Ask anyone involved in Fur to describe the film, and the first thing you’re likely to hear is that it’s not a biopic about the late photographer Diane Arbus. ”It is a fantasy that attempts to portray what might have been Arbus’ experience during a three-month period of her life,” says director Steven Shainberg (Secretary), who grew up surrounded by Arbus’ work. ”Basically, in 1958, after working in her husband’s photography studio for 15 years, Arbus strikes out on her own.” And in doing so, she meets a man named Lionel (Robert Downey Jr.), who helps her figure out ”who she was and what she was after.” Well, in this version, anyway. Lionel didn’t actually exist. Did we mention he’s covered in fluffy animal fur?
”It’s very odd,” laughs Nicole Kidman, who stars as Arbus. ”But I’m interested in things that are unusual.” Before signing on, the actress knew little about Arbus, who took her own life in 1971 (her death does not figure in the film), so she pored over Patricia Bosworth’s 1984 biography and spoke with people who knew the artist. ”I don’t have to look like her [or] sound like her,” explains Kidman. ”I just have to hope that my spirit joins hers and they intertwine for a moment.” Now, if you’d just explain the fur to us…