With a resemblance to the show's original star, actress has been just a nose twitch away from the role
Some actors were born to play certain roles. For Oscar winner Nicole Kidman, it probably was inevitable that one day she would be cast as the beloved star of "Bewitched." Bearing a resemblance to the late Elizabeth Montgomery, Kidman had been encouraged for years to portray her on the big screen.
As a child growing up in Australia, Kidman, 38, had watched reruns of the '60s sitcom about the trials and tribulations of a beautiful witch married to a mortal and living in the suburbs. Like other fans of the show, Kidman fantasized about having the ability to make all her wishes come true with a twitch of her nose -- just as Montgomery's Samantha Stephens did on the show.
Kidman expressed an interest a few years ago in playing the part to Sony Pictures chief Amy Pascal. She told the executive she didn't want to simply copy the original TV show, as so many other big-screen adaptations of TV classics had done. Pascal called writer-director Nora Ephron ("Sleepless in Seattle," "When Harry Met Sally"), who quickly conceived an idea for a romantic comedy that played off the TV show but added a twist. Ephron enlisted her sister Delia ("The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants") to co-write the script.
The Ephrons devised a plot about a young woman who gets cast in a TV pilot for a new "Bewitched" TV show, opposite a self-centered actor who plays her mortal husband, Darrin. The actress turns out to be a real witch on a quest to assert her independence from her overprotective father. She decides to live among the mortals in hopes of finding true love, without relying too much on her magical powers.
"There's something quite fun about the idea of having watched something as a little girl and then being able to step into it as a woman and kind of pay homage to it," Kidman explains.
Having attended the MTV Movie Awards the previous night followed by an early morning tennis outing with her son, Kidman claims to be a bit exhausted. Yet the acclaimed actress is looking sleek and sexy in a black pantsuit, accented with a black overcoat.
For Kidman, it is important to keep career obligations and family life in balance. She has two adopted children with ex-husband Tom Cruise. Despite being hounded by the paparazzi, she tries to give her kids a normal life, taking them to parks, vacations and other public places.
"I live my life," she says with a shrug. "That's one of the great gifts that children give you. They make you do that. They don't allow you to get into a state of reclusiveness."
Though she won't comment directly on her ex's public romance with Katie Holmes, Kidman explains that she chooses to be very protective of her own private life. "I play such an array of characters that people don't really know who I am," she says.
Indeed, Kidman has been performing nearly half her life. She has played diverse roles in various genres, from a suicidal Virginia Woolf in "The Hours" to a deadly newscaster in the black comedy "To Die For" and a French cabaret singer in the musical "Moulin Rouge!" Most recently, she co-starred with Sean Penn in the political thriller "The Interpreter."
"Bewitched" is Kidman's first true romantic comedy. As Isabel Bigelow, a naive and good-natured witch, she strikes out on her own to live alongside mortals and winds up in Los Angeles. She is "discovered" Lana Turner-style, sitting in an outdoor cafe, by actor Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell).
Wyatt is a self-centered has-been hoping for a comeback by playing Darrin in a remake of the "Bewitched" TV series. In Isabel, he sees a potential co-star who has the right look to play his magical mate. He also sees her as someone who won't upstage him, or so he thinks. Things get tricky as Isabel becomes the true star of the show.
Kidman describes working with Ferrell, the rising star of hit comedies including "Elf" and "Old School," as "fun" and "easy." Asked whether she saw their pairing as odd or unusual, Kidman shrugs. "They said that Sean Penn and I were unexpected," she responds, smiling.
She found Ferrell a "generous" and "encouraging" co-star. "He'd always be like, 'C'mon Nicole, you can do it,' " she recalls.
The red-haired beauty also found herself in the company of other acclaimed actors, including Oscar winners Shirley MacLaine as Endora and Sir Michael Caine as Isabel's disapproving dad, Nigel.
She describes Caine as someone with "wonderful and mischievous eyes," adding that he has "an enormous sense of fun" and "joie de vivre."
As for MacLaine, who plays an actress playing Samantha's divalike mother, she only has praise. "She's made us laugh and cry at the same time," Kidman says. "If you look at 'Terms of Endearment,' she was the heart and soul of that film. She made Jack (Nicholson) better. And he's pretty good."
"The West Wing's" Kristen Chenoweth and Heather Burns ("Miss Congeniality") play Isabel's best friends, and Steve Carell (NBC's "The Office") delivers a dead-on impression of the late comedian Paul Lynde, who played Uncle Arthur on the TV series.
In real life, Kidman claims no magical abilities, though some might argue that the A-list actress has the uncanny ability to bewitch movie audiences.
If she did possess the ability to cast spells, Kidman would use it for both selfish and philanthropic purposes. As a mother, she says she'd use magic powers to keep an eye on her kids at all times. More broadly, she says she would conjure up a cure for cancer. (Breast cancer awareness is one of her pet causes.)
Kidman explains that the trickiest part of preparing for her role was learning how to do her character's signature nose twitch. The dedicated actress watched Montgomery on videotape over and over again and practiced the twitch in front of a mirror for hours. "My mum would say, 'No, that wasn't very good. Try again."
Typically, Kidman nailed it. It's not the first time that the actress' nose has been prominently featured in a film. In her Academy Award-winning performance in "The Hours," she donned a prosthetic nose to get Woolf's dour look just right. It's also not the first time Kidman has played a witch. In the 1998 drama "Practical Magic," she and Sandra Bullock co-starred as sisters who use their gift of witchcraft to find true love. It's not even Kidman's first remake. She starred in last year's campy "The Stepford Wives," a re-imagining of a 1975 horror movie, which tanked at the box office.
Having completed back-to-back studio movies, Kidman is currently shooting a low-budget independent drama called "Fur," based on the life of the acclaimed '60's photographer Diane Arbus. "The budget is so small, we're kind of running, trying to get everything we can, so the director (Steven Shainberg) gets his shots," she says. "Because it's such a bold and unusual thing, there isn't a lot of money for it to be made. But if that's your passion, if that's your commitment, that's what you do."
Kidman says she acquired greater respect for her "passion" after working with Cruise on Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut." The noted director convinced her that acting was a form of art.
"Being an actor and contributing to these stories and ideas with some for the greatest minds working today, in terms of directors, there's enormous value," she says. "I grew into it."
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