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Nicole Kidman ranks ‘Sacred Deer’ among her strangest projects

Nicole Kidman in "The Killing of a Sacred Deer." | A24

Nothing could have prepared Nicole Kidman for “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.”

The actress, who won an Emmy Award last month for HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” blindly signed on to work with Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos after watching his peculiar dystopian romance “The Lobster.” When she eventually read the script, she discovered an even stranger story than that black comedy, in which people are turned into animals if they can’t find soulmates.

In “Sacred Deer” (now showing in Chicago), Kidman plays Anna, the austere wife of a brilliant surgeon, Steven (Colin Farrell), who is accused of killing a menacing teen’s father on his operating table. Struck by a curse, Steven and Anna must choose which of their family members to sacrifice to right that wrong.

Lanthimos finds unexpected, unsettling humor in the clan’s stilted interactions, as the couple’s children gradually become paralyzed and beg to be spared.

“I was like, ‘Yorgos, I have no idea how to play this as a comedy,’ ” says Kidman, laughing. She turned to Farrell, who worked with Lanthimos on “The Lobster” and constantly assured her, “This will be like nothing you’ve ever experienced.”

The film — a grisly riff on the Greek myth of Iphigenia, who is threatened with sacrifice after her father kills a sacred deer — is meant to make audiences “uncomfortable, but also kind of entertained,” Lanthimos says. The former certainly applies to Steven and Anna’s kink for “general anesthetic” sex, a position in which she goes limp like a medicated patient.

That scene is “really strange and says so much about the relationship,” Kidman says. “I was at first going, ‘Oh, no, I don’t want to have to do that,’ but I also relished the idea because it was so unique and compelling.”

“Sacred Deer” is one of four wildly different projects that Kidman, 50, premiered at France’s Cannes Film Festival in May, along with this summer’s “The Beguiled,” fall miniseries “Top of the Lake: China Girl” and upcoming sci-fi romance “How to Talk to Girls at Parties.” Beginning with her Oscar nomination for last year’s “Lion,” the actress is in the midst of an Internet-bestowed “Kidmanaissance,” which she chalks up to coincidence.

Work “ebbs and flows,” Kidman says. “Is it lovely for it to collide with turning 50? Yes, and to be able to have ‘Big Little Lies’ embraced like it was — particularly at this time for women — speaks loudly to the community.”

Nicole Kidman (left) stars with Shailene Woodley and Reese Witherspoon in “Big Little Lies.” | HBO

In the miniseries, Kidman played a well-to-do housewife and victim of domestic abuse, which she called a “complicated, insidious disease” in her Emmys acceptance speech. But she’s wary of discussing the flood of sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, who produced Kidman films such as “Lion,” “The Others” and “Cold Mountain.”

Having condemned “any abuse and misuse of power” in a statement last month that did not name Weinstein, she now says, “I’ve made my statement, and I’m reluctant to get into this now because that would be a whole other [topic].”

Next up, Kidman will appear in the superhero movie “Aquaman” and the gay-conversion drama “Boy Erased.” Although it hasn’t been officially announced, she teases that a second season of “Big Little Lies” is “moving forward at a rapid rate,” and hopes it will start production early next year.

“Because of the responses of audiences and critics, it was like, ‘Gosh, we really should explore these women further,’ ” Kidman says. “It seemed sad to abandon them when they’ve only just gotten started.”

Patrick Ryan, USA TODAY