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'Bewitched,' bothered and bewildered, The Chicago Sun-Times, June 19th 2005

Her ex-husband Tom Cruise can jump up and down on Oprah's couch until the springs come loose. He can kneel and pump his fist until he slips a disc.

Nicole Kidman is quietly in love, but don't expect any public displays of lunacy.

"My films are my love affairs," says the fiery Aussie redhead, who by her own standards is "in deep" these days when it comes to her significant other, Hollywood.

Kidman honestly doesn't believe women can have it all. "Who is good at all this balancing?" says the 37-year-old single mother of two, who mentions that at the end of the day, her passion is for some quiet, a comfy bed and a piece of chocolate cake.

"I'm just not good at balancing," Kidman admits as a way of explaining why she's not deliriously announcing to the world her latest love affair -- because there is none.

The ex-Mrs. Cruise insists, "When I was married, acting wasn't as interesting to me, which is why I only dabbled in it. Now I take it far more seriously."

Which isn't to say she wouldn't like to get hitched again someday in the future. Kidman sips designer water in a room at the Four Seasons Hotel and swings a ponytail dramatically when the question is asked. By the way, she's also reed-thin in a gorgeous navy blue sundress.

"Oh, God! The marriage question!" she quips. "If I go down this territory, I'll end up with headlines. Then I'll end up getting letters from men saying, 'I'll be the father of your child!' I'll read these letters and think, 'You'll be the father of my what? I don't even know you!'"

Does she really get those letters? "To be honest," Kidman says, "the answer is yeah. Yes. In case you're wondering, I have not responded."

Likewise, she really doesn't want to respond to the idea of her ex-husband Tom being so public with his new relationship to Katie Holmes. As for her own love life, Kidman makes it clear she won't talk about reported flirtations with millionaire Steve Bing or rocker Lenny Kravitz.

"I'm just protective of who I am," Kidman says. "I'd rather decline answering."

If only she could magically make these questions go away. Actually, Kidman could do that if she had the powers of the witch she plays in the new big screen version of "Bewitched," directed by Nora Ephron, and starring Will Ferrell as her mere mortal lover.

As the new story goes, Kidman's witch has come to Los Angeles to give up the craft once and for all -- much to the dismay of her warlock father (Michael Caine). She needs a human job, and lo and behold, she's discovered and cast on a new TV version of "Bewitched" starring a piggish, egotistical actor (Ferrell) whose career is on the skids. At first, they lock horns and then later lips -- until he finds out that her nose-twitching is not just courtesy of special effects.

You could say that Kidman won the infamous witchy woman part by a nose. "They said it was my nose that got me the role," she says. By the way, she's not kidding.

When the reporter mentions that it had to be more than her very slim, but easily twitchable schnoz, she replies, "Maybe it was JUST that."

Laughter follows and Kidman insists, "Honestly, I think I should have been fired if I couldn't do the nose."

The truth is she was a bit of a Samantha expert, who logged countless hours as a girl in the '70s watching "Bewitched" in her native Australia. "I watched it all the time," Kidman says. "As a young girl, I honestly thought that Elizabeth Montgomery could do magic. And wasn't that the ultimate dream?

"Can you imagine just wiggling your nose and getting what you want?"

Hmmm, it sounds a lot like being, uh, a movie star who dials up her cell phone and gets what she wants.

"When I was a girl, all I truly wanted was to pass my exams and get a great Christmas present," Kidman says. "You know, I found joy in the little things. Actually, I still do."

She admits that twitching her nose and making "Bewitched" a big summer box office hit would be a little thing that would sit well with her, too.

"I didn't do the film because it had the summer hit potential," she says. "I loved that [director] Nora Ephron and her sister Delia wrote a script that quite cleverly incorporated the series, but it also created new characters for us. We didn't imitate the Samantha and Darrin thing. We were able to find the essence of them and set it in present day."

A bewitching suggestion

Kidman was actually instrumental in getting Ephron her job. It seems that she is good friends with "Spy Kids" mom and actress Carla Gugino. One night they were having a girl's night in. "Between bites of dessert, I said, 'I wonder why they've never made a film out of 'Bewitched'? They've made films of so many other series.'"

