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It’s been two and a half years since director Werner Herzog first began talking about his Gertrude Bell biopic Queen of the Desert, marking his first feature since 2009’s My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done. At the time, Naomi Watts was set to take on the leading role, but the film is now going through its second major casting change, as Deadline reports Watts has exited the project and Nicole Kidman is in talks to replace her. Eye for an eye, Australian for an Australian, I guess.
The first actor switcheroo occurred earlier this year, when James Franco stepped in to replace Jude Law, who was forced to drop the project for one reason or another. I’m really not sure if Franco ever confirmed this, as he was rumored to take over the “Lawrence of Arabia” role that Robert Pattinson had signed on for last year. It might as well be called Sandy Musical Chairs. Herzog films are usually known for their onscreen madness, not the behind-the-scenes stuff.
Should the Oscar winning Kidman take the role, she’d be playing one of the most legendary female explorers the world has ever known. Gertrude Bell wasn’t just an explorer, of course; she was an archaeologist, a political officer, a spy, a cartographer and a writer, among other societal roles. Her political affiliation with the British Empire led her across what is now the Middle East, where she is partly responsible for the formation of present-day Jordan and Iraq, where she is still honored to this day. She worked hand in hand with T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) in her quests, and their relationship will feature heavily into the plot.
Kidman is obviously on a career incline, hopefully leaving films like Trespass and The Paperboy as dots in the rearview mirror. This year, she starred in Park Chan-wook’s excellent mystery thriller Stoker and Jonathan Teplitzky’s WWII revenge drama The Railway Man, which she is currently promoting at the Toronto Film Festival. (She replaced Rachel Weisz in that film.) Kidman will star as Grace Kelly in Olivier Dahan’s biopic Grace of Monaco, which comes out in November, and in December’s Anchorman: The Legend Continues. She’ll also be seen in Rowan Joffe’s mystery thriller Before I Go to Sleep, which will come out some time next year.
Time will tell if she takes the role or not, but in the meantime, check out the video below, which gives a brief history of Bell’s magnificent life.