Kidman’s emotional leap in ‘Expats’

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LOS ANGELES, Jan 28, (AP): Nicole Kidman captivated TV viewers in 2020 in “The Undoing,” as a woman whose husband was accused of murder. In “Big Little Lies,” she was a woman in an abusive marriage. And let’s not forget she won an Oscar for playing 20th century writer Virginia Woolf, who battled mental illness, in the 2002 movie “The Hours.” In her new series “Expats,” premiered Friday on Amazon Prime Video, Kidman once again emotionally jumps off a cliff.

At the center of “Expats” are three women, played by Kidman, Ji-young Yoo and Sarayu Blue, who are each expatriates living in Hong Kong. Their lives are all altered when the young son of Kidman’s character, Margaret, goes missing. Lulu Wang (“The Farewell”) directed and was the showrunner of the six-episode series, filmed on location in Hong Kong. “When Nicole came to me, to make the series, I just felt like she was meeting me at the height of the success of ‘The Farewell.’ But people who know me from childhood know we were immigrants (from China),” Wang says. “I felt like the series had to represent that aspect of my life, like, yes, I’m an American expat in certain contexts, but in another context, I’m a Chinese immigrant. I wanted to really challenge this idea of a bubble that expats have.”

An idea that Wang had was to make the fifth episode some 90 minutes and focus on the domestic workers, expats themselves and tasked with keeping other women’s households running. “Imagine you’ve just met Nicole Kidman and you’re like, ‘Hey, I’ve got this idea for an episode and you’re in the background. What do you think about it?’” Wang laughs. An executive producer, Kidman wasn’t just receptive to Wang’s thoughts and ideas – they spoke to a true career passion, championing others. “What I want to do at this point in my life and career is support women like this and support the new visionaries and auteurs that are coming up and try to create paths for them,” Kidman says.

“I had never worked with a writer’s room before,” Wang says. “It’s a very sort of solitary task to write usually. Here it was a room of women, helping to develop the story.” One of those writers on the show was Janice Y. K. Lee, whose novel “The Expatriates” inspired the series. “She was so not precious about the book. And the reason, honestly, I wanted her in the room was so that we couldn’t mess things up and so that she would be involved in the process,” Wang explains. “You can’t get better research than having the person who experienced it and wrote it in the room. … We would always reference the book and quote it back to her, and she was always quite embarrassed.”

In addition to the women in front of and behind the camera, Kidman is happy to share her spotlight with Brian Tee, who plays her husband. “I’m so happy he’s gotten the chance to do this and to act opposite him,” she says, adding that, as onscreen spouses, they were bonded by trauma. “We really helped each other. We were very much each other’s best friend and support system. And because we’re playing a married couple whose child is missing, we’re doing that together,” she says. To go to those emotional places as Margaret “was harrowing at times,” admits Kidman, who says she had to lose herself in the moment. “It’s an exploration. … It’s like, put me in the place, put me in the scene, and let’s go off to the objective and whatever comes through will come through.”

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