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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Actress Nicole Kidman says she loves plumbing someone else's psyche. It's the thing that keeps her coming back to acting, something she's done for 28 years. "I think I still like getting lost in somebody else's world," she says, seated on a beige loveseat in a hotel room here.
"It's just very rewarding. I don't work as much now because I have a 12-year-old and a 3 1/2-year-old that require an enormous amount of time to raise them properly and to be there. So when I go and work I've got to really feel it. I've got to feel the desire to tell the story."
She felt the desire so keenly for her latest project, HBO's Hemingway & Gellhorn, that she actually pleaded for the part.
Earlier she had run into director Philip Kaufman at a fund-raiser. "His wife had recently passed, Rose, and he was still in an enormous of amount of pain and grief," she says.
"He was there with his son. I was there and said, 'Oh, my gosh, there's Phil Kaufman.' And I went over to him and I said, 'How are you? You look like you're in a lot of pain.' And he went, 'I am. I'm not good.' Things that words don't say, we just connected. And I loved him because he loved his wife so much and because you could just see the rawness and the place he was at."
A week later her agent sent her the script for Hemingway & Gellhorn not knowing Kidman had encountered Kaufman, who was possibly directing. "He wasn't offering it to me or anything," she says.
"I read it and I just called Phil and said, 'Phil, please let me play this role.' It was partly to do with him and his talent and me just liking him, and then to do this story and my discovery of the relationship between Gellhorn and Hemingway, which I knew nothing about."
Martha Gellhorn was a moxie war correspondent who matched Ernest Hemingway's courage in the field of battle and later became his third wife. Their tumultuous relationship played out like one of Hemingway's novels.
Kidman admits she's reluctant to work these days. "It's just too painful to be away," she says.
"When you work they're long hours and that hurts, and I think that's part of being an older mother as well because when I was younger I didn't feel as much, in a way. When you're in your 20s you're different than when you're in your 40s. When you're in your 40s everything is more finite. You're aware that there's an end to life so time becomes more precious."
Kidman is married to country music star Keith Urban. She says they moved to Tennessee where they can rear her two younger children in a less ostentatious environment.
"My marriage to my husband, Keith, completely put me in a place where I felt safe for the first time in my life," she says.
"And when I actually physically gave birth, that was cataclysmic for me. I think I changed on a cellular level because I brought life into the world physically which is a very powerful, powerful thing. That birth process for me -- I can't even describe what happened."
She says she tried unsuccessfully her entire adult life to conceive. "At 41 I got pregnant and gave birth. I kept trying to get pregnant but we couldn't get pregnant again. But we were able to have another child through a surrogate which was biologically ours, which was astounding."
Sighing, she says, "I have a complicated past with my own body and pregnancy and a lot of women I know have that, so for me to have that one birthing experience ... I filled the purpose of my life. I feel that with children in general."
She says she learned that lesson early on. "One time I was standing with my dad in the backyard and we were having a conversation about the meaning of life and what it means when you're older and what's the purpose.
"He said for him -- and it's the same thing for me now -- it's giving to the young. It's the raising of the children now. It's the cultivating of their personalities and souls and building them now. To give to others is actually the purpose of life. I think that once that comes across that it's the giving, and when you're younger it's much more about receiving."
She and former husband Tom Cruise have two older adopted children -- a daughter, 19, and a son, 17. "They're very much their own people and that's part of being a parent, isn't it? You become your own person."
Happy in her marriage, she says what she likes best about Urban is his kindness. "He's just a very, very kind gentle soul. I love that he's artistic, so he has that nature. Which is good for me. But he's not an actor, so our lives don't weave together in that regard."