Achievement Award on live television now. We’ve moved away from this kind of thing thanks to social media and the way video is moving now. So why Nicole Kidman, and why now?
In the long and proud tradition of this award, Nicole embodies the glamor and romance of Hollywood’s past. But she also has the grit and courage of one of the art form’s greatest character actors. She is a true screen icon, but she also takes risks. Each performance is something new and profound.

I think a lifetime achievement calls for an accolade of a certain age, but Kidman and some of your past recipients don’t quite fit that bill. How flexible is AFI in handing out something like this? Kidman has an incredible body of work, but she is very viable in the marketplace.
Even at a young age, she has had a life of accomplishments worth celebrating. In addition to her work, it is her impact. She moves the culture forward. She’s doing it with such vigor now, with her dedication to amplifying the voices of female directors and producers. That is one aspect of the impact we will celebrate during the event. Nicole has been very specific about what she likes to think about.

What standards do you look at when you look at life achievements?
Obviously everyone we’ve celebrated is a household name, but it starts with a great debate. There are many valuable recipients. These debates are becoming passionate and the AFI administrators are taking it very seriously.

I like the idea of ​​people sitting in a conference room filibustering on behalf of movie stars. How does the process work in concrete terms?
There is a Life Achievement Award committee that typically recommends three possible recipients. Those nominees are then brought to the larger board. In that round, we’ll hear from other important names to add to consideration. The event has been going on for over 50 years now and there are many stories I could tell you. The point is that the legacy of the event demonstrates a commitment to excellence.

How much of her work did you revisit for the show?
Most, if not all, of the work. And think of things like “Big Little Lies” – which lasts seven hours per season. That’s the joy of it. When you revisit all these shows and movies, you always see new things. This especially applies to Nicole. Not only have you changed as a person between viewings, but her performances are so nuanced.

What was the biggest highlight for you?
“Moulin Rouge.” I was really blown away by the fact that she is someone who can sing and dance, and do comedy, romance and drama in one quite brilliant performance.

She also has an incredible talent for darkness. Have you rewatched “Dogville”?
I did. That movie still haunts me to this day. For me it was like looking at a bruise; it is painful and yet it is beautiful. She has been brave in her choices. Her agent once told me she wanted a director who didn’t speak English. He had to inform her [they didn’t speak English] and she looked at him and said, “Then get an interpreter.” She wants new challenges.

Much has been written about how timely a moment like this is for her. Do you agree?
What makes this event so special is that it is not a competition. It’s one of the rare events in this community where there are no losers. And yes, no one deserves that more than Nicole Kidman.

I think some of her most memorable moments come from content such as advertisements, including the viral AMC Theaters ad.
Yep, nothing beats that collective smile when that ad pops up. People stand up and salute it.

Would you like to reference it during her AFI tribute?
We will, but I’m not giving away any surprises. But the other thing that’s unique about her is that this honor represents something bigger. Nicole is the first Australian to receive the AFI Life Achievement Award. We have had some recipients with roots in Britain; Alfred Hitchcock, Sean Connery and Elizabeth Taylor had dual citizenship. But this art form provides global unity at a time when it is needed most.

Tip sheet
WHAT Tribute to the AFI Life Achievement Award
WHEN April 27th; will air on TNT in June
WHERE Dolby Theater, Hollywood