Nicole Kidman Was ‘Like a Second Director’ on ‘To Die For,’ Says Gus Van Sant

Nicole Kidman not only gave a to-die-for performance for helmer Gus Van Sant, but also almost seemed to co-direct the feature herself.

Van Sant recalled to the New York Times just how committed Kidman was to the 1995 dark comedy “To Die For,” even going so far as to say she was “destined to play the part” and serving as a “second director” on set.

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“Nicole called and said she was destined to play the part, so I believed her,” Van Sant said of casting the future Oscar winner early in her career. “I thought she was incredibly dedicated to making a fantastic performance through study of the script and the part, in a way I had never seen before.”

Van Sant continued, “There were notebooks, and scene exercises, and voice exercises — it was very thorough. Nicole was so versed in the scenes that she was like having a second director there, who helped with the kids that we had playing her students, and it was a very welcomed help that she gave with them.”

Kidman will be honored with the life achievement award from the American Film Institute in 2024.

The actress/producer’s two-time collaborator Baz Luhrmann, who directed Kidman in both 2001’s “Moulin Rouge!” and 2008’s “Australia,” which was recently recut as a Hulu series, told the New York Times that Kidman is akin to Katharine Hepburn in terms of her impact on cinema.

“You tend to find brilliant character actors, or you find someone who has star quality. What’s quite unique about Nicole is that she is both an amazing character actress — she completely absorbs into the character — but she burns so brightly as a star onscreen as well,” Luhrmann said. “She has both qualities, and that’s pretty extraordinary.”

The auteur continued of the musical “Moulin Rouge!” in particular, citing Kidman’s dedication to “slapstick” comedic performances.

“Because [‘Moulin Rouge!’] was a musical, I needed her to do high comedy, almost slapstick like Katharine Hepburn,” he said. “The scene inside the elephant shows her complete out-thereness, throwing her dress around and making funny noises. I didn’t specifically instruct her to do it. I just said, ‘How far can you go here?’ And she went there. And that’s really true of Nicole.”

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