"It just so happened that last year I was able to jump in and go, 'OK, I want to do these things now,' " she adds
Kidman, 44, is jumping in big time at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, a few miles down the road from the celebrity enclave. The five-time Cannes veteran looks to shake things up, participating in two provocative films, The Paperboy and Hemingway & Gellhorn.
In Lee Daniels' The Paperboy, which opens in the USA later this year, Kidman brings serious screen heat as Charlotte Bless, referred to as an "oversexed Barbie doll" in the thriller.
Bless falls in love with a convict (John Cusack) and seeks to set him free with the help of a newspaper reporter (Matthew McConaughey) and his younger brother (Zac Efron).
The film features Kidman in a steamy sex scene with Cusack in a prison visiting room, and she has a sexual liaison with former Disney star Efron, 24.
Kidman's character also urinates on Efron's character on a beach after he is stung repeatedly by jellyfish — considered a remedy for the stings.
"It's pretty much out there," Kidman says. "It's going to be polarizing."
She got through it by not thinking too much about the scenes beforehand, like her romp with Efron's character.
"The only way to achieve that is to throw caution to the wind. You look in each other's eyes and you just say, 'Let's go.'
"I don't want to rehearse, because I am just going to get self-conscious and pull out."
Kidman says she never broke character, on-set or off, with Cusack just to get through some of their scenes. A post-prison sex scene against a washing machine took a physical toll. "I was bruised and cut after that. It was a pretty ferocious and disturbing scene."
Her director was impressed with Kidman's willingness to put herself out there.
"Nicole jumped in. All. The. Way," Daniels says. "She gave her soul in this movie."
Kidman says her solid relationship with her husband, country singer Keith Urban, allows her to take chances onscreen. The couple are parents to daughters Sunday Rose, 4, and Faith Margaret, 1.
"I feel safe where I am emotionally in my home life, and protected. As long as that's solid for me and strong, I can do kind of these outrageous things and come back."
In Hemingway & Gellhorn, screening out of competition at the festival, Kidman stars as famed war correspondent, the wife of Ernest Hemingway (played by Clive Owen). The film airs Monday in the USA.
Kidman is excited for her daughters to see her as Gellhorn, a "strong female role model." The entire family was on the set for the shoot. "Hemingway & Gellhorn is very much for my girls," she says. "There was a very strong desire to play that role for a new generation of young girls."
Keith's cheering section
As for Paperboy, it will be a long time before the entire family can watch. ("Never," Kidman says when asked when the girls can see it.)
She did not discuss the specifics of the movie with Urban. ("Artistically, we keep things separate.") But she did text him a picture of one of her Charlotte outfits from the set.
"I think it was the one of me in the bikini," she says, blushing. His response? "It's private," she says, smiling. "But it was definitely thumbs up."
Though Kidman has projects in various stages of development (including an upcoming biopic of Monaco's Princess Grace), her next move is to watch her husband as he mentors singers on Australia's version of The Voice.
"I'm off, heading to Australia to support Keith," Kidman says. "The girls and I, we're going to go cheer him on."