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Star power created 'Bewitched', the Post Gazette, June 24th 2005

A kind of glow radiates from Nicole Kidman as she and several handlers briskly navigate the corridors of an upscale hotel. The light's not visible -- it's more an air of confidence, a fresh, clean social energy that projects a sort of nonthreatening power.

Kidman kids that a few hours before her roundtable interview with reporters, covering her new film spun from the classic TV show "Bewitched," she was dressed down in sweats and smacking a tennis ball across the court with her son, Connor.

Someone asks if it's hard to find family time with the world watching her every move, but Kidman shakes it off. Tabloid fodder during her marriage to Tom Cruise, she was all over the papers during their highly publicized breakup in 2001. She's still a reluctant tabloid cover girl and remains a hot target for paparazzi.

"But you know," she says, in a soft Australian lilt, "I play so many different kinds of roles and the makeup people are so good that people don't usually recognize me when I'm not all fixed up like this." She dismissively waves her hands at the snug, spring-colored print dress she wears for the occasion. "When I have on a hat and jeans, I can walk into a grocery store with my kids and nobody notices."

About 20 years ago, Hollywood noticed a public interest in turning "Bewitched" into a romantic film comedy. It's been widely rumored that the efforts were resisted by show's star Elizabeth Montgomery and former husband, director William Asher, who married during the series' eight-year run and, although later divorced, retained a controlling interest in the title.

Lots of ideas were floated, nevertheless, including one to abruptly change the actor playing Samantha's hapless ad executive husband Darrin halfway through the movie without acknowledging the change, just as Dick York was quietly replaced in 1969 by Dick Sargent. But even after Montgomery died of cancer in 1995, none of the "Bewitched" scripts rose to the surface.

It took star power to magically turn the TV show into a movie.

Kidman tells the story like this: "I noticed one day some similarities between me and Elizabeth Montgomery. Just a little. But I can do the nose thing, too." She twists her upper lip, the nose wiggles. "My agent said she'd heard that one of the studios was thinking about making a 'Bewitched' movie, so I told her to just look into it to see if maybe I could play Samantha."

Director and co-writer Nora Ephron tells the same story from a different perspective: "I'd been talking with [the studio] about another project. Out of the blue, they get a call saying Nicole Kidman wants to do 'Bewitched.' They have no script, no ideas, no nothing, just that Nicole wants to play Samantha. So -- this is so Hollywood -- they call me: I want you to write a script for 'Bewitched,' and Nicole's gonna come in and look at it in three days. Three days!"

Her sister, co-writer Delia Ephron: "Nora calls. She's frantic. 'Blah blah blah 'Bewitched' blah blah Nicole Kidman blah blah three days!' So right away we get together with Nora's wild idea about making a movie about making 'Bewitched,' and we just cranked out something to give them to show Nicole."

So Hollywood. The screenwriting polish came later, and "Saturday Night Live" alum Will Ferrell was cast as the one and only Darrin. Well, sort of. Under team Ephron's pen, Ferrell plays Jack Wyatt, a smug, full-of-himself B-list actor who wants to star in a new TV version of "Bewitched," in which he'll play Darrin.

Struggling to find a malleable co-star who can do the trademark nose twitch, he stumbles upon Isabel (Kidman), a San Fernando Valley woman with no acting experience whose only qualification is that she's got that nose thing down pat. Unknown to Wyatt, Isabel really is a witch who, like the TV character she's never seen, wants nothing more than to be simply human but isn't beyond wiggling her nose from time to time to get what she wants.

"Isabel is very naive," says Kidman. "I wanted to be very delicate with her -- her joy over the littlest things, her surprise over how the most common things work."

Curiously, despite the film's reliance on the original "Bewitched," Kidman says she didn't feel bound by the TV show or Montgomery's trademark character.

"It's a movie about making 'Bewitched,' " she says, "so of course there are lots of references. But I never felt that Isabel had to be Samantha, or Elizabeth for that matter."

With Kidman and Ferrell signed onto the project, Sony surrounded them with more star power. Michael Caine, who plays Batman's butler Alfred in the new "Batman Begins," has a busy supporting role as Isabel's womanizing warlock father. Shirley MacLaine, however, seemed slightly defensive when confronted with how little her character, the witchy TV mother Endora, has to do.

"I just go...," she quickly spreads the fingers of both hands, vaguely pointing the digits toward the tables of reporters, in the universal gesture for casting a spell.

Famously outspoken, MacLaine goes on and on about her long career, favorite roles and romantic conquests, and quite brusquely shushes a handler who tells reporters their questioning time is up.

"I'll leave when I'm ready," says MacLaine, slowly and deliberately, glaring at the clip-board clutching lackey.

But when pressed on her role in "Bewitched," MacLaine uncharacteristically has little to say.

Were some of her scenes perhaps cut out? Did she invent a back story for Endora or research the original character, played by Agnes Moorehead?

"Are you kidding?" she jibes. "Just lots of...," more spell casting.

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