From the second Nicole Kidman’s character, Masha Dmitrichenko, purrs her opening lines in Hulu’s new series Nine Perfect Strangers, it’s clear that the confusion the characters feel about Masha—along with the confusion they feel about what sort of “spa” they’re at—is mirrored by her inscrutable aesthetic. Masha is an enigmatic-yet-beautiful blank canvas in her all-white guru getup and a mermaid-length, colorless wig.
“We’re going to get you well,” Masha serenely tells high-strung writer Frances Welty (played by Melissa McCarthy). Frances will later describe Masha as an “Amazing, mystical Eastern Bloc unicorn.”
But it’s Masha’s accent that provides the most mystery in those opening moments. Are we supposed to believe she’s really Russian? Because if so, that just ain’t it. I’m no linguist, but her affect may be best described as “this person watched Boris and Natasha, then had a Xanax.” The only thing that could be said for this accent is that it’s much different from Kidman’s own.
Or is it?
Because what I realized while trying to remember what Nicole Kidman’s voice sounds like is that I actually have no fucking clue. For me, her “real” voice is closest to the one she used to play Suzanne Stone in To Die For: In the 1995 mockumentary Stone is a newscaster wannabe complete with (again, not a linguist) an accent I can only describe as “American blonde woman who thinks highly of herself.” But then there’s also her voice in Big Little Lies, a lower, dulcet one that I can only describe as “American blonde woman whose Tuesday afternoon daywear cost the same as my paycheck.” She is more consciously careful of not sounding Australian in this iteration, but that pensiveness also reads to me as the fact that rich people are used to people waiting on them to finish their sentences and therefore are in no rush.
We hear Nicole Kidman as we remember her, which is almost never as herself, a person named Nicole Kidman. “I could use my imagination and try really hard but i guess i just imagine a generic NAURRR Australian accent,” Jezebel’s Ashley Reese says, though she admits that is mostly just because she knows Nicole Kidman is a human being hailing from Australia.
“She has an Australian accent for sure but it’s not super strong,” Jezebel’s Shannon Melero counters in her own attempt to recall Kidman’s actual voice. “I don’t think she sounds like “naur way” but close to it? and she is not high-pitched.” When pressed to name the last time she heard Kidman talk in her “real” voice, Melero continued, “I got stoned and tried to watch Moulin Rouge for this first time at a beach house last summer, and I’m pretty sure she was doing her voice in that? But I also didn’t get very far into the movie.”
Melero is incorrect in the same way I was. In that film, Kidman speaks in a breathy Marilyn Monroe impersonation that is mostly American with the occasional English intonation that Americans use when they want to sound chic.
When Jezebel’s Megan Reynolds hears Kidman in her imagination, she hears “a woman who sounds vaguely continental, a hint of a lisp, and sort of like she’s speaking as if she’s learning how to talk around a new set of veneers.” And Stassa Edwards agrees that in her mind Kidman “talks like she does in Moulin Rouge” despite the knowledge that Kidman—again, an Australian—talks nothing like that.
Molly Osberg, among the most sensible of the Jezebel staff, puts it most succinctly: “So I imagine Nicole Kidman’s voice as a sort of single tone emanating from her mouth—maybe a simple D chord on a fantastically expensive rosewood guitar?” Osberg wonders. “I literally could not tell you, now that I’m answering these questions I’m wondering if I have ever even heard her speak, I can’t even recall if her voice is high or deep.”
The fact that everyone knows they have heard Kidman speak but cannot remember how—despite being able to recall the actor’s eye color, mouth, and cheekbone shape with all the alacrity of someone recalling the plot of a favorite movie—is, as Osberg once again quite sensibly point out, sort of fucking terrifying.
“I try to imagine it, and it’s like a horror movie, just her gaping mouth with some atonal noise coming out,” Osberg says.
Is it possible that we all suffer from a collective Kidman delusion? Maybe the blonde woman with the lapidary-chiseled cheekbones has never spoken at all, and, lost to our individual expectations, we simply heard whatever it was we wanted.