'The second season to Top of the Lake took Kidman back to her roots in suburban Sydney where she grew up, and where, in the series, Elizabeth’s Moss’s detective is on the tail of a prostitution ring. Kidman plays a feminist matriarch with a glorious cascade of grey hair, whose dinner table abounds with talk of Germaine Greer and revolutionary politics, but whose relationship with her adopted daughter, played by Campion’s own daughter, Alice Englert, has degenerated into a haggard war of attrition. Kidman’s performance — ferocious, knotted, full of thwarted love — joins a growing throng of mothers she has played in recent years, from her saintly adoptive mother in Lion, to her Medea-like, murderously fierce mother in Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others. Kidman’s moms are as indomitable as Pacino’s gangsters.
“The strongest force I can find within me, right now, is the maternal force,” she says. “Romantically I'm obviously incredibly awake and alive. I have a really, really strong, good marriage. But maternal love brings you to your knees. It's surfacing in pretty much everything I do.” What lends this weight is the hard-fought and at times torturously winding nature of Kidman’s own path to motherhood. The woman has had to fight. Two miscarriages. Two adopted children with Cruise. A miraculous, unexpected late pregnancy with, and finally, a fourth daughter, born via surrogate just a few years ago. The plot of Top of the Lake: China Girl, too, touches on surrogacy, which in Australia is still illegal, feeding a black market. “Jane said to me, ‘Would this be a very difficult place for you to go in terms of what the theme of this is?’ And I said, ‘No, because my story seemed very different.’ It was agreed upon and it was a very beautiful thing, which a woman chose to give us. It was an incredible gift that she did.”
The role brought her home in other ways, too. Kidman’s own mother was a nurse who sacrificed her career to raise a family but remained active in the woman’s movement of the 1970s. “I grew up in that world of feminism,” says Kidman. “I grew up watching those dinner parties. That's been my life since I was probably four.” If actors have long enough careers, they often end up playing their parents at some point. Brando burst onto the scene playing rebels, wounded and bristling against authority, but his maturity was reached when he stepped into the shoes of colonel Kurtz and Corleone: the very authority figures his youthful rebellion presupposed, viewed through a glass darkly.
Kidman as a teenager was a handful, hitting the clubs in Sydney by the time she was 14 in tutu, fishnets, and lace-up black boots, fighting with her mother every step of the way. Her fights with her tearaway daughter in Top of the Lake: China Girl thus played like re-matches with her own teenage self, this time from her mother’s point of view. “Absolutely. I can do, and wear, and behave any way I want, and screw all of this. Absolutely. And, I'm gonna be with any man that I want, and who cares about your beliefs? Totally. So, I've come at it from both sides, which is why Jane is so clever, because was she was able to sort of flip things. She’s incredibly perceptive.”' — from my interview in the Sunday Times