Nicole Kidman: Actress, Mom, Women's Advocate

Off-screen, Kidman fights violence against women on the international stage.

From the WebMD Archives

Nicole Kidman is the first to admit that she's not likely to replace Padma Lakshmi on Bravo's Top Chef any time soon. Some celebrities like to tout their prowess in the kitchen, but Kidman, the Academy Award-winning star of films like Days of Thunder, Cold Mountain, The Hours, and The Golden Compass, isn't one of them.

"I'm a very basic cook, and it's so not my skill. I'm more than happy to order out or have somebody else cook," says Kidman, whose latest film, a biography of Princess Grace of Monaco, opens the Cannes Film Festival on May 14. And although she says she can manage simple salmon and steamed vegetables, Kidman also says that when she and her husband, country star Keith Urban, travel with their daughters Sunday Rose, 6, and Margaret Faith, 3, healthy meals can be a challenge.

"It's hit-and-miss a lot of times, and that's the God's honest truth. When we're on the tour bus with Keith, we don't eat so healthily. We'll eat chicken burgers and so on, which we feel is healthier," she says, laughing. "But Keith will go and get a big hamburger or hot dog. But then we do try to get more salads and proteins."

Anyone who has envied Kidman's willowy 5-foot-11-inch figure might feel slightly pleased to learn staying trim is not quite so effortless for her these days. "When I was a teenager, I could eat like a horse and people were shocked. If I'd been shorter I would have had to learn good habits sooner," she says. "But I hit my 40s and I became far more prone to putting on weight, and I had to change the way I've always eaten. No more huge slabs of chocolate cake!"

Nicole Kidman on Being a Mom

Becoming a mother again in her 40s -- she also has two adult children, Isabella, 21, and Connor, 19, with her ex-husband, Tom Cruise -- has given the always athletic Kidman, now 46, a new and more intense focus on staying healthy.

"I want to be around so I can see my younger kids get married and meet their children," she says. "Whether that's in God's plan or not, I don't know, but I certainly would love that. That's why exercise is so important to me, and why I take supplements and combine Western medicine with natural remedies." (She recently signed on as a spokesperson for Australian vitamin brand Swisse Wellness, and says she researched the products extensively before agreeing to film ads and to put her name on the line's packaging.)

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Being a mom the second time around, more than 20 years after her first diaper change, "does require extra maintenance," Kidman says. "I had more energy when I was younger, but I have more patience when I'm older. It's exhausting, but there's a selflessness to parenting that I love. I love taking care of a little person: watching their personalities form, hearing the funny things they say."

Six-year-old Sunday, she says, is "just dominating the 3 year old right now. Watching them work it out is hilarious at times. The little one is very, very strong. I've just gotten one of those books about birth order, and they have a strong, fierce quality, the younger children."

If she could, Kidman says, she'd have four more. (Her 43-year-old sister, Antonia, a journalist in Australia, had her sixth child in December 2012, and Kidman says she gets her parenting advice from Antonia.) But her journey to parenthood has not been easy.

"My biggest regret is that it took me a long time to get pregnant. I had a lot of trauma, and a lot of sadness associated with miscarriages and losing children and all sorts of stuff. I'm grateful to have finally reached this place now."

Kidman on Acting

Her passion for children is part of what brought Kidman to acting. "There's a childlike quality in acting that I love," she says. "I used to say that I prefer the company of children, and that's probably still true, although there are some adults I really enjoy now."

But although Kidman won't let her own young kids see some of her films, she says that being a mom hasn't altered her creative choices. "There are certain exploitive things I would never do whether I had kids or not, but I try to stay very open creatively," she says. "That just means the children don't get to see me in many movies. I just did Paddington Bear, which will be out at the end of the year, because I wanted to be in a kids' movie!"

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It'll be her first since she played a singing penguin, opposite fellow Aussie Hugh Jackman, in 2006's Happy Feet. Despite positive reviews for her soprano solos in that animated movie and in Moulin Rouge!, with Ewan McGregor, Kidman says she doesn't plan to sing in another movie anytime soon.

"Not a chance! Now that I'm married to a musician, no way," she laughs. "I can't really sing in front of him. I feel embarrassed. He's got perfect pitch, and he hears everything that's wrong, and he judges American Idol, for God's sake! I'll warble a little note now and then, but I've lost all my confidence."

Kidman on Violence Against Women

Besides her family, one of Kidman's off-screen passions is her charitable work. After filming Cold Mountain in Romania and seeing the plight of orphaned and abandoned children in that country, she signed on as a patron for Friedreich's Ataxia Research Alliance, or FARA, a U.K.-based organization that operates homes and foster care programs there. And in 2006, she officially became a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador -- although she'd been working with the organization for some time -- focusing her efforts on ending violence against women and girls.

