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From ‘Bathgate’ to the bathtub,, October 29th 2004

'Who's the starriest star in the world?" as the song from "Peter Pan" might go. No, it's not Captain Hook; he's just the "swiniest swine in the world." For my dough, the starriest is little Miss Nicole Kidman, who is not only an acknowledged box-office hit maker, she also has an Oscar under her 21-inch belt and scads of other academy, Golden Globe and Berlin Film Festival honors.

Personally, I would have nominated Nicole years ago, when she did that amazing turn in "Billy Bathgate" and another one in "To Die For." But today, she is at the top of the heap, and her newest movie, "Birth" (a supernatural thriller, or is it?), is making waves. I talked to the enthusiastic Nicole when she was in the east several days ago. "I just love to be in New York in the fall. Seeing the leaves change," she said before urging me to try a restaurant on 19th Street called Craft and promising that she and I and our mutual pal

Lauren Bacall would try that out on Nicole's next visit.

HERE'S WHAT went down when we discussed "Birth," a controversial and offbeat film directed by Jonathan Glazer, starring Nicole, Bacall (who electrifies every scene with her mere presence), Danny Huston, Anne Heche and young Cameron Bright. (This 11-year-old tries to convince a grieving Nicole that he is her reincarnated husband.)

Liz: You are growing positively metaphysical making two films in a row about mystical possibilities.

Nicole: Oh, you're right! Entering into another realm. And now, I am having so much fun doing "Bewitched." Nora Ephron, the director, is doing a fantastic job. She is so smart. I love her stories, her little tidbits. I wish Nora would write something else for me. And being in L.A. is also good as the children are with me, and Tom [Cruise] and I are only a block away from each other, which is very, very good for them and important.

Liz: Do you believe in reincarnation?

Nicole: I don't know. There are times when I say "yes," it has to be true, and other times, I don't.

Liz: That's so typical of you, seeing both sides of everything.

Nicole: That's pretty much the way I am. I know it infuriates people. That's why I can't really argue with people. My mother always says to me, "Hey, hey, stop jumping around." But I think that's what gives one the ability to be compassionate, particularly as a parent. You try to understand why something happened. I want to err on the side of kindness. If you are patient and listen and try to understand, like why children have done a certain thing, they will usually give you a pretty good answer.

Liz: Why did you choose to make "Birth"? Now, I read the gossip about you in the bathtub with the little boy, but when I see the movie, it seems like ...

Nicole: Nothing! This is a movie about love, not about sex. Not even a hint of sex. You say it seemed European to you and haunting. Well, that's what almost everyone says. It is a story that stays with you.

Liz: You are determined to act in ways and in projects that run the gamut?

Nicole: Well, these screenplays sort of pass my way, and so much of being an actor is the material. People think an actor chooses a role. It's more like a director chooses the actor. In a strange way, I end up with these unusual directors. I am so glad that Jon wanted me to do this film. He is quite young, very committed artistically, uncompromising, an interesting man with an abundance of talent. His motives are pure.

Liz: I don't want to give away any plot mysteries for "Birth," but the idea of a woman believing a small boy is the reincarnation of her beloved late husband is a bit daunting.

Nicole: Well, I think it's about the power of love. It's one of the strongest things that exist. Most people have experienced an element of it; that "out of control" feeling.

Liz: How was your young actor in such a demanding role? How did you deal with this kid?

Nicole: Like a kid! (Laughter.) Cameron never read the screenplay. When one works with children, it's very much about short takes. The director and the adult actors know what they have to do in order to get a child's performance. Make the work not like a job, keep it light, make it fun. You can suggest readings to a child. You must be very responsible. But keep their trust and make them safe. There were no heavy discussions. I just treated Cameron like a regular boy. He hung out with my children, and I took them to the circus, and we spent weekends together. Primarily, he was reacting to Jon's directing. He is splendid.

Liz: I felt your character was en route to a breakdown as the movie ended. The final images of her are devastating. How do you see it?

Nicole: I feel she wasn't healed from her husband's death. She was being forced into a second marriage she didn't want. The other characters weren't really thinking of her welfare. The man, brilliantly played by Danny Huston, should not marry her. She even says she is trying to choose peace.

Liz: I guess you don't want to reveal anything truly personal about Nicole Kidman?

Nicole: Liz, I would tell you anything, but, no - I'm still single. I have no boyfriend. (Big giggle.)

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