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UN falls for Hollywood

United Nations, Jan. 30: Coming soon to the Security Council: Nicole Kidman saving an African ambassador from an assassination attempt.

Secretary-general Kofi Annan agreed in principle this week to allow producer Sydney Pollack to film a movie inside the UN premises in New York, the first time in UN officials’ memory that the world body has allowed a feature film to be made on site.

Annan had originally nixed the proposal, saying the filming would be too disruptive, and he was unsure that it reflected UN values. But he changed his mind after receiving a visit by Pollack early this month and a preview of the script, UN officials said.

Pollack pledged to film only on weekends and to not interrupt UN business. Shooting on the Universal Studios film begins March 1.

“It could be, in effect, a free commercial for the UN — a thriller made by a top-notch filmmaker with a stellar cast,” said Shashi Tharoor, the UN’s communications chief. “It will reach far more millions of people than any public relations initiative I could have come up with. And we are satisfied that the values in the story reflect our principles.”

The movie The Interpreter is to star Kidman and Sean Penn. Kidman will play an African-born UN interpreter who overhears an assassination plot against her country’s leader. That makes her a target too, and with Penn, the leader’s bodyguard, she races to stop the murder before she is killed herself.

Both her country and the language she speaks are invented. But the leader, named Motobo in the film, is modeled on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and the language is based on Swahili, said Pollack.

For decades, UN officials have rebuffed proposals to film inside the building, including the 2000 movie The Art of War, starring Wesley Snipes as a security agent framed for killing the Chinese ambassador, and The Peacemaker (1997), in which Kidman and George Clooney thwart a plot to blow up the UN with a nuclear weapon.

Most famously, the UN rejected Alfred Hitchcock’s overtures to shoot part of the 1959 film North by Northwest, which depicted an assassination of a diplomat in a UN lounge.

Ambassadors were delighted to have a bit of glamour in the building. “I told the secretary-general it was fine, granted one condition,” said Chilean ambassador Heraldo Munoz, who as Security Council president had to approve the decision. “That I get a meeting with Nicole Kidman.”

Annan did not ask for a cameo. But Pollack did not rule it out. “He’s a very handsome and dapper man,” he said. “He could be a movie star.”

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