As Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn film “The Interpreter” on location in the United Nations, many ambassadors are mad — because all the diplomats in the movie are impostors.
“It was my dream that I was going to be in a movie with Sydney Pollack directing. He’s one of my heroes in the movie industry,” said Spain’s U.N. Ambassador, Inocencio Arias, who has appeared in many Spanish films and said he had lined up a part as a prime minister.
“But then the day before the shooting they called and said the union had some reservation, some qualms,” Arias said. “I wasn’t even going to charge any money. If they had to give me some money, I was going to give it to research, or to AIDS.”
Jordan’s U.N. Ambassador, Prince Zeid Al Hussein, had wanted to keep up a family tradition: His parents were extras while in Italy during filming of 1963’s “Cleopatra,” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
He had hoped for the same chance in Pollack’s thriller, starring Kidman as a U.N. interpreter who comes from a fictional African country filled with civil strife, ethnic cleansing and political turmoil. Penn plays a Secret Service agent trying to prevent the leader of a country from being killed.
“It’s a great shame we weren’t allowed to have bit parts in this movie because we’re very familiar with the setting,” said the prince. “We’re very familiar with the work of interpreters. God knows there’ve been enough mishaps on occasion — not too frequently thank goodness but with open mikes — and we feel well attuned to do that sort of thing.
“After all, this is the great stage and we are part of the theater here, the permanent theater.”
There was some confusion over just why the diplomats can’t be actors.
Pollack, an Academy Award-winning director, initially said “it’s a U.N. decision not mine. ... If they let one, they have to let all 191” ambassadors perform.
But U.N. Undersecretary-General Shashi Tharoor said, “We’re very happy to have the ambassadors play themselves and do whatever they want. It’s up to them, their governments and the filmmakers. The U.N. doesn’t employ the ambassadors.”
Pollack then explained that a lot of ambassadors and U.N. staff don’t have the U.S. work permits they need to be paid by an American film company.
At a jam-packed reception Monday in the U.N. visitor’s lobby co-hosted by John Dauth, the ambassador from Kidman’s native Australia, Pollack said he wanted his film “to be consistent with the goals of the U.N., and an alternative to violence, in a way.”
Filming began seven weekends ago — none is allowed during the work week — and another seven weekends are expected. Pollack expected the film to be out in February.
Kidman didn’t speak at Monday’s party or the reception afterward. She was surrounded by crowds trying to get near her, get autographs, talk to her or pose with her for photographs.
Even several ambassadors were spotted with cameras, which seems to be the closest they will get to being in the movie.
“It’s ridiculous,” said Arias, the Spanish Ambassador, adding: “So my opportunity to have a nomination for the Oscar next year went away because of some stupid regulation of the unions.”