NEW YORK – Nicole Kidman, who triumphed over Tom Cruise in the p.r. battle during their divorce, may next use her hex appeal against her ex at the box office -- the former couple are plotting dueling witch movies.
Red-hot Nicole, widely favored to pick up a Best Actress Oscar for The Hours next month, is in negotiations to trade in the false nose she wears as Virginia Woolf for Samantha Stevens' twitching nostrils in a big-screen version of the TV classic Bewitched.
Tom, who has been nominated for an Oscar twice but never won, apparently is determined not to be outdone by Nicole, at least in the supernatural arena.
He is reported to be contemplated starring in a remake of I Married a Witch -- a 1942 comedy that is generally believed to have inspired Bewitched -- being produced by his Cruise-Wagner productions.
Both movies are being financed by Sony's Columbia Pictures so it's conceivable the former couple may end up on adjacent soundstages on Sony's Culver City lot.
The saucy Aussie would be donning the pointy hat worn by the late Elizabeth Montgomery, who played a witch who turned in her broomstick for the joys of suburban housewifery on Bewitched, a top-rated show on ABC from 1964 to 1972.
Kidman's executive husband, played in the series by Dick York and later Dick Sargent, hasn't been cast.
Nor is it clear who would play the sexy witch opposite Cruise, who is taking on a role originally played by Frederic March.
I Married a Witch was based on a Thorne Smith story about a resurrected witch -- who casts a romantic spell on a gubernatorial candidate who's the descendant of a man who had her burned at the stake.
Veronica Lake, an actress famous for her over-the-eye bangs, played the witch in 1942.
Cruise has signed up Danny DeVito to direct a script by Michael Leeson (The War of the Roses); Kidman's movie would be written and directed by Nora Ephron (You've Got Mail).
Kidman, one of Hollywood's most in-demand actresses since her divorce from Cruise, has three arty movies in the can set for release later this year: The Human Stain, Dogville and Cold Mountain.
She is currently shooting the drama Birth in Manhattan, and this spring is set to segue to a remake of the supernatural thriller The Stepford Wives for a reported salary of $15 milion.
Bewitched is one of three big-studio blockbusters Kidman is being wooed for; the others are the Batman spinoff Catwoman and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, an action-adventure with Brad Pitt.
Cruise, who is still considered one of Hollywood's top draws, has been less active of late.
Last summer's Minority Report did a relatively disappointing - -for a film starring Cruise and directed by Steven Spielberg -- $132 million at U.S. box offices.
He will next be seen in the adventure The Last Samurai at year's end; Mission: Impossible 3 is due in 2004.
At least one Hollywood insider is betting on Nicole in the war of the witch movies.
"Generally the one that gets made and released first does best," said Martin Grove, a marketing columnist for the Hollywood Reporter.
"From Columbia's standpoint, it would do the studio more good to have Bewitched take off. It's got a hot star who's probably going to win the Oscar, and if it's successful, Columbia could revive the TV series, which they own."
As for Cruise's project, "it's a remake of a movie that most people have never heard of, as opposed to a TV series that still plays on cable," Grove said. "And it's not like he's playing the witch."