By Mike Collett-White
CANNES, France (Reuters) - Nicole Kidman plays an "oversexed Barbie doll" in the hard-hitting murder drama "The Paperboy", premiering at the Cannes film festival on Thursday and notable for arresting scenes of sex, violence and urination.
In the adaptation of a Pete Dexter novel, the Australian Oscar winner plays trailer-trash bombshell Charlotte Bless, who is obsessed with a man on death row with whom she exchanges letters.
She is drawn into a newspaper investigation into the prisoner, who may have been wrongfully convicted, triggering a frantic series of sexual encounters, humorous exchanges and a dangerous game of violence and death in the Florida swamps.
Two scenes in particular had critics and reporters chattering in Cannes after a press screening.
In one Bless urinates on Zac Efron's character Jack after he is badly stung by jellyfish in the sea, while the second is a bizarre and unflinching portrayal of a sex scene set in a prison visiting room that involves no physical contact at all.
Kidman, in a figure-hugging vermilion dress for her Cannes photo call, was asked at a press conference whether she found shooting the scenes embarrassing:
"Strangely no, because I think I had to step into a place to play the character where I didn't step out of it and look at myself, so it wasn't hard to shoot.
"This is what (director) Lee (Daniels) brought out of me and so it didn't feel uncomfortable at the time," Kidman added.
"I have not seen the movie, so I may be uncomfortable watching the movie, but that's my job. It's my job to give over to something, not to censor it, not to put my own judgments in terms of how I feel as Nicole playing the character."
Directed by "Precious" film maker Daniels, The Paperboy also stars Matthew McConaughey as tenacious but conflicted reporter Ward, Efron as his younger brother Jack, singer Macy Gray as housemaid Anita and John Cusack as the imprisoned Hillary.
Set in the 1960s, the plot plays out against a background of racism and homophobia, and U.S. film maker Daniels said the story was based on first-hand experience -- his brother spent time in jail and he was shunned as a gay black man.
"I can't tell you how many men that I've been with in the 80s, that were white, and the 90s, that I could be intimate with and publicly would shun me.
"'No, I will not be seen with you, black man.' I knew them. And they hate themselves for it. I know that guy. So all these people (in the film) are people that live in my head and in my world and in my existence."
Kidman, 44, said she found some of her most rewarding roles in lower-budget, independently produced movies, and did not want to be "pigeon-holed" into playing certain parts.
"I'm willing to fail because of that. I just want to be able to try. Because it's exciting to put your toe into different places of the world and that's what still keeps me working at this age."
The "Moulin Rouge!" and "The Hours" star did her own hair and makeup for the part of Charlotte, due to budget constraints.
"I got out the fake tan and I put on lashes that were old and I ... got out a hair piece thing and it was platinum and I sort of threw it all on, I took a photo and I texted it to Lee, kind of all different provocative positions.
"That was how it started to come together, because what he sent back, which I cannot say, but it was like 'thumbs up'."
Efron, best known as a teen idol in lighter fare like the "High School Musical" series, spends much of the film in only his underwear in a character that Daniels said was deliberately eroticized.
"He's good-looking and the camera can't help but love him...and I'm gay, so what do you want?" Daniels said.
For a graphic of the Cannes film festival click here: http://link.reuters.com/vav28s
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)