Nicole Kidman wants to put chemist Rosalind Franklin “back into the dialogue beyond the scientific community” after the “great injustice” of being side lined by her male counterparts, she said at the Women in the World Summit.
Kidman is currently playing Rosalind Franklin in London’s West End play Photograph 51. Franklin was largely unrecognised for her critical discovery towards uncovering the structure of the DNA helix, however her work was overshadowed by fellow scientists James Watson and Francis Crick. Franklin died of ovarian cancer at the age of 37 in 1958, whereas Watson, Crick, and Maurice Wilkins won the Nobel Prize in 1962 with Franklin’s efforts overlooked.
Kidman said her decision to take the role was a personal one because her late father was a biochemist: “I told him I was going to do the play and he was absolutely thrilled — he knew all about Rosalind and Watson and Crick, and then he passed and I thought, ‘I must do this play.’”
After reading the script for the first time Kidman said she “wept.” “I wanted to put her back in the conversation and dialogue beyond the scientific community.
“I felt that there was an injustice and I wanted to be part of, if not righting it then at least putting her back into the dialogue beyond the scientific community. You make many decisions creatively for different reasons. With Moulin Rouge – I wanted to fly around a trapeze looking down at a hundred men in top hats.”
Kidman said she could see similarities in Franklin and her own father’s view about the world and mankind. In 1940 Franklin wrote a letter to her father saying: “Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated. In my view, all that is necessary for faith is the belief that by doing our best we shall come nearer to success and that success in our aims (the improvement of the lot of mankind, present and future) is worth attaining.”
Kidman recalled standing in her garden with her late father and asking him, “What does it all mean? Why are we here?” which he replied “To take care of others.”
“That had a profound effect on me,” said Kidman as she vowed to look at her career differently and to utilise her status for social good.
Writing women out of history and good roles
Brown ask Kidman whether she thinks women are written out history and good acting roles: “I’ve been on the receiving end of saying can we rewrite this male role to a female role. But let’s tell the stories of women too.”
“The problem is it’s starting at the ground level. That’s what we need to change. We have to go out and pay to see Suffragette to prove this story needs to be told. Buy tickets, see the movies, demand the stories, respond to them and they will get made.”
Kidman spoke of her recent work as a film producer and a project where she is currently collaborating on a HBO series with Reese Witherspoon which champions women’s stories: “We need to support each other,” she said. “I’m fortunate that I can champion some stories and certain filmmakers, and help them out at this stage in my career.”
Balancing family and career
Kidman admitted that she has had to work through some difficult times to reach this stage of her life. Touching upon her divorce from Tom Cruise, in 2001, she said it unleashed a creative period in her life which saw her take on more varied roles: “Out of that came work that was applauded so that was an interesting thing for me.
“To be completely honest, I was running from my life at that time. I then embraced my own life and got myself together for a couple of years. During that time I worked a lot. That culminated in winning an Oscar and that caused an epiphany which was this isn’t the answer. I was sitting in the Beverly Hills Hotel and it was all extraordinary but I was holding a gold statue but I was the loneliest I’d ever been.”
She said she eventually stumbled into her current partner Keith Urban and they married: “We didn’t really know each other – we got to know each other during our marriage. I wanted to have a baby as soon as we met and he said no.”
Her and Urban now have a four year old and a seven year old and she spoke of the difficulties of juggling a family life and her career currently between Nashville and London: “As a woman it’s a very hard thing, with young children, to commit to a run of a show, and to not be there in the evenings for the wind-down period, making dinner and putting kids to bed.”
She said it took her a long time before she could make such a commitment: “We called a family meeting and decided to be a gypsy family for a while, and to create homes wherever we go.”