Film Studies: Any chance you could squeeze in another, Nicole?

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The Independent Culture

In Cannes, recently, director Lars von Trier did his best to get Nicole Kidman to commit to appear in the sequel to Dogville, the picture they have just made together. The actress declined to be tied down, especially on a project that could not hope to offer her her new "normal" salary. But few people in the business are involved in a more frenzied estimate of schedules, choice parts, satisfactory fees and putting it all together - while keeping in touch with her children, her Australian roots, to say nothing of the inner woman who may need peace if she is to continue doing good work.

Kidman will be 36 on 20 June, and she is at a peak in her career, with a $15m salary level after her Oscar in The Hours (for which she got "only" $7.5m for "only" about a third of a picture). Not that I mean to attack the money she commands - Kidman has improved as an actress in remarkable ways, matched only by the enterprise of the parts she has elected to play. In the years since Eyes Wide Shut - the clear turning point - she has played in Moulin Rouge, The Others, Birthday Girl, The Hours and Dogville.

You don't have to like all those films in the same way, but the range is startling. It is also the impetus that has made Kidman nearly everyone's first choice on new ventures. So she gets offered most of the new movies with a promising female role.

The results are mounting. Dogville will open this summer. In the autumn, you can expect The Human Stain, directed by Robert Benton and adapted from the Philip Roth novel, in which Kidman plays a janitor who has a love affair with a celebrated academic (played by Anthony Hopkins). This is another big picture, with the promise of spectacular love scenes.

But it won't be her only Oscar contender this year. For Cold Mountain is now in post-production in London. This is Anthony Minghella's version of Charles Frazier's Civil War novel in which Kidman plays the woman Jude Law quits the war to return to. This story was actually shot in Romania, and the starry cast also includes Renee Zellweger. At the same time, as far as I can tell, Kidman is now filming Birth, the new film from Jonathan Glazer (whose Sexy Beast immediately promoted him to the list of A directors). There are several writers on this project, including Jean-Claude Carriere, but in outline it is the story of a woman who begins to believe that her 10-year-old son may be the reincarnation of her dead husband.

Pause for a moment to consider what such ventures require. In most cases these are pictures made on such a scale that Kidman would face at least a 12-week shooting schedule. But these parts may also call for the research period that on The Hours meant getting a look that, if not quite that of Virginia Woolf, was certainly beyond our ideas of Ms Kidman. As well as time to read Woolf's books, and to absorb her life and times. If you are going to deliver something extraordinary, stepping into a cold English river, or bracing yourself against a Romanian dawn nearly as cold, you may need to understand the predicament of your character. And when the process is over, most actors need some time to withdraw from that intensity.

But once Birth is over, Kidman is committed to doing the remake of The Stepford Wives for Frank Oz. This is due to film in the late summer and autumn and has probably dashed her chances of being in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator, where she was set to play Katharine Hepburn opposite Leonardo DiCaprio's Howard Hughes.

Beyond that, another two films are announced: Mr and Mrs Smith, directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity), in which she will star with Brad Pitt; and Alexander the Great, a project that could start filming in 2004, directed by Kidman's pal, Baz Lurhmann, and co-starring DiCaprio.

These are the announced and contracted projects - and on most of them Kidman must have a salary in the $15m range. That is her level, and a fair reason to take on plenty of work. Of course, between now and 2005 some of these things might slip, and others emerge. But even a sketch-map of the next few years makes it clear how much of her time Kidman is reading books, scripts and contracts. For it is no exaggeration to say that sometimes the negotiation period outlasts the actual shooting. No wonder she is looking more grown up.

So hope that, getting close to 40, she can still find the innocence of some wild Greek girl who caught an emperor's eye. Or is she playing Alexander?

d.thomson@independent.co.uk

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