Damianista and I are always batting around the idea of serendipity: Our mutual love of finding gems in places where we weren’t looking for them, and then making luck where we find it. We also have a way of finishing each other’s thoughts or typing the same ideas or observations at the same time. That’s probably more happy coincidence than serendipity, but, in either case, it’s a welcome sign of working with someone who is sympatico: that not exactly rare but always welcome thing of having a working relationship with a kindred spirit.
Whether it’s serendipity or a happy coincidence or good old fashioned brilliance in casting that Nicole Kidman and Damian Lewis got to work together in Queen of the Desert, the more revealed about this film and this team of actors, the more anxious we become to see it all played out on screen. Reading Vogue’s article on Nicole Kidman revealed bits about her approach to her art that bear an uncanny resemblance to another fine actor we all know and love, Damian Lewis. Nicole Kidman’s spread in Vogue replete with pics from Queen of the Desert whets my appetite even more.
I believe I’ve seen everything Nicole Kidman ever made and have always respected the level of consistent skill she brings to her craft. Portrait of a Lady, as pretty much everything based on work by Henry James, holds a special place in my mind. (Needless to say, I’ve imagined Damian Lewis in many a Henry James incarnation. An American in England? Or an American in America, completely informed by English mores? What could be more perfect for Damian? Feel I should pen the script myself if no one more qualified ever gets around to it) Kidman was excruciating to watch in Dogville for the pain her character was put through; similar to, but even more painful than, the horror she was able to convey in her breakthrough role in Dead Calm. And her Oscar-winning turn as Virginia Woolf in The Hours? Not easily forgotten. Stepford Wives (Scary!), Eyes Wide Shut (Sexy!), To Die For (Hilarious + scary!), Moulin Rouge (Singing? Sure, why not? Singing!). Sheesh, how many films has this woman done? And she’s still going strong. Truly a class of actors that Hollywood doesn’t seem to be producing anymore. The class of actors that Damian Lewis himself fits into perfectly.
It started with seeing Nicole and Damian crack each other up on the red carpet at Berlinale where the film was first screened. It was plain as day that they liked each other.
Until the Vogue article on Nicole, I assumed that laughter was all Damian being his cheery light-hearted loquacious self. But Nicole has plenty of savoir-faire at humor herself. She’s kind of cool actually, in a particularly Gen -X way, answering her own door and golfing with the Vogue interviewer while being interviewed. Admittedly there’s the veil of weirdness around her relationship with Tom Cruise and the Scientology connection, a topic she refuses to discuss anywhere, including the Vogue article. Suffice it to say, despite all that, she seems to have a great head on her shoulders, leaving the craziness at the door where it belongs. Kinda like our guy.
There’s laughter again in shots from behind the scenes filming of Queen of the Desert. Witness both the director, Werner Herzog, and someone else on the crew not being able to sustain their laughter in the pic of Damian hand on a briefcase presented to Nicole. Whether Damian and Nicole are in character as Richard and Gertrude in this scene remains to be seen.
In the next shot, we see Damian with the case open showing quite a nice collection of guns to Nicole. Whatever he may or may not have spoken here is left up to our imagination. I know my own mind has gone to all kinds of delicious places.
So how else are Damian Lewis and Nicole Kidman sympatico? Both, in their careers, have taken risks freely. Both have followed whatever project interests them with no precognition to whether that project has potential to be a blockbuster or fear that it may go directly to DVD (or Lifetime). They both seem to realize that the industry is a fickle and noisy beast and they both realize they are not required to be either fickle or noisy to make their art. They both realize that the best way to make art is to just make it, the purveyors and the reviewers and the critics of that art be damned. I guess a lot of the best artists have that attitude: Not pandering, not playing to expectations or demands, not pigeon-holing themselves into what all the sycophants around them want to define as their “niche” or “brand.” Both Nicole and Damian have an absolutely breathtaking range, adept at perfect comic timing, turning it around to strike all the right dramatic chords. They can both do action; they share a proficiency at swinging their bodies around believably wherever they need to go for the part. And they’re both close with their families. The article spoke of Nicole welling up when the topic turned to her recently deceased father, just as Damian’s breath caught unconsciously and nearly imperceptibly when he spoke of his mother in one of his acceptance speeches.
In another shot from the set of Queen of the Desert recently released, we see Damian as Charles Doughty-Wylie perhaps sharing some dream or observation with Nicole as Gertrude Bell as they walk through a cool narrow walkway, perhaps in a souk protected from the relentless desert glare. And Gertrude looks to Richard with something between awe and relief that this man she loves so deeply is expressing his deepest feelings to her.
Perhaps tellingly, perhaps by promotional design…both of which may or may not be instances of serendipity or happy coincidence, the Vogue article is bejeweled by a solo shot of Damian Lewis as Charles Doughty-Wylie. Man, does he look the part or what? Much as he looks every part he plays. As if they could not have possibly cast anyone more perfect for the role. A spell cast by makeup and wardrobe, sure. But, much more unmistakable, in the case of Damian Lewis, the spell is cast by Damian Lewis, doing what he was born to do: make us believe anything is possible.