BEATING THE BUSHES FOR A RUSSKIE CULKIN

Casting the right juvenile for a key role is one of the oldest challenges in showbiz. Every year there’s a casting net tossed out into the hinterlands, in hopes of latching onto a new kid face who’ll capture the public’s fancy. But when your star search extends into the vast Russian countryside, the odds against success get even tougher.

After months of searching for a pint-size co-star for his new pic, “Kolja,” Oscar-winning Czech director Jan Sverak and his screenwriter-actor father Zdenek Sverak (writer of the Oscar best foreign pic “Closely Watched Trains”) were stuck. They needed a Russian tot to play the adopted child of the character played by the elder Sverak. They scoured the CIS from Moscow to St. Petersburg. No luck. Defeated, they returned to Prague and began prepping for the shoot, sans kid star.

Then word got to this year’s Oscar-winner for “Burnt by the Sun,” Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov. Mikhalkov, who just announced his candidacy for a spot in the CIS parliament, had a similar casting problem on “Sun,” but solved it by memorably casting his own daughter, Nadia, as his co-star in political drama.

Faster than you can say Mikhail Rooney, a Russkie star could be born. Nikita’s pick for the part was 5-year-old Russian thesper Andrej Chalimon. With Chalimon in tow, “Kolja’s” cameras are rolling in Prague. The pic is the younger Sverak’s follow-up to this summer’s Karlovy Vary Fest grand prize-winner “The Ride,” so cross your fingers and hope his parents don’t hear about such post- Macaulay Culkin showbiz concepts as perks, gross points, luxury suites and script approval.

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