Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen on Hemingway and Gellhorn

Two of Hollywood’s biggest stars talk about playing two of the world’s biggest writers.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen met the Television Critics Association earlier this year to talk about their movie for HBO Hemingway and Gellhorn. You know Ernest Hemingway was the legendary author, and if you didn’t know, Martha Gellhorn was an important World War II journalist who was married to Hemingway for seven years.

The two stars get to portray the literary legends’ volatile relationship, and we got to sit in on their TCA session, ask some questions and follow them off stage asking more!


CraveOnline: Did you happen to see Midnight in Paris before or after you played Hemingway yourself?

Clive Owen: Yeah, the thing about playing Hemingway is there’s still an awful lot of footage of him, there’s audio of him. There’s a lot to work and feed off of really. There’s a mine of stuff you can read and get to prepare for a role like this.

CraveOnline: Any other film Hemingways too?

Clive Owen: Yeah, but really the thing was to read everything that he wrote and read everything that was written about him, listen to all the audios, all the recordings of him talking. It was actually a huge pleasure to take a number of months off and throw yourself into that. I really enjoyed it.

CraveOnline: Is it possible to go over the top playing Ernest Hemingway?

Clive Owen: I think it’s possible to go over the top playing any part really, but yes, it is. When I took this on, it was a huge challenge. I took a lot of time off before to get ready for it and I did a lot of research. I read everything. I immersed myself as much as I could.

There’s certainly an element of playing Hemingway that you’ve got to be on the front, because of the character, with the situations he got into and the way he was. So he was very much a part you have to attack. But there’s a dancer in playing any part that you go over the top, but we had such a brilliantly written script. It was so smart and intelligent and sensitive and nuanced that it was a case of just trusting the material and committing to that really.

CraveOnline: What was the nature of their relationship and what sort of mark did they leave on each other afterwards?

Nicole Kidman: I think Martha found her voice when she was with Hemingway. He was a big part of helping her to, as he says [in] a line from the film which is, ‘Get in the ring and start throwing some punches for what you believe in.’ The great thing about Gellhorn was that she was the first female war correspondent really. She wrote about people’s lives and she wrote with such direct truth.

That’s hard to do. I love that she was the first woman to really do that. You see in the film her on the frontline, you see her hands bloody. When you see during their relationship, her sort of formulating who she is as a writer, she’s not Hemingway. She didn’t want to write novels. She wants to be a correspondent.
She’s a sponge and then she’s able to sort of feed that back to America and the world. She was a trailblazer.

CraveOnline: And she on Hemingway?

Clive Owen: I think she left a huge mark. It was probably the serious love of her life. The relationship lasted about seven years and it was incredibly intense, incredibly passionate. He met his match really and I think that when they came together, they were fiercely intelligent and fiercely passionate. They did for that time an enormous amount of traveling together. He was at the height of his powers. They were seeing the world. It was an incredibly relationship.

There’s something very special in the fact that it only lasted a certain amount of time. It was probably a huge regret to him that it did end. The story of the film really is more about how she does find her voice and becomes more passionate about what’s going on in the outside world. To a certain extent, they found that place in Cuba. He’s kind of living a life of maybe just wanting to be Ernest Hemingway and for her to live her life through that as well. She was too independent and too fiercely intelligent to do that. That’s kind of why it ended really. It was an incredible relationship for that time.

CraveOnline: Does their relationship fail because he likes a strong, independent woman but then ultimately feels threatened by her?

Nicole Kidman: The crux of it I wouldn’t say is that they couldn’t be together because she wouldn’t comply with what he actually [wanted.] He thought he wanted a woman who was an adventurer. Then when he finally gets her and she won’t settle down and she won’t be domesticated, he doesn’t know what to do with that. It’s not the crux of it but it certainly is something that feeds through the whole story.


CraveOnline: When you’re playing somebody real, does that change the way you act compared to a fictional character, or do you treat every character the same?

Nicole Kidman: There’s a lot of research. It’s like doing homework before the exam. You want to have the well of information. Then it’s trying to find her essence really. Not to be a caricature, but to find what was her essence, what was the beating heart of her and try to be true to that rather than the physical, rather than the mannerisms if that makes sense.

Clive does this wonderful thing with Hemingway where he stands at the typewriter, it’s sort of flowing out. I just saw the film and that image of somebody standing and not being able to stop and the energy, I thought that was a fantastic image. You’ll see when you see the film but it was a great way to show Hemingway, the way he would access his voice.

CraveOnline: You seem to be drawn to women who year and burn and ache for more. What do you get out of that personally and what do you try to communicate to filmgoers?

Nicole Kidman: I think I’m attracted to many different roles but there are times when I feel the need to play something that inspires me. I think Martha inspires me, the same way even playing Virginia Woolf [did.] I learned from playing her.

It was kind of a necessity in the journey of my career to find these women at times and tell their stories. It’s a blessing because they’re very hard stories to get made a lot of times. That’s why I’m so grateful to HBO for being willing to do this. Yeah, I love these women that defy the odds and that burn bright. I think Martha’s story, how it’s depicted here, and in the truth of her life, she has a line in the film where she says, ‘All that objectivity is sh**, right?’

Sorry to swear, but it’s true. She didn’t believe in being objective as a journalist. She believed in having an opinion an I think that’s important in this day and age, having an opinion an being willing to stand up for that no matter who throws sticks an stones.

CraveOnline: We know shooting love scenes is uncomfortable. What complications does it add to have a building falling down around you and explosions going off?

Nicole Kidman: It’s awesome. Phil was like, “Okay, we want stuff coming down.” I think it really emphasizes that they came together through war. They fed off that drama and that energy in a way. Two people that would make love through a building collapsing, that says something about who they are. That’s why I think that was important , that scene, because you really see that this is where they’re their most comfortable, their most passionate and that’s where their love thrives.

CraveOnline: Did playing writers give you any insight into the other side of the process?

Clive Owen: I think we’re quite familiar with the whole process of that really, having made a few films. I don't think I was any more enlightened. We learned a lot working with [Philip Kaufman] and seeing how he developed the script for this, but I wouldn’t say playing a writer, I didn’t learn particularly more than normal.

CraveOnline: Is there anything you do differently when you’re playing writers that you don’t do when you’re not playing writers?

Nicole Kidman: I think you have to find from within the desire to let the words, the electricity of the words come through you. It has to come from a very pure place, otherwise it’s not good writing. Or it’s not good writing but it’s not great writing. How do you put that feeling, that sensation into an image? How does that bleed through? That’s something I just work on internally.

CraveOnline: Hemingway and Gellhorn would probably find it bizarre that a film be made about their lives. How would you feel if a movie were made about your lives in 50 years?

Clive Owen: I certainly wouldn’t want to see it.

Nicole Kidman: No. Please no. I think part of the reason of being an actor is that you like playing other people’s lives and exploring all the psychologies in that and the emotions. I think having my life be as private and quiet as possible is a way in which then I can go and play characters. I like the privacy of my life and I protect it quite vigilantly.

CraveOnline: What’s the most Hemingway adventure you’ve ever had?

Clive Owen: The thing about Hemingway that people forget is that all the stuff he did was at a time where people weren’t traveling that much. At 19 he travels to Italy. He goes to the Spanish Civil War. He goes to China, he goes to Africa so at that time to travel that much is really incredible.