Up and about Down Under

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo -

SYDNEY, Australia — The city spread out a 135-meter-long, eight-meter wide red carpet for Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, two of its favorite children, last Tuesday night for the premiere of their latest starrer, Australia, written, co-produced and directed by fellow Australian Baz Luhrmann who first directed Nicole in Moulin Rouge a few years ago.

The red carpet extended from George St. fronting the Greater Union Cinema to the door of the screening room. Fans standing behind barricades on both sides of the aisle clicked their digital cameras and called out, “Nicole, here! Nicole, smile!” as soon as the sky-blue-eyed actress arrived with husband, Keith Urban, with whom she flew on a private plane from Nashville, Tennessee, Monday night without their four-month-old daughter Sunday Rose after doctors told the couple that flying to and out of Australia in 24 hours would be too much for her.

That’s how long Nicole was staying in her home city — 24 hours.

More than 300 guests, mostly from Sydney’s glitterati (Australian 2004 Miss Universe Jennifer Hawkins and showbiz celebrities, etc.), graced the affair which required the closure of portions of George St. where two public bleachers were put up where an estimated 3,000 fans watched the starry arrivals, armed with umbrellas under the drizzle that had been drenching the city since the night before.

Besides Nicole, Hugh and Baz, also present were the other stars of the movie including Jack Thompson, Brandon Walters, David Gulpilil, Bryan Brown and David Wenham. Radiant in a short cream dress and wearing only bracelets and no other accessories, Nicole held an umbrella as she shook hands, signed a few autographs and posed for pictures while walking the red carpet. Hugh came with his wife, Deborra-Lee Furness who was quoted by The Australian as saying that the premiere was “the biggest night for the Australian film industry for a long time.”

It should be.

At the presscon earlier that day, Nicole said that she was seeing the movie for the first time, a day behind the international press (The STAR was the only Philippine paper invited to cover the event) that previewed the movie the night before also in the same theater.

“I’m actually really looking forward to seeing it with a big crowd,” she said. “That’s how I wanted to see it. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Dapper in a navy three-piece, Hugh said, “Tonight is a celebration and it’s particularly special for me because the George Street cinema strip is where I used to come and watch movies when I was a kid.” (Hugh has just been named by People magazine as One of the Sexiest Males Alive, also including High School Musical actor Zac Efron and 007 Daniel Craig who was also here with Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko to promote their movie Quantum of Solace.)

Produced by 20th Century Fox on a $130-M budget, Australia is a 160-minute epic and romantic action adventure set on the brink of World War II. Nicole plays an English aristocrat who travels to the faraway continent where she meets a rough-hewn local (played by Hugh) and reluctantly agrees to join forces with him to save the land she inherited from her murdered husband. Together, they embark up in a transforming journey across hundreds of miles of the world’s most beautiful yet unforgiving terrain, only to face the bombing of the city of Darwin by the Japanese forces that attacked Pearl Harbor.

The movie’s mesmerizing cinematography calls to mind the poetic spectacle of such David Lean films as Ryan’s Daughter and Doctor Zhivago, highlighted by breath-taking scenes like the cattle stampede and the heart-stopping bombing of Darwin. It is said that with Australia, Luhrmann “is painting on a vast canvas, creating a cinematic experience that brings together romance, drama, adventure and spectacle...an adventure as epic as the land in which its story unfolds.”

A veritable scene-stealer in the movie is 12-year-old Brandon Walters who plays Nullah, an indigenous child from what Luhrmann calls the “Stolen Generations,” with whom Nicole’s character develops deep bonding.

Whether or not Australia will become a modern classic like Out of Africa, Gone with the Wind and Casablanca remains to be seen.

“All I wanted is to make a film that everyone could go and see,” said Luhrmann at the earlier presscon. “I wanted to make one of those old-fashioned movies — you know, everyone can come to the table and have a party.”

Australia is expected to be a shot-in-the-arm for the country’s sagging film and tourism industries, and rightly so.

Said Nicole, “Rarely do I get to make a film that I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a kid, which is to be a part of the Australian cinema. And I haven’t really had a film done in a big way. This is a celebration for me and for this country.”

At the same presscon, Hugh announced that he was moving to New York in a few days. Already, residents of this city are saying that they will miss Hugh’s much-photographed torso on Sydney beaches. “Sydney will always be my home,” he qualified. “I will keep coming back.”

Nicole also hinted at saying her own goodbye — to acting?

“I’m in a place in my life where I have had some great opportunities. I may choose to have more children. There are many things I want to do besides act.”

At the red carpet, keen observers noted a “small bump” in her figure-hugging mini dress.

Could she be pregnant again? asked Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

Oh well, that’s another story waiting to be told some other time.

(E-mail reactions at [email protected] or at [email protected])

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