‘Before I Go to Sleep’ again pairs Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth

Kidman and Firth
Kidman and Firth Getty Images

Nicole Kidman didn’t land the part she wanted in her first formal acting gig.

She had been angling to play Mary or perhaps an angel in the school nativity play but was cast as a sheep. The 5-year-old actress’ costume: a decorated car seat cover.

“Not my finest moment. But I felt amazing,” Kidman said in a recent Associated Press interview, laughing. “It’s the beginning of my whole career. I bleated through the whole play, and got my first laugh. And I was hooked.”

Kidman is reminiscing while promoting her thriller Before I Go to Sleep, in U.S. theaters Friday. The 47-year-old actress plays a woman whose memory is wiped clean every night and begins questioning her husband (Colin Firth) and others as she tries to unravel what happened to her.

Memory is key to Kidman’s work. Tapping into feelings from past personal experiences — love, trauma, heartbreak, whatever — is essential to acting, she said.

“That’s what we’re made of is our memories, right?” she said. “Actors of course have to use things that trigger our emotions.”

Kidman’s first childhood memories are related to this time of year when she lived in Washington, D.C..

“I remember Halloweening when I was about 3 with my parents,” she said. She was a ghost, dressed in a sheet with eyeholes cut out by her mother.

“And then I remember eating snow when I was about 3 as well — wanting to taste it and being told I wasn’t allowed to but still secretly doing it,” she said. “Isn’t that crazy? And I have a vivid memory of both of those things.”

Kidman demurs when asked about her most memorable and forgettable filmmaking experiences. Certain characters do stick with her, though.

“A lot of times you stagger out of there. And sometimes it’s sad to leave a character. Sometimes it’s like ahhh, I can’t wait to shed this,” she said.

The one role she wanted to hold on to the longest: her Oscar-nominated turn as Satine in Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 musical, Moulin Rouge!

“I would love to be able to sing through everything,” Kidman said, smiling.