"My mother raised both my sister and me to have a strong awareness and social conscience," Kidman says. "She was a strong feminist, my mother, and she told me about this group that was then called UNIFEM [United Nations Development Fund for Women], which was doing work in Cambodia with a lot of the women who had been involved with human trafficking and helping them to gain job skills. I called them up and said, 'Can I come and work for you?'"

UNIFEM later merged into U.N. Women, and during the past 7 years, Kidman has traveled throughout the world working to help the voices of female survivors of violence to be heard. She's particularly involved with U.N. Women's UNiTE to End Violence Against Women campaign, which has proclaimed the 25th of every month as "Orange Day" -- a day to take action to raise awareness and prevent violence against women and girls.

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The campaign "has motivated and galvanized communities, organizations, and individuals worldwide," says Henriette Jansen, PhD. She's an epidemiologist and expert on violence against women who has worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other international organizations for more than 30 years. She says that until fairly recently, global violence against women and girls was mostly a hidden problem, with only a few activists and researchers pushing for awareness.

"It was only in the early 1990s that the World Conference on Human Rights held in Vienna recognized violence against women as a specific human rights violation," Jansen says. After that, WHO and other leading international groups began collecting data on the problem. In 2013, WHO research found that 1 in 3 women worldwide -- in some countries, as many as 70% of women -- has been the victim of violence, usually from a husband, boyfriend, or other intimate partner. In the U.S., WHO reports, 83% of girls ages 12 to 16 have endured some form of sexual harassment in public schools.

Kidman believes changing these disturbing numbers isn't just a personal issue -- it's a political one as well. "I've also been involved with grassroots campaigns in certain countries to get women elected to office," she adds. "Because when women are elected, they tend to take care of things like education and health and social issues that are too often neglected."

Miss Read

When she manages to steal a little time for herself, Kidman sneaks a few minutes with one of the four or five books she always has going at once. "I love good coffee and just sort of lazing around reading. Right now, I'm reading Philipp Meyer's The Son, a sort of Texas epic that goes through generations. It's very, very violent, and a hard book to read, but it's so brilliant."

She's also immersed in Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations. Bell, an adventurer, mountaineer, and spy who explored and mapped the modern Middle East, was the first woman officer employed by British military intelligence. "I'm about to play her in a new film, and she's just fascinating," says Kidman. "I have very diverse tastes in literature. I started reading when I was 4 and read War and Peace when I was 9. I'm just an obsessive reader, and I think that's another reason I became an actor. It's how I build characters in my head, and it's how I've built my imagination."

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Rerun: Coming Back After an Injury

When you're a devoted runner like Kidman -- "I grew up in a running family, and my father still runs at 75" -- an injury that takes you off the pavement for a while can be frustrating. Kidman tore cartilage in her knee while filming a dance scene in Moulin Rouge! in 2000, and problems with it have flared up off and on since then.

Most running injuries involve the knee, foot and ankle, or hip, probably in that order, says William N. Levine, MD. He's a professor of orthopedic surgery at Columbia University Medical Center and head team physician for the university. In older athletes, the injuries tend to develop over a period of time, from overuse, rather than from sudden trauma.

So how do you get back into running again after an injury?

Don't rush it. Levine advises waiting until you're completely symptom-free, usually 6 to 8 weeks, before running again. "If you've had a significant injury to your knee, foot, ankle, or hip, you can't fake being recovered," he says.

Follow the 10% rule: Once the injury has healed, start with a short run and increase mileage slowly, by just 10% per week. "If you do 5 miles the first week, add half a mile the next week," Levine says. "It's important to let your body readjust."

Try cross-training. You may find that you can't run as much as you used to, at least for a while.

Nicole's Health and Beauty Tips

Never skip the sunscreen. "I've put on sunscreen and worn hats since I was tiny," Kidman says. "I stay out of the sun. I have no choice."

Work out regularly. "I find that not only is it good for the rest of your body, exercise is extraordinary for my skin. I once talked to a guy who worked for Estée Lauder, and he said the greatest thing you can do for your skin is to get your heart rate up to a really high intensity 20 minutes a day." An avid runner, Kidman says that after a knee injury, she can't clock the miles she once did, so she alternates with indoor cycling classes. 

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Don't go to extremes. Kidman doesn't swear off any specific foods or follow fad diets. "I eat red meat, fish, chicken, everything," she says. "I just have to watch how much I eat more closely."

Meditate. Kidman tries to squeeze in 20 minutes of meditation every day. "I can't do it first thing in the morning because my daughters come in and wake me up at six, and then it's 'Get me my breakfast!''' she laughs. "So I try to do it at lunchtime, when the little one's napping and the other one's at preschool."

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WebMD Magazine - Feature Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on March 12, 2014

Sources

SOURCES:

Nicole Kidman, actress.

Henriette Jansen, PhD, epidemiologist; senior consultant on violence against women research, UN Population Fund.

UN Women: "Facts and Figures: Ending Violence Against Women."

William Levine, MD, professor of orthopaedics, Columbia University Medical Center.

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