‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ Team Teases Nicole Kidman’s ‘Weird, Intense & Magical’ Guru
How much would you risk to soothe your deepest personal pain? In the suspenseful limited series, Nine Perfect Strangers, based on Liane Moriarty’s bestselling 2018 novel, nine people from different worlds, all desperate to find happiness, put themselves in the hands of strange self-made guru Masha Dmitrichenko (a simultaneously ethereal and menacing Nicole Kidman). But her luxe, remote California healing retreat, Tranquillum House, demands more intense self-examination than they expected — and her treatment methods turn bizarre.
Or, as director Jonathan Levine says, “It gets pretty bats**t crazy.” Think screaming exercises and food deprivation. “Masha is weird, intense, and magical,” he continues. Levine helmed all eight episodes, cowritten by hitmaker David E. Kelley, who adapted Moriarty’s Big Little Lies starring Kidman as well. The shoot, in Byron Bay, Australia (two resort locations served as Tranquillum), helped maintain the series’ cut-off-from-the-world vibe: The cast was already isolated due to the pandemic; plus, Kidman and Levine cooked up a plan for the ensemble to meet the actress for the first time in the scene where the characters initially encounter Masha.
“Genius,” pronounces Regina Hall, who plays pivotal sweet-as-pie guest Carmel Schneider. “There was this [feeling on set], just like in the script, of people being strangers, then [getting] close.”
What none of the nine realize is that Masha — who hints to her guests, “We all have secrets” — also carries a profound hurt and may be running out of time to heal, considering the fact that she’s receiving anonymous death threats. (She’s been targeted before, flashbacks show.)
Brushing off the potential danger, Masha plows ahead with her business, tending to the intimate group she handpicked to push one another’s buttons. For Carmel, ostensibly there to heal after her husband left her for a younger woman, that trigger is gorgeous social media influencer Jessica Chandler (Samara Weaving), visiting Tranquillum with wealthy husband Ben (Melvin Gregg) to revive their spark. “Carmel seems kind, but there’s unraveling, a tipping point,” says Hall, who broke a wooden sword while filming one of Masha’s “therapeutic” exercises. As pieces went flying, the actors dove for cover. “We were all like, ‘Hey, I liked it!’” Hall says of the accident. “But for safety, it’s like, no.”
In some cases, the clashes are hilarious, providing moments of levity. Take sarcastic, brokenhearted author Frances Welty (Melissa McCarthy) — who’s got a stash of contraband booze — feuding with wiseass painkiller addict Tony Hogburn (Bobby Cannavale), a former star who doesn’t want to be recognized. Their fight over swimming pool territory is a highlight of the series. (Levine says it was McCarthy’s idea to move the action, originally planned for poolside, into the water.) But when another guest realizes the source of his celebrity, Tony descends into agony and she comforts him, evidence that some of Masha’s techniques do work.
Also checked in to Tranquillum: Lars Lee (Luke Evans), a well-polished gay man who arrives with a plan to take down Masha (for reasons we won’t spoil!). But, Evans says, “She gets her proverbial hook in him early. His journey becomes something he wasn’t expecting.”
The same could be said for the Marconis. Goofy, lovable dad Napoleon (Michael Shannon); tense, sympathetic mom Heather (Asher Keddie); and sensitive 20-year-old Zoe (Grace Van Patten) are all grieving a devastating loss. When Napoleon finally expresses his raw pain in a poetic, rambling dinner speech, guests are shocked to see this side of the jovial man. They’re also shocked to learn what Masha is actually doing to them, which Heather figures out and exposes.
“These people are desperate and just want tomorrow to be better than [today],” says Levine. So despite feeling betrayed, they continue on, whether or not that’s a smart move. “Even if someone’s intention is not dangerous, you don’t know the repercussions,” hints Hall. Nine checked in — will they all check out?
Nine Perfect Strangers, Series Premiere Wednesday, August 18, Hulu