Nicole Kidman hailed for guidance, love and sisterhood as star honoured by AFI

Nicole Kidman has been honoured with an American Film Institute (AFI) life achievement award at a ceremony in which a host of stars shared stories of “quite simply, one of the greatest actresses”.

The Oscar-winner became the first Australian actor to receive the highest honour for a career in film at AFI, during a ceremony which featured speeches from Meryl Streep, Morgan Freeman, Reese Witherspoon, and her husband, Keith Urban.

The Gala Tribute at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles also featured a string of surprise appearances from former co-stars including Miles Teller from Rabbit Hole, The Paperboy’s Zac Efron, Zoe Saldana from Special Ops: Lioness, and Joey King from upcoming film A Family Affair.

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Actor Morgan Freeman addressed the audience (Chris Pizzello/AP)

The ceremony opened with a video of Oscar-winner Freeman in a parody of Kidman’s AMC Theatres advert, before he took to the stage telling the audience that 2001 film Moulin Rouge, starring Kidman and Ewan McGregor, is “one of my favourite films of all time”.

He signed off singing a verse from Your Song by Sir Elton John, “how wonderful life is, while you’re in the world”.

Three-time Oscar winner Streep, who co-starred in drama The Hours which won Kidman an Oscar in 2003, presented the award.

Streep joked “the very hardest part of being incessantly called the greatest actress of our generation” is working with really great actresses such as Kidman – “that’s difficult”, she joked.

“The range of your work is stunning, your list of credits and roles and good deeds in the world would take a normal person three lifetimes to achieve,” she said.

“Your life and your resume challenge everything we know about how many hours there are in the day and how many places a woman can be in one time.

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Meryl Streep paid tribute to Kidman (Chris Pizzello/AP)

“It’s hard not to envy Nicole, but it is also impossible not to be in awe of her.”

Streep also said she was “floored” by Kidman’s performance on the first day of shooting 2017 hit TV series Big Little Lies.

“That’s the time I came within breathing distance of the formidable gifts Nicole has, and her process, and her seismic bank of emotions that she’s got locked up within her, and her stamina and her drive to be an artist and her discipline.

“I haven’t recovered from that first day, I have never seen anything like that in my life.”

Collecting her award, Kidman said Streep has been her “guiding light” during her career, adding: “It has always been you, and no-one can touch you.”

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Nicole Kidman accepts the AFI life achievement award (Chris Pizzello/AP)

Kidman praised all the directors she has worked with over the years, including The Hours director Stephen Daldry who was “by my side during the most vulnerable, difficult time of my life – you held my hand, you got me through it and you won me an Oscar”.

During the ceremony, British actress Naomi Watts spoke of first meeting Kidman aged 15 at an audition for a swimsuit advert, before Kidman offered to pay her taxi fare home and thus began their “decades long” friendship.

“Nic has always been the most generous person – she has opened up her homes to me, she has made me feel like a part of her family, she was like the sister I never had,” Watts said.

“She’s incredibly supportive of other women, for 10 years when I lived very much under the radar, she repeated to me, one thing Nad, one thing will change everything, I swear just hang in there. And she was right. And yes, she saved me. So many times.”

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Naomi Watts told how Kidman had ‘saved me’ (Chris Pizzello/AP)

Among those who made surprise virtual appearances was Oscar-winner Russell Crowe, who described Kidman as “quite simply one of the greatest actresses who have ever worked in this business”.

Australian actors Hugh Jackman and Cate Blanchett starred in a skit alongside US talk show host Jimmy Fallon where they reacted negatively after learning Kidman is the first Australian star to be honoured with a life achievement award on a FaceTime call.

Austin Powers star Mike Myers appeared on stage in a cloak and mask before revealing his identity, and showing a clip of the pair during a Saturday Night Live sketch as Phillip the Hyper Hypo and Grace.

Avatar actress Saldana told Kidman that “in so many ways I aspire to be more like you”, while The Act star King said Kidman is “one of the most enchanting people I have ever met”, describing her ability to keep her child-like wonder.

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Zac Efron starred opposite Kidman in The Paperboy (Chris Pizzello/AP)

The Iron Claw actor Efron joked he had been in “a lot of musicals” – in which he watched Moulin Rouge “religiously” and more than 100 times for inspiration – when he took on the role opposite Kidman in The Paperboy.

“When I decided to reach beyond the world of musicals, I was really nervous to be honest and then came The Paperboy – it was edgy, it was provocative, and it was something that pushed me outside of my comfort zone,” he said.

“What really pushed me over the edge was Nicole, yes of course I had a huge, huge crush on her, and Keith don’t get mad, we all do, I don’t know what to tell you man, you won.

“This character that I was playing, he was not meant to be comfortable, he was finding a way, sort of just like I was as an actor, it was terrifying, and it was thrilling, and as my character and I were looking for guidance, there she was.

“Nicole was a teacher to me, on and off-set, in a way only she radiates compassion and caring and, above all, love.”

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Director Aaron Sorkin also hailed the actress (Chris Pizzello/AP)

Aaron Sorkin, who directed Kidman in 2021 hit Being The Ricardos, told her: “You haven’t yet done the best work that you’re going to do.”

Top Gun: Maverick star Teller described how he was a student when Kidman saw his audition tape for 2010 film Rabbit Hole and, as a first-time producer, she cast Teller in his first film role because of his ability to “blush on-camera”.

He joked he was not acting, “it was hives because I was so incredibly nervous”, adding “I truly can say I wouldn’t be here without you”.

Oscar-winner Witherspoon told Kidman “before I ever met you I was your biggest fan”, describing watching her work as “literally mesmerising”.

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Reese Witherspoon told how she and Kidman came to work together on Big Little Lies (Chris Pizzello/AP)

Witherspoon said the pair, who both own production companies, had both wanted to produce hit TV series Big Little Lies from novelist Liane Moriarty.

“I wanted it, she wanted it, but instead of fighting it out in court, or in some sort of televised boxing match in Las Vegas, we decided to team up, because there is one thing that Nicole knows very well – that there’s power in collaboration and there’s even more power in sisterhood,” she said.

Kidman was scheduled to be presented with the award on June 10 last year, but the ceremony was postponed indefinitely due to the writers’ strike, which was resolved in September after 146 days on the picket line.

She has been nominated for five Academy Awards during her career, and has also won a Bafta, two Emmys, and six Golden Globe awards.