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Kidman happily visits while filming 'Visiting'

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Aliens are up to their old tricks, taking over the planet while spreading an insidious disease that blots out all defining traits of a human's personality.

But there is no mistaking the identity of the willowy blonde with the winsome smile and Aussie accent who has been throwing the Capital City into a tizzy this fall.

Nicole Kidman has made herself right at home in the District and its environs since late September when she began shooting The Visiting, a sci-fi thriller and the third update of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Actually, this used to be her home. The Honolulu-born actress and her family resided in the area for a couple of years before moving to Sydney when she was 3.

The D.C. press, a sucker for celebs who campaign for Oscars, not office, feverishly has been keeping tabs on her downtime. Hoo-wee, Kidman is dining at the restaurant 1789 with Keith Urban, the shaggy country singer from Down Under. Hubba-hubba, she's buying Hanky Panky panties at a Georgetown boutique.

That's nothing compared with her tourist-style weekend outings.

"I went down to an Amish village," Kidman says of a trip to Pennsylvania, which is really up but maybe not when you are from Australia. "It was fantastic. I went to their markets and bought some pies. Good pies. I bought a quilt. And I went skeet shooting."

She also was among the chosen few who witnessed the National Zoo's coming-out party for its 4-month-old baby panda, Tai Shan. "We all oohed and ahhed over him. I fell in love, so now I'm passionate about saving the pandas. There are only about a thousand left in the world. I'm on a mission now. I'm thinking about doing something with the Discovery Channel."

She plans to take her crusade to the big screen. "I'm attached to this book called The Lady and the Panda. It's a beautiful true story about a woman who goes off to China in the '30s to bring back a panda."

Of course, her main reason for being in town is work, not sightseeing. The Visiting, a paranoid thriller with political overtones directed by Germany's Oliver Hirschbiegel (the Hitler drama Downfall) and due next June, is a change of pace for the red-carpet regular.

The harrowing events in the script, in which Kidman plays a divorced shrink whose young son holds the key to halting the alien epidemic, appear to have released mood-elevating endorphins in the 38-year-old Academy Award winner. She's aglow with good humor on this sunny autumn day. An estimated $16 million paycheck doesn't hurt, either.

Word is that Kidman doesn't like to give interviews while on the job.

But she pops by, giggling over the fact that her breath smells like the berries she has just eaten and assuring she will chat more. She keeps her promise, settling into a canvas-draped chair inside the day's filming locale, the Chilean ambassador's residence on Embassy Row.

Though the actress, who averages two or three films a year, took a break during the first half of 2005, this past summer was no picnic.

It was bad enough when Bewitched, the topsy-turvy takeoff on the '60s sitcom, failed to cast its expected ticket-selling spell.

But that was a blip compared with the Tom-and-Katie Follies, whereby ex-husband Tom Cruise animatedly rhapsodized about his love for now-pregnant fiancee Katie Holmes and spread the gospel according to Scientology on talk shows while publicizing War of the Worlds.

How did Kidman and Cruise's two children, Connor, 10, and Isabella, almost 13, cope with such a public display?

"When you've been in a relationship with someone, and you move on, you wish them happiness. You hope they find everything they are looking for. Particularly when you have children. You need to be a grownup. You cannot be saying to your kids, 'You have to parent me.' You have to parent them."

Spoken like the savvy daughter of a clinical psychologist father.

"Luckily, we have managed to move our lives to a whole different place. Life's too short. You have to wish each other well, and that is what I say with absolute sincerity."

Now, don't you feel guilty for laughing at all those TomKat jokes?

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© Copyright 2004 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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