Gugino suggested that Kidman put down her pastry and make a few calls. The next day, because she is Nicole Kidman, a meeting was set with Columbia Pictures honcho Amy Pascal. "I said to her, 'What's happening with 'Bewitched'? Amy said, 'Absolutely nothing. It's been stalled for years.'"

At the same time, Ephron was asking the same questions. Pascal later called Kidman and said, "Nora has this wacky idea of how to bring it to the big screen."

A couple more calls later and the deal was done.

Ask her how she juggles it all and she just sighs and looks a little bit disgusted with herself. Kidman is the first to admit that she juggles, but sometimes drops a few balls.

"If only I had those witchy powers to know exactly everything my children were up to," says Kidman, who's about to enter teenland this year when daughter Isabella turns 13. Son Connor is 10.

"There are a lot of secrets when they become teenagers, and it's scary for a mother," she says with a little moan of dread.

In another breath, she admits, "But you can't do it all. You just do what you can. And at the moment, my kids are happily at a baseball game and I'm talking to you. We're going to get spaghetti tonight at their favorite Italian restaurant because I don't have time to cook. So there, I am juggling away."

The tabloids have had a field day insisting she's also juggling dating ultra-rich playboy Steve Bing (father of Elizabeth Hurley's son) in her spare time. Kidman just shakes her head and won't comment .

She will go on the record to say that she isn't a hopeless romantic. Love at first sight? "I probably don't believe in it," she says. "I mean, you sort of glance across the room at a man and go, 'There's my future love'? No.

"I think you've got to get to know somebody," she insists. "I'm not easy, because my personality leans toward being a bit shy. I need to be drawn out."

Kidman admits she has improved in the last few years. "I used to be painfully shy and now I'm able to do things I could never do before," she says. "But I still need to be coaxed out of my shell a bit."

Yet, unlike Cruise, she remains steadfast when it comes to holding back certain details to the press. "I'm very honest," she says. "I don't ever want to get accused of lying."

After parenting, acting and telling the truth, but not too much of it, she manages to fit in her role as one of the big screen's premier actresses. She's currently in New York City filming a biopic about photographer Diane Arbus.

"I think I value acting more than when I started," she says. "Stanley Kubrick [her director for "Eyes Wide Shut"] taught me that acting is my art. I don't want to sound pretentious about it, but I can't just say, 'Oh, I'm just an actor, and it's just silly.' I'd rather say that cinema is important. Being an actor is important. It has value.

"I have enormous respect for what I do. As a young girl, it was like, 'Oh, great, I can get a paycheck and get to go eat chocolate cake on a movie set. And get out of school."

Advice from Endora

Now she's been called the next Streep, the next Lange. Kidman does love to get advice from those who have gone before her, such as Shirley MacLaine who plays Endora in "Bewitched." "On the set, Shirley told me, 'We have something that connects us, and it's not just the red hair.'

"Shirley calls me her alien," Kidman says with a delighted laugh.

"She is an alien," MacLaine insists. "She's just one of those creatures who has to act. It's in her soul. There was never a choice. She has to do this work."

Kidman doesn't take talk about herself lightly and is uncomfortable when she hears that quote. Squirming in her seat, she mulls it over and eventually says, "At this particular stage in my life, I have to act.

"But what worries me is my ability to balance things is not good," she says. "So either I work or I don't work. There's kind of nothing in between."

She has time for one last question: Who does she think has more magical powers to change lives: Samantha or the guys from "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"?

"Both!" she says, laughing. "Actually, I love watching that show because people are so happy with the changes done to their lives."

"Believe me, I'm not a big fan of plastic surgery," she cautions, "so I don't like those type of makeover shows. But 'Queer Eye' just aims to fix up a house or give someone new clothes.

"We can all relate to a makeover,' says Kidman, whose entire life has been made over in the last few years. "One of the great gifts the children have given me is that they don't allow me to get into a state of reclusiveness, which could happen, you know."

Acting is actually her version of a makeover, too. "I just love to step into somebody else's skin and change the way I talk and move," she says.

"Now that's magic."

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