THIS IS THE tale of two witches – both winsome, pert and altogether attractive.
They are a far cry from the Wicked Witch of the West. Not a wart on their famous noses.
Samantha No. 1 was Elizabeth Montgomery, daughter of film star Robert Montgomery. She was on the air from 1964 to 1972 in “Bewitched,” becoming a household name as she tried to keep her powers under wraps. Samantha No. 2 is Academy Award-winner Nicole Kidman, who stars in the big-screen adaptation of the TV series. It opens in theaters today.
They have in common noses that are trained to twitch. (Ironically, Kidman’s Oscar win for “The Hours” was for a role in which a prosthetic nose, worn to play author Virginia Woolf, was prominent).
Four decades separate their Samanthas.
Montgomery’s was a housewife who used her nose-twitching powers to do things like get the dishes done. Kidman’s is a career actress who, while reluctant about her witchness, gets the role of Samantha in a TV remake of the old series. Rather than actually playing Samantha, she is playing an actress who gets the role of Samantha. She’s still a nice witch, and Will Ferrell, the elf guy who has become big at the box office, is cast as the actor who plays her mortal husband, Darrin. Richmond’s own Shirley MacLaine now has the role of Samantha’s mother, the flamboyant Endora, who, when angered, delights in casting spells on her merely human son-in-law.
Montgomery debuted in her father’s TV anthology and appeared on Broadway and in hundreds of live TV dramas before going to Hollywood. Initially, it was thought she might be the new Grace Kelly, a kind of high-bred, cool look that was right for playing “nice’’ girls. Her movie career was notable for “The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell’’ with Gary Cooper and Rod Steiger in 1955, but it was a television series that made her a star. She had a brief first marriage, then she wed Academy Award-winning actor Gig Young (“They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’’). Finally, she married “Bewitched” producer William Asher.
The last years of her life, before her death from cancer in 1995, were spent with actor Robert Foxworth.
Kidman, the movie-star Samantha, was born in Hawaii but raised in Australia. She was a child actress who grew up watching “Bewitched” on TV. She sat for an interview at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles on the same day her former husband, Tom Cruise, was much in the news for public displays of love for much-younger actress Katie Holmes. No comment on any of that, but Kidman is always anxious to talk about her two adopted children (ages 10 and 12). She clearly wants to let you know that she has them and is taking care of them. Recently, though, they accompanied Cruise and Holmes on vacation to Mexico.
The conversation with Kidman:
So is it your nose that actually got you this role?
“I think so.”
There are rumors that you don’t actually do the nose twitch and that it is computer generated. Is this true?
“No, I really do it. I should’ve been fired if I couldn’t do it.”
Did you watch the show in Australia as a kid? And what did you think of it?
“I watched it all the time. I thought that she could do magic and that she was always fighting herself not to do it, but I think for a young girl, that’s like your dream, isn’t it? You could just wiggle your nose and make things come true.”
If you had those powers, what would you have wished for as a child?
“That I would pass my exams. Something like that. That I’d get a great Christmas present. Things like that.”
What would you twitch your nose and have happen now, as a mother?
“To be able to be aware of everything my children are up to. I think, 'What happens when they hit 13?’ They get lots of secrets. My daughter will be 13 this year.”
What do you look like on a bad day? Do you ever look frumpy?
“Oh, yeah, just before I got here. I woke up at 6 this morning to play tennis with my son. I was at the MTV Awards last night. We got home and ordered room service and went to bed about midnight. When I got on the court, I’ve got to tell you, it was not a pretty sight. It’s sweats and T-shirts and slightly bleary-eyed. But I’m desperately trying to be a good mom, you know. I’m saying, 'See, you can have it all.’ Actually, you compromise. My kids are at the Dodgers game while I’m doing this interview. I don’t have time to cook tonight, so we’re off to an Italian restaurant. It’s juggling.”
Do you feel you have to act? That life wouldn’t be complete if you weren’t working?
“At this particular stage in my life, I have to act. Yes. My ability to balance things isn’t good, so I either work or I don’t work. Right now is my time to work. It’s like, right now, that my movies are my love affairs in a way. I have the experience of bringing all these emotions into my characters. When I was married, acting wasn’t as interesting to me. I kind of dabbled in it. Now, I take it far more seriously.”
Did you feel you needed to pay homage to Elizabeth Montgomery?
“The way Nora Ephron wrote the script freed us a bit by incorporating the series in the movie but having us play new characters who were in the series, rather than have us just try to mimic Samantha and Darrin. Many people have tried to develop this, but if you just re-create the series, it doesn’t really warrant a feature film.”
How did the project develop?
“Actually, I got it going. I was at a girlfriend’s house and we were talking about what TV series hadn’t been done as a movie, and we both immediately thought about 'Bewitched.’ I called Amy Pascal, who runs Sony, the next day and asked her what’s happening with it. She said absolutely nothing. But in a few days Nora Ephron ('Sleepless in Seattle,’ 'You’ve Got Mail’) got on board and explained her whole theme of having the TV show as a part of an outside plot.”
Was it weird to do a romantic scene with Will Ferrell?
“I didn’t find anything difficult about him. He has serious eyes, but in a movie like this you’re always on the verge of laughter. It’s OK if you break up.”
What was it like working with Shirley MacLaine?
“Well, we’re both redheads, so we had something in common. I’d met her at parties before. If you look at Shirley’s performances over the years, there’s a woman who has been in some of the greatest comedic dramatic films, which is the hardest thing to do. To make an audience laugh and cry at the same time is the most difficult. If you look at 'Terms of Endearment,’ she walks a tightrope and is the soul of that film. She made Jack look better, and he’s pretty good.”
Does it restrict your life to be famous and to be recognized on the street?
“No. People are very fair, for the most part. I go to the movies. I live my life. Of course, there are things with the paparazzi. They have printed everything about me except, I think, that I’m on drugs. No one who knows me takes it seriously. I have to be careful what I say because it seems every little thing can be blown out of proportion. I used to be very shy. I still am, but now I manage to do what I have to do. I was in New York last week, and I went to see 'Light in the Piazza,’ and there were some young girls there who knew about 'Bewitched’ and were so excited about it coming out. They came up to me at intermission and asked about it. That was a good feeling. I haven’t done anything lately that appeals to that young age – not since 'Moulon Rouge.’”
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