At a Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour virtual panel earlier this month, Nicole Kidman was asked about her experience playing a Russian wellness guru based on author Liane Moriarty’s best-seller Nine Perfect Strangers.
“I walked in as Masha [Dmitrichenko, the resort director], I never related to anybody in any other way,” Kidman said on August 6.
“I only related to them as Marsha and stayed in the character. The first scene we shot was the scene where I come in the room and say, ‘I am Masha. Welcome to Tranquillum.’ And then I was able to stay in that place,” entertainment website Indiewire reported.
“I wanted a very calm, healing energy to emanate all the time. So I remember going over to people and sort of putting my hand on their heart or holding their hand,” she said.
“They would talk to me or use my name, Nicole, and I would completely ignore it.
“I’d only respond to Masha.”
In an interview with The Project on Wednesday, Kidman said she stayed in character for the whole five months of filming.
“Masha had to have intellectual weight, energy that was appealing, so I stayed in character for the whole time. People go, that’s insane, and maybe I am a bit insane, but that was the only way to make it work for me,” she said.
“The whole five months – not when I went home and went to sleep – but my kids would hear me talking in the accent all the time. Keith [Urban] was really into Masha, so that was good.
“The actors did not hear my Australian accent until the day we wrapped.”
Good decision. She transforms into Masha and keeps us enthralled as she weaves her magic through her cast of strangers.
Kidman headlines Nine Perfect Strangers, filmed entirely on location in northern New South Wales during the pandemic last year. Fans can finally plan their weekend screen time, with the first three episodes dropping on Friday August 20 via Amazon Prime Video).
Strong, complex and highly emotional performances of all nine guests who arrive at the wellness resort for 10 days of healing – including Melissa McCarthy, Bobby Cannavale, Samara Weaving, Regina Hall, Michael Shannon and Asher Keddie – will leave you wanting more.
Production company Made up Stories’ founder Bruna Papandrea said she was drawn to the “idea of our obsession with trying to heal and fix ourselves and the lengths people go to, and just exploring what that looked like for this group of people”.
“I think part of the reason we were interested was that it was a subject that had been kind of satirised and articulated differently. I think this dug deeper, and I think that’s what was of interest to all of us,” Ms Papandrea said.
Papandrea, who has worked with Kidman on several projects over the past six years, said it was “great” to see her play such an “extreme personality”.
“She loves Australia as much as the three of us, and it’s the dream to be able to shoot an international show here in Australia and be home, so it was extra special,” she said.
Made up Stories producer Jodi Matterson noted the picturesque backdrop of Byron Bay (a stand-in for California) helped: “We’ve seen this show countless times now and still after every screening I walk away wholly transported and I feel like this is such a tonic to everything that is happening in the world right now.
“You will laugh, you will cry, and be so moved. I feel so happy to be putting this out into the world right now – it is pure escapism.
“Every one of our strangers was able to be transported somewhere truly magical,” she said.
As the show digs deeper into each character’s traumatic past, whether it be divorce, drug addiction or a young couple’s marriage on the edge, there is a sense of foreboding that things are about to get a whole lot worse before we see healing.
‘Trippy’ and ‘crazy’
The first six episodes are a feast, and to single out a performance would be unwise, but the emotionally-charged performance of Asher Keddie as a grieving mother is right up there.
Masha knows she needs help – as they all do – so she initiates the wellness retreat’s “protocol”. Are they being drugged?
It’s all about when each character will crumble and find a way – with Masha’s help – to navigate their way out of their own individual pain.
Papandrea said it’s hard to pick a favourite but “the male character, for me … Shannon’s character is the one and that relationship with Asher’s character.
“I think for me that family is maybe one of my favourite parts of the show because they’re all extraordinary and complicated,” she said.
For many of the guests, they start to feel better. They start to find answers to their problems and develop close friendships (there’s even a romance) with fellow guests.
Stressful filming under tightly controlled COVID rules
Completing eight 60-minute episodes, Nine Perfect Strangers has become the first major Hollywood production filmed in Australia under the strict COVID-19 Public Health Rules.
Kidman, one of the executive producers alongside Melissa McCarthy (Spy, Bridesmaids), said the production was stressful at times with testing and mask-wearing. Luckily, they got through without a positive case.
Worth the hype? Absolutely.
“Its obviously a wellness retreat but it’s something so much deeper and that is what I love about the show,” Kidman said.
“You sign up thinking ‘I’m going to get this comedy-drama’, and then it goes on the wildest, trippiest ride.”
Nine Perfect Strangers starts streaming on Amazon Prime Video from August 20