Cast Admits “Stepford” Side

June 8, 2004
Chicago Sun Times

NEW YORK — “Spit it out,” says Bette Midler to a stammering Nicole Kidman. “Just spit it out.”

Kidman’s saucer-size eyes become impossibly bigger. Even though she’s a full head taller than the Divine Miss M, the scrappier of the two keeps needling away.

“Talk, Nicole!” Midler advises.

It would be fun to report a little “Dynasty”-like hair pulling or mud wrestling now. Instead, Bette pats Nicole’s professionally toned arm and offers her screen sister a little water.

“I’m a little tongue-tied this morning,” Kidman apologizes. “Get me some coffee. I can’t get two words out.”

At least she has a little help from her friends: Midler, Glenn Close and Faith Hill. They’re some of the hardest-working women in show business, and they have gathered en masse to talk about “The Stepford Wives,” their new film opening Friday.

In fact, each of these A-list women admits to having a “Stepford” side.

“The thing I really like is cooking. It actually relaxes me,” Kidman insists. “Otherwise, forget it domestically. I can’t sew. I’m a very poor knitter. Actually, I can wrap Christmas presents really well.”

Kidman stops mid-sentence and asks, “Bette, what are you really good at?”

Midler doesn’t miss a beat.

“I’m very good at opening beer and wine bottles,” she says.

Kidman adds, “I’ll attest to that.”

“I’m also good at picking up pet toys,” Midler huffs. But then she pulls a shocker and admits she owns — yes — a rolling pin.

“When I’m really bored, I make [baking] powder biscuits,” she says. Hill and Close stare. Even they can’t quite believe it.

There’s no time for these domestic duties today because these four have a movie to talk about.

Q. If you had access to “Stepford” technology, what would go into creating the perfect man?

Kidman: I don’t want perfect! I think the discovery of someone is the fun thing. And the discovery of the things that someone else might find appalling is fine, too. You might even think those things are really … I don’t even know what I’m looking for. I suppose it’s a mystery, isn’t it? I like the mystery.

Midler: It’s about someone who makes you think. That’s the key.

Q. All of you were dressed to mock Suzy Homemaker in this film. Do you think that real-life housewives and stay-at-home mothers will be offended?

Midler: Well, I don’t think that true stay-at-home mothers are going to identify with this depiction at all. The women of Stepford [Conn.] are vacant. They’re really just shells. Most women work two jobs and are trying to raise their kids on their own. They’re anything but vacant.

Kidman: A stay-at-home mom is not just sitting around doing her hair. I think of my mum. She was at home for most of our lives, and I don’t think I ever saw her in stilettos with her hair all done up while she was baking a cake. Yes, she would cook and sew like the best of them. She would make our clothes. And she was a very real, complicated and wonderful role model for me. But she didn’t have to present herself in any particular way. It was about having a mind.

Midler: This movie is about a male fantasy of the ideal woman. I guess I should say that a certain type of man wants this dopey wife who keeps her mouth shut.

Q. Nicole, you’ve talked about someday walking away from films and living a different type of life. Do you still mull that over?

Kidman: I do grapple with that one because I still haven’t learned how to balance things. At some stage, I would love to have another child. I would love to settle into a relationship that is really important to me. But I’m certainly not good at balancing it all. I don’t see combining show business and that other life. Bette manages that beautifully. She has a very balanced life.

Midler: I really do. I work when I feel like working, and when I don’t feel like working, I stay home and do a lot of time studying and spending time with my family.

Q. But when you don’t work, do you feel like your star is slipping and everyone will forget you?

Midler: I do like to work. When I don’t work, it’s not that I feel people aren’t paying attention to me. It’s that I feel like I’m getting rusty. Like if you haven’t sung in years, the voice goes. You’ll lose your voice. So I kind of like to keep working just to keep my machine oiled.

Q. What about you, Faith?

Hill: I feel the same as Bette. Yes, I have a great family and a great career, but I certainly have been fortunate enough to have choices. I haven’t toured in over four years. That’s quite a long time to be off the road. The idea of being able to balance it all is very difficult, but because I have a great husband it makes it possible because he picks up the load. And it is a load with three children, to say the least.

Q. One of the messages of the movie is that men are suspicious of successful and powerful women. Do you find that true in real life?

Kidman: I don’t see myself as terribly powerful or successful. I see myself more as just absolutely loving what I do. I play women who are fascinating and complicated. That’s a dream as an actress. … When you’re passionate about what you do, how are you then passionate about someone in your life? I suppose that that all works out, doesn’t it? I’m asking you!

Q. So, a love relationship isn’t a priority right now?

Kidman: It’s not something I’m focusing on right now. It’s more about just having the blessings I have at the moment, which are to do some things creatively and to express things that I have going on inside my head.

Q. In “Stepford,” the women are pressured to look perfect. Of course, you feel that pressure in Hollywood. Does that ever make you resentful?

Kidman: Oh, God. Yeah. I don’t know if it’s about being perfect. I do think that when you go to the Oscars or walk down the red carpet, looking beautiful is a way of honoring the history of Hollywood. It’s also the fun part. It’s like getting dressed up for the prom. But when I’m hanging out with my kids, it’s jeans and no makeup.

Close: To me, all of this hoopla is the absolute burden of my existence. It’s an absolute horror. When I have to go somewhere, I think, “What am I going to wear? Who’s going to criticize it?” I hate it. I’m very bad at shopping. I don’t like spending money on clothes. I was not raised shopping for entertainment.

Midler: And the expense! There’s this push toward convincing women and men that making them look better will make them feel happier. It’s very intense. You’ll be happy for a while, but eventually gravity will take its toll and you’ll have to be back under the knife again. So it’s best for you to make some sort of peace at some point.

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