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A Couple Divided
At the heart of RABBIT HOLE are Becca and Howie, who thought they had the quintessential family life and modern marriage until it was shattered by a senseless accident, leaving them suddenly unsure of how to do anything, including relate to each other as husband and wife. The story moves, in a sense, on the waves of their unpredictable emotions, making the roles both highly challenging and fascinating to actors.

Though they have been brought to life by many extraordinary performers on stage, John Cameron Mitchell says that Academy Award® winner Nicole Kidman and Golden Globe® nominee Aaron Eckhart recreated them in their own distinctive way.

"Nicole and Aaron created a Becca and a Howie who feel absolutely believable and who are each partly right and partly wrong,” he says. "Their performances are so transparent you can see the mistakes they're making as they commit them, but also you understand why they do what they do.”

Kidman committed herself fully to the role of Becca, knowing it would take her to some shadowy inner places. For Kidman, Becca isn't taciturn and aloof because she feels nothing, but instead because she is bravely trying to hold back the oceanic flood of emotions that threaten her.

"I related to her stoicism,” Kidman says. "I always approached Becca as if she is in such enormous pain that if she even touches on it she'll break, which I think could be true of any woman who loses their child. She has to wake up every morning with this debilitating and crippling loss, and the only way Becca can deal with things is to just keep moving forward. She's desperately trying to choose life – so by taking paintings down and cleaning out the house she's saying ‘I can't just crumple up and die now, so how do I live? I've got to find a way.'”

She continues: "That touched me on a nerve in some deep, terrifying place. It is somewhere psychologically I never wanted to go, yet for some reason, here I am. I think that's me with a lot of my work. It takes a lot to get me there, but when I'm there I'm completely absorbed. I have deep compassion for Becca and for the whole family.”

As intense as the emotions of the piece were, Kidman was also drawn to its wit and splashes of comedy. "I think in life, even in times of extreme pain, people are funny and that's what makes us riveting. I think that's also what makes a story like this palpable, because if you can make people laugh, even when they are suffering, somehow that opens the heart,” she says. "The humor is always there, even if it's a dark shade of humor.”

Leslie Urdang says that Kidman found just the right balance between revealing Becca's sharp wit and torn heart. "She is one of the most talented actresses with whom I've ever had the pleasure to work,” says the producer. "She set a bar that inspired everyone to do their best.”

Key to Kidman's performance was also the rapport she built with Aaron Eckhart as the husband who is Becca's total opposite in his approach to recovering from loss and would do anything to get back the emotional intimacy that they once took for granted. "Aaron brought everything to this,” says Kidman. "He brought humor and intelligence, and he makes for a wonderful husband. He came into this film and lit it up. I think he's so good in it and I loved watching his process, the way he explores all the avenues. He's so open as an actor and he's a dream to be around.”

Eckhart is renowned for portraying a roster of sly, tricky characters, from the misogynistic manipulator of Neil LaBute's In The Company of Men to the tobacco spin doctor of Jason Reitman's Thank You For Smoking, to the dual good-and-evil roles of Harvey Dent and Two Face in Christopher Nolan's Batman epic, The Dark Night. But in RABBIT HOLE, he portrays one of the most ordinary men he's yet tackled and gives one of his most nakedly emotional performances to date.

Eckhart was drawn to Howie Corbett's yearning to pick up the pieces and go on, even if he can't quite figure out how to do that in concert with his wife. To Eckhart, Howie just seeks some kind of solace, and as Becca pulls further and further away, he's tempted to find it with another woman who seems to understand what he's going through.

"What interested me is that Howie and Becca are trying to salvage a relationship that was once very playful, fun and loving, but now everything is different,” Eckhart says. "Theirs is a good story that I think is worth telling, one that will have resonance for a lot of people. It is a story for anyone who has ever dealt with confusion, loss, family pressures, marital troubles, really all the things we all deal with on a daily basis.”

He, too, couldn't help but respond to the screenplay's unexpected vein of humor. "I think it captures those family moments that are both funny and poignant at the same time,” the actor observes. "It brings out the kind of humor that happens when nothing makes sense and you just need some relief.”

While the writing was a magnet for Eckhart, it was the opportunity to work with Kidman that truly sealed the deal. "When I read the screenplay, I knew that Nicole was going to be so good,” he muses, "that I just couldn't pass up the chance to work with her on this. It was truly a pleasure to watch her become Becca and to experience the power of that. She was passionate, dedicated and so close to the material that you can feel it.”

For Lindsay-Abaire, seeing Kidman and Eckhart bring something new to Becca and Howie was thrilling. He had lived with these characters for so long and in so many different incarnations, you wouldn't think he could be surprised by them. But the very opposite was true.

"No matter how much I had thought about every aspect of their personalities and relationship, something happens when you put those characters into a great actor's hands,” he says. "Suddenly, you find moments that you didn't know were there.”

He goes on: "Nicole is such a soulful, smart and funny actress, she has all of the components you need for Becca. She gets to something very complicated under Becca's surface, and she's able to show that with just her eyes. It made my job as writer easier because she doesn't even need words to make an impact. And you can't find a more likeable person than Aaron. He has this incredibly deep emotional sense that is always accessible – and that is Howie. The two of them brought the characters to life in a magical way.”

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