Inside the AFI Awards Gala Honoring Nicole Kidman

Reese Witherspoon, Meryl Streep, Morgan Freeman, Naomi Watts, Keith Urban and more Hollywood A-listers celebrated Nicole Kidman's achievement.

Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. Getty Images for AFI

On a balmy April evening in Hollywood, the stars aligned to honor one of cinema’s most acclaimed talents: Nicole Kidman. At the iconic Dolby Theatre, the Australian actress reached rarified air, becoming only the 49th recipient of the prestigious American Film Institute (AFI) Life Achievement Award in its nearly 50-year history. Kidman is the first Australian, and one of the youngest, to receive this highest honor.

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The festivities began back in November 2022, when it was announced Kidman would join the ranks of previous AFI honorees like Bette Davis, Alfred Hitchcock, Sidney Poitier and Tom Hanks. After postponement due to the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike, the ceremony finally took place on April 27. The televised tribute, airing on TNT on June 17, celebrated Kidman’s career through film clips and testimonials from her co-stars.

In the days preceding this grand convocation, Kidman stoked anticipation by sharing intimate behind-the-scenes shots on Instagram alongside some of the illustrious presenters—her dear friends and frequent collaborators Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon, Morgan Freeman and Naomi Watts. “Just a few of the people I can’t wait to see again on Saturday,” the actress teased in the heartwarming snaps, whetting appetites for the emotional reunions to come.

On the Dolby red carpet, Kidman stunned in a gold Balenciaga gown with a five-inch train, accessorized solely with gold rings and a one-of-a-kind 26mm De Ville Mini Trésor watch from Omega in Moonshine Gold, pavéd with glittering diamonds and emerald hour markers. She was joined by husband Keith Urban and daughters Sunday and Faith, marking their first public appearance with the actress.

Keith Urban, Faith Margaret Urban, Sunday Rose Kidman-Urban, Sybella Hawley and Nicole Kidman. Variety via Getty Images

The evening’s festivities kicked off with 2011 AFI honoree Morgan Freeman setting the tone in a video spoof of Kidman’s infamous AMC Theatres “we make movies better” ad. His quip, “Nicole Kidman. She makes movies better,” resonated with everyone who took the stage to honor the actress that night. A lineup of celebrities paid tribute, including Zac Efron, Zoe Saldana and a disguised Mike Myers, who slinked onstage donning one of the eerie orgy masks from Eyes Wide Shut. In a recorded Zoom segment, fellow Aussies Cate Blanchett and Hugh Jackman engaged in cheeky banter with Jimmy Fallon, collectively praising Kidman while playfully joshing that Blanchett should have been the first Australian honored.

The most emotional highlights came from Kidman’s loved ones. Her husband brought her to tears saying she showed him “what love in action really looks like” when his substance abuse issues arose shortly after their 2006 wedding. “Nic pushed through every negative voice, I’m sure even some of her own, and she chose love. And here we are, 18 years later.”

Nicole Kidman accepts the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award from Meryl Streep. Getty Images

Big Little Lies co-star Witherspoon lauded Kidman’s collaborative talents as a producer, recalling how their hit show materialized from their shared desire to bring it to life. “Instead of fighting it out in court or some televised Las Vegas boxing match, we decided to team up. Because there’s one thing Nicole knows very, very well—there’s power in collaboration and even more power in sisterhood,” Witherspoon explained, adding, “That’s why I’m here tonight, sister. I want to thank you for being a friend and the best colleague ever.”

Streep, who presented Kidman with the Life Achievement Award after receiving it herself in 2004 for The Hours, poked fun at being “incessantly called the greatest actress of my generation.” She revealed the hardest part is facing someone “really, really, really, really, really, really great” like Kidman, who did things Streep couldn’t on Big Little Lies. Still, Streep assured Kidman her best work lies ahead.

Miles Teller, Reese Witherspoon, Lee Daniels, Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Zac Efron. Getty Images for AFI

In her speech, Kidman expressed gratitude to the directors, living and late, who enabled her unconventional roles, name-checking Stanley Kubrick, Lars von Trier, Baz Luhrmann, Jane Campion, Yorgos Lanthimos and Sydney Pollack. “It is a privilege to make films. And glorious to have made films and television with these storytellers who allowed me to run wild and be free and play all of these unconventional women,” she said, adding, “Thank you for making me better at my craft and giving me a place, however temporary, in this world.”

Miles Teller and Morgan Freeman. Variety via Getty Images

As Hollywood royalty congregated to enshrine Kidman’s legacy, it was clear this revered actress’s cinematic journey has reached immortal heights. Just as opening speaker Morgan Freeman serenaded the radiant star with a line from one of her most beloved musical roles in Moulin Rouge!, prophetically intoning: “How wonderful life is, now you’re in the world.” For this cinematic luminary, the brightest adventures still lie ahead.

Inside the AFI Awards Gala Honoring Nicole Kidman