Morgan Freeman Honors Nicole Kidman at AFI Life Achievement Award Ceremony


As the night descended on Los Angeles, the stars began to gather at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, sparkling brightly across the generations attending the AFI Life Achievement Award presentation. Legendary actor Morgan Freeman uttered a line that echoed through the night, “Nicole Kidman. She makes movies better.” This line, borrowed and twisted from Kidman’s AMC Theatres “we make movies better” ad, incited rapturous laughter across the star-studded audience, singer and actor Keith Urban among them.

Kidman, a dazzling presence of cinematic talent for 40 years, was being celebrated for her timeless roles from “Moulin Rouge” to “Eyes Wide Shut.” It was for her Oscar-winning performance in “The Hours,” however, that earned her the highest accolades from the evening’s attendees.

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Joining the praise was none other than Meryl Streep, one of the presenters and Kidman’s co-star in “The Hours.” She sent more waves of laughter throughout the audience with a theatrical voice, mock-bragging about the difficulty of being “incessantly called the greatest actress of my generation”. Streep humorously shared how it is humbling to have one’s greatness paralleled by another, a feeling she could relate to during her initial collaboration with Kidman on the HBO series “Big Little Lies”.

Streep drew laughs and tears, unveiling her deeply held respect and admiration for Kidman. She applauded Kidman’s courage and love for her craft, a sentiment and perspective of Kidman that was echoed by others, including their “Big Little Lies” co-star Reese Witherspoon. Together, Streep and Witherspoon charmed the audience with their Australian-accented impressions of Kidman that left the entire room in stitches.

Kidman, an Australian native, was moved beyond words when her husband Keith Urban, himself a fellow Australian, shared the inner strength and love she showed him during his struggle with substance abuse, a struggle that initially surfaced just four months into their marriage. Pointing out Kidman’s incredible resilience and love, Urban said, “Nic pushed through every negative voice, I’m sure even some of her own, and she chose love. And here we are 18 years later.”

Kidman, a picture of refined elegance draped in a glittering gold gown, proudly accepted the AFI award, her words of gratitude echoing across the room where she previously accepted her first Oscar for her portrayal of Virginia Woolf in “The Hours.”

She acknowledged every director she had the privilege to work with, including industry giants such as Stanley Kubrick, Baz Luhrmann, Sofia Coppola, and Lars von Trier. She praised them as the creative spirits who “allowed me to run wild and be free and play all of these unconventional women.”

News of Kidman’s receipt of the award, which has previously been bestowed upon film luminaries like Orson Welles, Bette Davis, Tom Hanks, and Denzel Washington, had been announced in November of 2022. Though the ceremony was originally slated for June 2023, it was delayed due to strikes in Hollywood.

Kidman’s cinematic journey has been dotted with remarkable titles such as “Moulin Rouge”, “Rabbit Hole”, “Lion”, and “Being the Ricardos”, all of which earned her Academy Award nominations. At the AFI ceremony, director Aaron Sorkin and other luminaries including Zac Efron, Miles Teller, and Zoe Saldana paid tribute to her. Mike Myers even made a surprise appearance cloaked in one of the eerie masks from Kidman’s film “Eyes Wide Shut.”

Kidman, a teen prodigy who started her film career in Australia with roles in films like “Bush Christmas” and “BMX Bandits,” was lauded in video tributes by fellow Australian actors such as Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, and Cate Blanchett.

Her cinematic career took a major shift after her appearance in the 1989 thriller “Dead Calm,” which brought her to the attention of actor Tom Cruise. She married Cruise that year after co-starring with him in “Days of Thunder,” and then again in “Far and Away” and “Eyes Wide Shut.”

Though her marriage to Cruise ended in 2001, Kidman’s star only continued to rise, leading to some of her biggest roles and her Academy Award win. The role that was most fondly recalled during the awards show was her musical turn in Luhrmann’s 2001 film “Moulin Rouge.”

Freeman, the 2011 AFI honoree, then took the stage to serenade Kidman with a modified line from the Elton John song she sings in the film: “How wonderful life is, now you’re in the world.”