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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 13:29 GMT
Kidman dazzles as Russian bride
By entertainment correspondent Tom Brook in New York
Nicole Kidman plays a Russian speaking e-mail order bride in the British black comedy Birthday Girl which has just opened at US cinemas.
The 34-year-old Australian actress does a convincing turn, speaking quite fluent Russian, as the striking Nadia ordered up over the internet by a lonely British bank clerk seeking companionship.
With the role Kidman notches up one more dazzling screen accomplishment while still basking in the glory of well received performances in The Others and Moulin Rouge.
Kidman admits she was nervous when she took on the part.
"I thought I was going to be really bad speaking the Russian, but I sort of became obsessed with it after a while and actually fell in love with the language.
"So I was able to improvise in Russian by the end which I was very proud of."
The actress learnt the language by spending time with a woman she found through the Russian Embassy in Australia.
"So, she taught me how to speak the language and taught me a lot about Russian culture."
Kidman's co-star is the British actor Ben Chaplin, who, as the nerdy bank employee, orders Nadia through a From Russia With Love website.
When Nadia arrives on his doorstep his life really changes.
As Chaplin puts it: "He's got this really tall good looking Russian in his house, that has quite a big impact.
"And she doesn't speak any English so they can only communicate physically."
Chaplin's character gets more than he bargained for because soon Nadia's so-called "cousins" come calling and he ends up being coerced to rob his bank.
The film then takes a more menacing turn.
At the time the film was being made Nicole Kidman was married to Tom Cruise, and the couple had an agreement that they would never spend more than two weeks apart.
With Cruise working in Australia on Mission: Impossible 2 Kidman explained it would have been impossible for her to have left the country to make Birthday Girl.
But she was really surprised when Butterworth consented to bring the production to her.
She recalls: "I couldn't believe that they did that, but it actually worked out for the film because it saved a lot of money.
"It did, because it is much cheaper to shoot in Australia."
Birthday Girl ends up on screen as a rather odd hybrid because it is a British picture set in St. Albans in Hertfordshire with most of the film's interiors shot in Australia.
As a result some of the scenes don't quite ring true giving the film a lack of authenticity.
Without Kidman the film would have little to offer because nothing that dramatic ever takes place, and the humour in this black comedy wears thin quite rapidly.
Although Kidman is currently in Sweden working with the director Lars von Trier in a film called Dogville it will be hard for her to escape totally from all the speculation in Los Angeles surrounding her Oscar chances.
The actress could well end up getting a nomination, probably for her role as Grace the controlling religious mother in The Others, when the Academy announces its shortlist on 12 February.
Although she received praise for her singing performance as Satine in Moulin Rouge Oscar voters have historically overlooked musical roles, perhaps considering them too lightweight.
Kidman is trying not to raise her expectations.
When asked which role she'd prefer the Academy to recognize she just says: "I would just like to be nominated, beggars can't be choosers.
"I remember with To Die For, everyone said to me 'You'll be nominated' and I kind of invested emotionally in it, and thought 'Oh cool', and then I got the phone call saying sorry it didn't happen so I am trying not to think about that because I've never been nominated before and who knows it may not happen."
Whether or not she does get nominated Kidman can at least take comfort in the fact that most critics see Birthday Girl as further proof of her versatility as an actress.
Through talent, and the spin control of her publicists, the Australian star has managed to successfully re-shape her image in recent weeks.
At least the news media now seems a little more interested in focusing on her acting as opposed to detailing the tawdry details of her high-profile Hollywood divorce and other aspects of her private life.
The Birthday Girl is awaiting a UK release date
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