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Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. Picture: Supplied

Nicole Kidman may be one of our most successful movie stars, yet the 46-year-old, who transfigured her famous features to play Virginia Woolf in her Oscar-winning role in The Hours, is not beyond taking a risk.

When Colin Firth suggested her for the role of his on-screen wife, the real- life Patti Lomax, in the Australia-UK film The Railway Man, she couldn't resist the opportunity to work with an actor she already knew and liked.

Firth had recognised he needed a good supporting player in the film where his role as the train-loving Eric Lomax, a former British soldier and POW who had worked in horrific conditions on the infamous Thai/Burma Death Railway during World War II, would be emotionally challenging.

After the initial tender scene where Eric and Patti experience a case of love at first sight on a British train, on their wedding night Lomax's demons come back to haunt him, and Patti has to be extremely patient and muster all the love and care that she can.

Besides wanting to work with Firth, Kidman has admitted she was attracted to the role because of parallels with her own experiences with her husband Keith Urban, whose struggles with addiction have been well documented. Like the Lomaxes their marriage has proved stronger as a result.

"I don't know if Patti is curing him but she is certainly saying there is a different way to go," Kidman concedes.

"She said 'I need to know what it is and we need to move closely together so that we can get through that - and I am not going to abandon you'."

It's hard of course for Patti not to take her husband's remonstrations personally, though she proves to be an exceptional woman.

"She knows there are layers that are so deep and which have nothing to do with her. And she knows that the way he is so traumatised and is struggling that revenge cannot be the answer," Kidman says. "But she can't tell him that because you can't tell anybody anything. She hopes he comes to that place by himself. That's what's so interesting about her."

The chemistry between Kidman and Firth is palpable. It's no surprise then that the pair have co-starred, again as a married couple, in the upcoming thriller Before I Go To Sleep, only this time Kidman is the one with the trauma.

Currently the Academy Award winners are collaborating on the kids' movie Paddington, though we only hear Firth as the voice of the cuddly bear.

What Kidman loves about the "dishy" Brit is his sense of humour. "I adore him," Kidman admits. "He is obviously one of the greatest actors and he makes it appear so easy. But just talking to him, he is very self-deprecating, which I enjoy.

"He is not grandiose, he is very, very bright and just a lovely person to be around and deeply professional and smart and he makes me laugh. Even on this film we would laugh, which was great. You need to have that counter- balance."

Kidman of course is more her regal red-carpet self in Grace of Monaco, playing one of the most famous and gorgeous of movie stars, Grace Kelly, who married a real-life prince, Prince Rainier III, played by another jocular Brit, Tim Roth.

"That's more of a fairytale," Kidman says of the film, which is set amid the looming French invasion of Monaco in the early 1960s. "It deals only with six months and is actually a very adult drama. It's about Grace choosing her destiny but it has a lot of fairytale qualities because as she said 'I am choosing my own fairytale' - and that's one of Grace's quotes herself."

Has Kidman chosen her fairytale and is she living it? "I believe in day by day; that would be how I approach my life. I am deeply committed to my family, deeply," she emphasises. "And I am very, very proud to have come to that place. I adore them and it doesn't require any sort of discipline.

"We've got a five-year-old and a two- year-old who are gypsying around with us," she says of Sunday Rose and Faith Margaret, her children with Urban. "And then I've got two adult children who are off doing their own thing (Isabella, 22, and Connor, 18, with Tom Cruise). So I've got a lot of people in my life that I love."

After we spoke in Toronto, Nashville- based Kidman and co were about to go camping, even if they weren't exactly going out into the wilds.

"We are in a tent but it is on a golf course," Kidman chuckles apologetically. "We're just starting them off gently. They did pitch the tent the other night in the backyard just to get used to pitching it. I love that kind of camping. I love being out in the wilderness; I like being away. This is one step. I would never go camping in a trailer park or something. I like to actually go into the wild or the beach. It's hard to find these days."

Kidman will undoubtedly be thrust into some wide, open spaces in her upcoming movies. She is preparing her role as turn-of-the century British adventurer Gertrude Bell in Werner Herzog's Queen of the Desert, a $36 million Morocco-set American production where she replaced her friend, Naomi Watts. In April she will film Kim Farrant's Australian thriller Strangerland, which focuses on a couple whose relationship is pushed to the brink when their two teenage children disappear in the desert. Kidman will use her Australian accent for the first time on screen since Phil Noyce's 1989 thriller, Dead Calm.