Into the Mainstream "Drugstore Cowboy' Director Gus Van Sant Comes Up from the Underground with a Black Comedy Starring Nicole Kidman

By Harper Barnes Post-Dispatch Critic | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), October 6, 1995 | Go to article overview

Into the Mainstream "Drugstore Cowboy' Director Gus Van Sant Comes Up from the Underground with a Black Comedy Starring Nicole Kidman


Harper Barnes Post-Dispatch Critic, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


GUS VAN SANT makes movies about outsiders. In such films as "Drugstore Cowboy," "My Own Private Idaho" and "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," his main characters - bemused drug addicts, homosexual hustlers, hippie cowgirls on a ranch run by women - are pretty much destined to stay on the fringes of polite society, and tend to like it that way.

But they want to fit in with someone, and weird mother and father figures and unconventional families abound in Van Sant's work.

Up until now, Van Sant's movies have been as far from the mainstream as his characters. That is about to change.

In "To Die For," a dark comedy that should become Van Sant's first box-office hit in general release, the director focuses for the first time on an outsider who desperately wants to be not just inside, but on top. Suzanne Stone is dying to achieve media recognition and status, and she is not about to let mere human life stand in her way.

In a brilliant stroke of casting, Nicole Kidman plays Stone in the movie based on Joyce Maynard's satirical novel.

In America, Suzanne says, you're nothing if you're not on television. She schemes and schemes until she lands a trivial job doing weather forecasts on a local cable show, and her frightening ambition drives her from there until she is, indeed, a national media celebrity.

She gets a considerable amount of help from three high school losers who are emotional orphans, true outsiders. In effect, she turns them into a surrogate family, so dependent that they are willing to kill for her.

Kidman's peformance is a revelation, considering she mainly has played sexy second fiddle to male stars like her husband, Tom Cruise ("Days of Thunder," "Far and Away") and Val Kilmer ("Batman Forever"). She was not Van Sant's first choice - the names that have been floating around include Meg Ryan, Patricia Arquette and even Julia Roberts.

In an interview at the Toronto Film Festival, Van Sant recalled that Kidman "rallied to play the part by calling and saying she was really serious about it, and that this was the kind of film she was destined to be in. That was such an unusual statement that I thought it was maybe a sign."

Kidman was not in Toronto, but in recent interviews in New York she has expanded on what Van Sant said.

"Suzanne is ruthless and ambitious and homicidal," remarked Kidman. "As soon as I read the script, I knew I had to do it."

Kidman said Suzanne was the best part she has ever had, and she is probably right.

Some have suggested that Nicole Kidman, in a sense, is Suzanne Stone - a very ambitious young woman who has battled her way to the top in a very tough business. One way she is supposed to have done that is by marrying Cruise.

But she says that being married to Cruise has worked against her by making her seem like an "appendage." She does not deny that she is ambitious, but she says that, if she were a man, her cinematic ambitions would not seem at all unusual.

"If you are a woman and successful, you get called names," she said recently. "There's something so bad about that, something I take offense to."

Kidman was born in Hawaii and grew up in Australia. She began acting professionally at age 14.

When she was 19, she made her feature-film debut in "Dead Calm," an Australian thriller co-starring Sam Neill and Billy Zane. …

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