Nicole Kidman is well aware of wellness culture.
When she was younger, the Oscar-winning actress and producer attended a silent meditation retreat, where participants wrote on notepads to communicate with each other instead of talking.
“It is a complete roller coaster,” Kidman says of the experience. “I’ve always been curious and tried things. I’ve gone off and lived in a monastery. My past is lurid,” she adds, laughing. “But I recommend it – it’s really fascinating not being able to use words.”
Her latest outing was anything but silent. In Hulu miniseries “Nine Perfect Strangers” (first three episodes now streaming; new episodes released weekly on Wednesdays), Kidman plays Masha, an ethereal, enigmatic healer who runs the Tranquillum House, an idyllic health and wellness resort in Northern California.
She hand-picks a group to take part in a 10-day retreat. Among them: Frances (Melissa McCarthy), an author in a personal and professional tailspin; Carmel (Regina Hall), a mom with rage issues; and Tony (Bobby Cannavale), a former athlete struggling with addiction.
But beyond the placid swimming pool, daily nature hikes and personalized breakfast smoothies, something more sinister appears to be happening at Tranquillum House, involving hallucinogenic drugs and anonymous death threats against Masha.
The eight-episode miniseries marks Kidman’s third collaboration with writer-producer David E. Kelley, after last year’s “The Undoing” and two seasons of “Big Little Lies,” both on HBO. “Strangers” is based on the 2018 book by Liane Moriarty, who also wrote “Lies” and is a close friend of Kidman’s.
“When she was writing the novel, she said, ‘I’m writing a character for you called Masha,'” recalls Kidman, 54, who bought the TV rights before it was even finished. “And then I read it and was like, ‘This Masha character, should I be offended or flattered?'”
Kidman says she was drawn to the opportunity to do something “really weird and really strange as it unraveled, but also had these amazing characters for all these different women,” including McCarthy, whom Moriarty personally requested to play Frances.
“What maniac is going to say no to Nicole Kidman saying, ‘Will you read this (novel) and see if you like it?'” McCarthy says. “It could be like, ‘I’ve done some drawings in a dirty sketchbook,’ and I’d be like, ‘I’d love to!'”
With the exceptions of their critically lauded dramatic turns in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” and “Support the Girls,” respectively, McCarthy and Hall are primarily known for their comedy work. But McCarthy, 50, says a three-dimensional character is what she looks for in projects, regardless of genre.
Reading the book, the “Bridesmaids” star was struck by how all the characters were “so complicated and so broken,” McCarthy says. “Everybody had a different way of putting a face on, and watching everybody get to chip that away; it’s just such excellent writing. I loved all the parts in this (series) and really had a sweet spot for Frances immediately.”
Hall, who’s beloved for her performances in “Girls Trip” and the “Scary Movie” franchise, calls the show “an incredible peek into what it is to be human, on all levels.” The series operates as a Trojan horse of sorts, luring in viewers with its central mystery about Masha and Tranquillum House before sparking deeper conversations about mental health, body image, relationships and success.
It’s powerful “coming out of the year and a half-plus that we’ve all been in, being able to say, ‘I’m not in a good place,’ and being able to reach out and know that we’re all feeling that,” McCarthy says. “And to know these are strangers – not family and friends – who help each other out? In a world that’s been so divisive lately, I thought that is not a bad thing to put (out there).”
Speaking to journalists during a Television Critics Association panel this month, Kidman made headlines when she revealed that she stayed in character throughout the five-month “Strangers” shoot. The Australian actress strived to maintain Masha’s calm demeanor and healing energy, and always spoke in the character’s distinct Russian accent.
Hall, 50, confirms, “I actually didn’t hear her real voice until she gave her wrap speech to the cast and crew at the end of production.”
Kidman clarifies that she didn’t go home in character or ask her co-stars to call her Masha.
“I stayed in the accent, and there was definitely an essence,” Kidman says. “I tried to relate to people in a particular energy, which was probably disconcerting. I do remember when we wrapped and I did a speech, (castmates) Melvin (Gregg), Tiffany (Boone) and Manny (Jacinto) all said to me, ‘We’ve never heard your real voice before.’ They were shocked.”
Kidman shares two daughters with her husband, country star Keith Urban: Sunday Rose, 13, and Faith Margaret, 10. The chameleonic star of films such as “Moulin Rouge!”, “Paddington” and “Birth” says her version of self-care is downtime spent in the ocean.
“I’m an ocean baby,” she says. “So swimming in the surf – not too big a surf, mind you – is incredibly relaxing for me. My husband and I love the beach, and now our girls do, too.”
Kidman, a four-time Oscar-nominee (and best actress winner for 2002’s “The Hours”), has been a small-screen fixture in recent years. In addition to “Strangers,” “Lies” and “Undoing,” she also appeared in Sundance TV’s “Top of the Lake: China Girl,” and has two more miniseries – Apple TV+’s “Roar” and Amazon Prime’s “Expats” – coming soon.
Kidman notes that she got her start doing miniseries in the late ’80s in her native Australia, with “Vietnam” and “Bangkok Hilton.”
“It feels like I’ve traveled a long road and come back to this form of storytelling,” she says. “Obviously, I have a huge passion for films and seeing films in the cinema, but I love that people can see television so easily now and that so many more actors, writers, crew members, (and) directors are getting opportunities that just weren’t even there 10 years ago. I’m incredibly grateful and surprised by the twists and turns my artistic journey has taken and I’m so committed to using my voice to help others establish and find theirs.”