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Labour of Love,, November 2004

The films keep coming for NICOLE KIDMAN and, with the controversial Birth, the Aussie screen queen is showing no signs of settling for Hollywood mediocrity. ALAN SINCLAIR reports.

She may not climb rocks for fun like her former husband Tom Cruise, but Nicole Kidman takes just as many risks. From high-kicking her way through Moulin Rouge! to enduring sexual humiliation in Lars von Trier's Dogville, she's fast becoming Hollywood's most dangerous actress. Compared to dull divas like Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon, the Sydney-raised star has refused to play it safe since she won an Oscar in 2002 for her literary turn as Virginia Woolf in The Hours.

"I don't see it as risky," she states, looking stately and regal with her strawberry curls piled high on her head. "That means at some stage I'm going to crash and burn, because I really don't see it as risky. My makeup is not able to define what's a commercial hit movie or what's not."

Her latest film Birth may have been booed at the Venice Film Festival upon its unveiling but when TNT meets with Kidman she seems buoyant about this latest foray into art-house territory. Directed by Sexy Beast's Jonathan Glazer, she plays Anna, a grief-stricken widow who comes to believe a local boy (Cameron Bright) is her dead husband reincarnated. "It's not that I'm attracted to the supernatural," explains Kidman, who previously dealt with the undead in The Others. "I'd seen Jonathan's work. I read the screenplay and I thought, 'I hope I get the chance to play this character' because there's something in me that I felt like I understood and knew her. Then I sat down with Jonathan over lunch, and we basically clicked in about five minutes. And he asked me to do the film and we pledged allegiance and loyalty to each other. And that was the beginning of a very intense experience for me on this film."

The sort of film, she says, where she hated weekends, Kidman claims she stayed in a funk throughout the shoot, matching Anna's maudlin mood. Somewhat weary of intrusive questioning about her two children, adopted with Cruise ("it's not something I ever discuss, in terms of my custody"), you could be forgiven for thinking a rather offhand Kidman was still in character. She sighs when asked to explain the film's controversial scene, where she shares a bath and a kiss with the young Bright.

"I responded to, I think, this woman who was in mourning, and to the themes of what the film was about," she says. "It wasn't like I thought, 'I want to make a film where I kiss a 10-year-old boy'. I wanted to make a film where you're trying to understand love. I really loved the script and this is the one that spoke to me."

The 37-year-old Kidman is, of course, used to rumours. From the whispers that she and Cruise needed sex lessons on the set of Eyes Wide Shut to the gossip that surrounded her acrimonious split from him in 2001, Kidman has been dogged by dirt more than most. Subsequently paired up in the media with a host of actors, from friend Russell Crowe to Adrien Brody and former co-stars Paul Bettany, Ewan McGregor and Jude Law, the only definite was a brief flirtation with musician Lenny Kravitz. This year alone, she's been linked with Italian racing tycoon Flavio Briatore and Kiwi multi-millionaire Eric Watson.

Perhaps this is her favourite role; divorced mother- of-two jetsetting the globe in search of the perfect playboy. After all, she'd been married to Cruise just over a decade, having met him on the 1990 clunker Days Of Thunder after her role in tense thriller Dead Calm brought her to Hollywood. Currently one of Tinseltown's most desirable singletons, it's no shock to see her enjoying the high life. Yet, a dutiful mother, daughter and friend, she maintains she hasn't forgotten her roots or those she left behind when her career took off. "I have friends who are actors who would give anything to have the chance to play something that has some depth and complexity," she notes, "but they're stuck on some TV series because they've got three kids."

Until recently, she could include her long-time friend Naomi Watts, with whom she starred in John Duigan's 1991 film Flirting, in this group of struggling thespians. "She wanted it for so long, and she's got it," smiles Kidman. "And for her, at this time of her life, it's perfect. It's amazing how she has just soared. I have seen a lot of my friends be highly successful - like Russell [Crowe] - and in different areas as well. Not just in acting, but writing and music. It's lovely when you see someone with their capability have the chance to show them."

With roles in the big screen version of Bewitched, thriller The Interpreter and a cameo in the remake of Mel Brooks' The Producers all to come, for the time being Kidman is playing the studio game. But with a return to her homeland mooted for Jocelyn Moorhouse's Eucalyptus, alongside Geoffrey Rush and Russell Crowe, and then a possible collaboration with Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai, she has no intention of selling her soul to Hollywood just yet.

Having recently bought a home back in Australia (she refuses to say where), she's already looking to a time when she won't be acting. "I look at Lauren [Bacall, her 80-year-old Birth co-star] and I go, 'Wow ... still working'. I don't have the resilience for that. For me, it's more like there is a time when I won't be doing it. I also find it quite tiring. Not so much physically, but emotionally. And there are so many other things, I just think in 20 years I can pretty much say I don't think I'll be doing this."

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