Let’s face it, nobody wants to be reminded of what they looked and sounded like at 16. Even the most beautiful and talented grown-ups do their best to sweep evidence of their awkward teen years under the rug. Unfortunately, when you’re a famous actress with a list of movie credits that stretches back to puberty, keeping your past on the down-low isn’t easy. Take Nicole Kidman, whose debut film — 1983’s Aussie kids adventure BMX Bandits — is being released on Blu-ray on March 15. Long before she appeared on American radars in Dead Calm, or became Mrs. Tom Cruise, or won a Best Actress Oscar, Kidman was a frizzy-haired redhead popping wheelies. If you’ve never seen the film, you’ll definitely want to check out this before-they-were-stars curio so you can see how a gawky tomboy with a Vegemite-thick accent blossomed into one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. It’s not a great film by any means. It’s basically the tale of three kids who shred on their rad bikes while getting chased by a bunch of bungling bank robbers. But the baby-faced Kidman is the best thing in it.
We recently spoke with the film’s director, Brian Trenchard-Smith, to discuss what Kidman was like as a teenager just getting started in the business. When it’s done, stick around for an exclusive clip of the 16-year-old Kidman being interviewed on the Australian TV show Young Talent Time taken from the Blu-ray’s extras.
EW: There’s a great quote from Quentin Tarantino on the cover of the Blu-ray: “If we’d grown up in Australia, BMX Bandits would have been our Goonies….”
BTS: Quentin said at a film festival in Austin that he actually preferred in to Goonies. And I think some of the audience gave him a raspberry for that! Frankly, I think it also has a lot more joie de vivre about it than the American BMX clone that came out called Rad.
EW: How does it feel to see your film being introduced to a new generation with this Blu-ray release?
BTS: Well, as any proud parent of a piece of cinema, I’m delighted. It’s a movie a lot of people enjoy. For a certain audience, it’s part of their childhoods. It’s a real boy’s adventure…or girl’s adventure, I guess, because I did end up pushing Nicole to the foreground. She was originally written as a sort of tag-along girl, but when I saw her on film, I thought, Wow, we need to see more of her!
EW: What was she like at 16?
BTS: Well, she was actually 15 when she auditioned. She turned 16 just before the film came out. When she came in, I could tell right away that she had great dramatic instincts. Some people are born actors. They have a grasp on how to make a line of dialogue believable. But they did want me to cast her because she was taller than the two boys in the film. I said, ‘Are you crazy!’ She had legs up to her armpits and a big shock of red hair and a gorgeous face. The camera loved her. She was IT as far as I was concerned. She has screen chemistry and not every actor has that.
EW: It doesn’t sound like you’re very surprised that she went on to become a big Hollywood star?
BTS: No. In fact, I predicted it! I said it in 1983, I have the newspaper clip on file. I just knew that she had tremendous drive and was very dedicated and my feeling was she would go far and her career would last well into her 30s, 40s, and 50s. Even into her 80s as a feisty grandmother like Katherine Hepburn. And when Nicole is properly cast like she was in To Die For or The Hours or Rabbit Hole, you can see how riveting she can be.
EW: How many girls did you see for the part?
BTS: I actually had someone else in mind, but her mother wouldn’t let her do the part because she felt that BMX bikes were a brief, working-class fad. She didn’t feel like it was right for her daughter. And thank goodness for that!
EW: Did Nicole come in to audition with her mother or father?
BTS: Neither. She came in by herself. There were a number of other actors at the audition and she left them all in the dust. She was adorable, attractive, and it was a film where I wanted to skirt around the edges of teen sexuality. I mean, it’s not really meant to be a factor, but obviously boys find girls attractive. And poor Goose in the film tries to kiss her at one point, but there’s no chemistry and he loses out. You could tell she was going to grow into a very attractive actress.
EW: Did she have any BMX skills?
BTS: She could ride a bicycle like any Australian girl, but no. On the second night in the graveyard scene, she sprained her ankle. I drove her home and had to have an uncomfortable conversation with her parents at two in the morning: ‘Um, excuse me, I’ve broken your daughter.’ But they were good about it. They were wonderful people. You could tell she came from a supportive family. She was afraid I was going to have to replace her because after that she couldn’t ride a bike very well. But I told her I didn’t hire her for her riding skills–we have other people that can do that! We couldn’t find a girl to do her stunts that had the same dimensions as Nicole, who had narrow hips and was so tall. So we had an 18-year-old boy put on a red wig and a helmet to do all of her stunts.
EW: Could you tell she wanted to keep going in movies when it was over?
BTS: It’s funny, after the film was over, her parents asked me: ‘This acting thing, she’s really keen on it but it’s kind of getting in the way of her school work. Should she keep on doing it?’ I said, ‘Normally, I discourage people from going into the acting profession, but I believe she’s going to be very successful. After this film is seen, she’s never going to stop working.’ And the rest is history.
EW: Have you kept in touch over the years?
BTS: Not really, no.
EW: What happened to her two costars?
BTS: Angelo D’Angelo continued acting in a number of films — I cast him again in my 1995 remake of Humphrey Bogart’s Sahara. James Lugton didn’t do quite so well. He understood that very few actors ever make a living at it. He got a degree in journalism and is now a successful journalist in Australia.
EW: How do you think the film holds up?
BTS: I’m proud of it. There are always things you think you could do better…and I point those things out on the Blu-ray commentary. I think teenage girls will look at it and find a great role model in Nicole. I’m glad it’s getting a new lease on life — not that I’ll benefit financially from it, although I am a profit participant. But we all know how that works.
EW: Finally, I have to ask, you directed Leprechaun 3 and 4. How much fun were those to do?
BTS: They were great! They let me do whatever I wanted on 3 because 2 hadn’t done very well and they thought it was going to be the last in the series. So we set it in Vegas, the capital of greed. And then the film became the biggest direct-to-video title of 1995 and they said you have to do another one! I thought, what is the most absurd setting we can put the leprechaun in? Let’s put him in space! I proposed leprechaun in the White House after that, but they thought it was too wacky. I thought we could have an alien space ship spit him out onto the roof of the White House in a block of ice and when he thaws out he would scoot around and get into the drywall looking for gold.
EW: I’d see it.