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Nicole Incites Bath Wrath in 'Birth'

It's been described as Mary Kay Letourneau meets "Ghost."

But Nicole Kidman (search) insists her new R-rated movie, which features a shocking scene of the Oscar-winner naked in the bathtub with a 10-year-old boy, is done in the best possible taste.

"Yes, it's an unusual scene, but the whole film is unusual," Kidman says of "Birth," (search) the controversial film that was booed at the recent Venice International Film Festival (search) and is likely to spark outrage when it opens here Oct. 29.

"It's not about sex, you know, it's certainly not about sex. It's about love, it's about being ... under the spell of somebody."

The high-concept drama stars Kidman as a fragile young widow named Anna, who believes her dead husband has been reincarnated in the body of a 10-year-old boy.

In one scene, Anna tenderly kisses the young boy, played by 11-year-old Canadian Cameron Bright (search), on the lips; in another, they share an ice-cream sundae and she asks him whether he has ever made love to a girl.

But the most controversial scene — which drew a hostile reaction in Venice — has the young pre-teen slowly undressing before joining Kidman's character in the bath.

Shot over Kidman's bare back, the scene shows him from the waist up in the water."The film disturbs some people and it makes them uncomfortable," Kidman said during an interview in Beverly Hills over the weekend.

"It's meant to do that, but not in a way where you're trying to exploit a young boy."

New Line Cinema is hoping to offset uninformed Internet gossip with early press screenings of "Birth."

"When you see the performances in the context of the plot, it makes perfect sense," studio exec Mark Ordesky has said.

Kidman admitted that kissing Bright felt strange — particularly as her own son, Connor, is almost the same age as her co-star.

"It sort of was, but ... the first time I read [the script] I really saw it, because when you read it you're not picturing a child.

"You're actually reading a story and it sort of washes over you and you absorb the themes of the film ... loss and grief and the desire for somebody to come back."

She says what she remembers most about filming the kiss, shot on a New York street in the middle of winter, was just that it was "freezing cold."

"Birth" director Jonathan Glazer (search) says he never set out to make a salacious film, although he's not surprised at the uproar it's caused.

"I'm aware that it is the ultimate taboo in many respects," he says. "But for me [the bathtub scene] was an important part of the story — it was essential for [Kidman's character] to be confronted by that absolute no-go area.

"The context of that scene is sacred in a way."

Kidman — whose hair was cut boyishly short and dyed brunette for "Birth" — says everyone involved with the film was careful to protect the young actor's innocence.

"We were very protective of him in the sense that he never got to read the script," she says.

And many of the reaction shots in the provocative bath scene were filmed separately.

"I wasn't there off camera sitting in a bath for him, you know?" she says. "And then when I was doing my stuff he wasn't off camera for me a lot of the time."

Kidman has worked with children before in adult-themed dramas such as "The Hours" and "The Others," and says it's possible to tell a disturbing story involving children without "screwing them up."

"I believe in ... keeping it so that Cameron just thinks it's kind of fun and a job and, you know, he gets to get a bit of money and have a great lunch and then he goes home.

"He doesn't quite know what he's doing, which is good."

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