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Nicole Kidman, ‘Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus’

Lead actress contender

Nicole Kidman’s fearlessness and artistic adventurousness are evident.

Take her work in Lars von Trier’s “Dogville” or her latest film, “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus.” Both pics prove she’s not one to shy away from challenging material or risque subjects.

Kidman admits she didn’t know much about Arbus when helmer Steve Shainberg flew to Australia to woo her for the role.

“I researched and tried to understand her,” she says about the American photographer who came to artistic fame in the 1960s and who had a penchant for capturing dwarves, giants and other so-called “freaks.”

“Fur” focuses on a brief, and fictionalized, period of time when Arbus met and photographed a man with hypertrichosis, a werewolf-like affliction that causes excessive hair growth. It’s a dreamlike, kinky look at how that relationship might have changed her creative and personal world.

Says Kidman: “It’s obviously not a biopic. It’s about moving from one part of your life into another and what women sometimes have to go through to do that. The weirder the better, as far as I was concerned.

“When dealing with an artist of that capacity,” she continues, “unless you’re doing a warts-and-all, it’s far better to do something more magical. That’s what was enticing to me, the magical quality of this story — the allure of this furry man and the metaphor of that. I liked that it wasn’t obtuse.”

When it comes to her choices, Kidman says she’s not methodical about balancing commercial and indie projects. Before “Fur,” Kidman had been prepping “Eucalyptus,” the Oz-set Fox Searchlight film that fell apart and was to co-star Russell Crowe.

Before that, she completed two studio pics, “The Interpreter” and “Bewitched.” She voiced the mama penguin in “Happy Feet,” completed a low-budget Noah Baumbach film and is next reuniting with “Moulin Rouge” helmer Baz Luhrmann.

“There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it,” Kidman insists. “My main goal is to stay free. I’m not into plans. I don’t even like saying you have a career — it’s more just an artistic journey. You really have to protect yourself from becoming a commodity or business. I see that as a force working against your artistic instincts. I don’t live in L.A.: I try to keep everything in my life cocooned, so those things don’t lure me.”

Of her journey with “Fur,” Kidman says, “There are times in my life when I feel I’m being pulled towards something and I don’t have a choice.”

Favorite film of the past five years: “In the Mood for Love”

Actor who impressed you greatly after working together: “Sean Penn, Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Shirley MacLaine … I have a huge list.”

Next project: Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming Oz-set epic love story. “It’s fictitious but set against historical moments during World War II in the ’30s, but it’s very modern. My country is the background. I’m half American, half Australian. ‘Cold Mountain’ was my U.S. film; now this is my Australian film.”