The nasal prosthesis, currently performing with Nicole Kidman in The Hours, has been getting a surprising amount of attention for a small appendage.
Not since Jimmy Durante and Cyrano de Bergerac were in their prime has so much fuss been made about a nose. It is not even a big nose and yet Nicole Kidman’s false hooter has threatened to overshadow everything else about The Hours, including its incredible achievement of helping revive interest in Virginia Woolf, long regarded as one of English Literature’s gloomiest and most difficult writers. This was a woman who could turn a nice wee story about a proposed outing to a lighthouse into a treatise on the slaughter of the First World War and the ever-present shadow of death.
The Hours opens with Kidman’s Woolf meticulously planning her suicide. It then interweaves Woolf’s struggle to write Mrs Dalloway, a novel about a society woman organising a party while falling apart inside, with the lives of two fictional women - Laura Brown (Julianne Moore), a seemingly happy housewife in California in the 1950s, who finds personal resonance in the novel; and Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep), a modern-day New Yorker planning a party for a dying friend, a poet who has nicknamed her Mrs Dalloway.
Forget the nose for a minute - The Hours has already won the Golden Globe for best drama film with Kidman named best actress. All three actresses are up for BAFTAs, as is director Stephen Daldry, meaning he has been nominated for each of his first two films, following on from Billy Elliot.
Daldry, an Englishman who made his name in theatre, was unfamiliar with Michael Cunningham’s source novel, when he was approached to direct The Hours. He had virtually finished Billy Elliot, but it was before it came out. "I was reading a lot of screenplays at this time," he says. "Every other screenplay that I read felt like something else... It just felt so unique."
Although discussions had already begun with the lead actresses, Daldry insists the primary attraction was "the emotional power or the thematic power of the material". A relative newcomer to movies, he refutes any suggestion he might have felt intimidated by his stars. The three main characters never meet and he shot Streep’s story first, followed by Moore and finally Kidman.
He began, as he would for a play, with rehearsals, prompting different responses from the three stars. "Nicole - always up for as much rehearsal as she could possibly get; Meryl - not so happy in a rehearsal room, but happy on set; and Julianne was always slightly anxious about over-rehearsing, so that she knows too much, she can’t surprise herself."
Struggling to come to terms with the collapse of her marriage to Tom Cruise, Kidman had difficulties getting into the role and wanted to drop out. "I managed to persuade her to stay on," says Daldry, who proved his devotion to the cause by letting cast and crew take over his house in Hertfordshire and use it to double for Woolf’s home. And what about that prosthetic that covers Kidman’s familiar, perky, little nose, with a more ordinary, more serious model? "It never felt to us, when we were doing it, like a major decision," says Daldry. "It was very much something that just came out of rehearsals. We were starting to play around with shoes and dress and wig and it really was just part of that particular process.
"It was just something that we tried that seemed to help Nicole. It seemed to release her. It seemed to give her permission perhaps to go into other areas, like any classical mask might do."
Kidman spent three hours a day getting her nose on, emerging as someone who was unrecognisable as the star of Moulin Rouge and Eyes Wide Shut. Daldry says: "People say, ‘Oh my God, what have you done to Nicole Kidman?’ I say, ‘What do you mean? She looks gorgeous.’"
The race for acting honours may well be close this year, but experts are tipping Kidman to carry off the major prizes... by a nose.