Trials of being a princess

By Arthur Spiegelman

The new film's reclusive director is happy to let his movie speak for itself, since he doesn't give interviews. The male star would be happy to promote the film, but he's been busy with other films and a spot of rehab.

So this leaves a 15-year-old former street singer, who worries whether she will be working at age 16, to bear the burden of promoting The New World, a US$30 million ($48.6 million) tale of the founding of Britain's colony in early 17th-century Virginia.

But if anyone can lift director Terrence Malick's new movie out of art-house obscurity, it is fresh young actress Q'Orianka Kilcher. She is the real star of The New World and to hear the producer tell it, deserving of an Academy Award nomination.

Kilcher appears in almost every scene as Indian princess Pocahontas, who saves the British colonists from starvation and destruction after they cross the Atlantic to settle on land ruled by her father.

She has a starry-eyed romance with explorer Captain John Smith, played by Irish actor Colin Farrell, and later marries a stolid English planter, John Rolfe, played by cinema's new Batman, Christian Bale.

She gets banned by her own people for helping the English survive and travels to England to meet the king as a reward for her services to the crown.

Producer Sarah Green says there is no reason why Kilcher, whose father is a Peruvian Quechua Indian and whose mother is Swiss, should not be the spokeswoman for Malick's latest film. "This is really Pocahontas' story," Green said.

However, it is also a Terrence Malick film - meaning it is long and lyrical, heavy on lush or menacing scenes of nature and bound to split the critics into two camps, one that calls him a film-making genius and the other that thinks that he it is so over the top that he gives pretension a bad name.

Malick is a Hollywood legend since his first film - 1973's Badlands told the tale of a serial killer and his girlfriend and their flight across the country. His four films spread over 32 years include the Oscar-nominated The Thin Red Line.

Green says Malick is really a nice guy who is "very relaxed and very funny," even if he shuns publicity, acts like a recluse and forbids people to photograph him.

"Terry is a spur-of-the-moment kind of director," Kilcher recalled of a scene that featured her dancing in a field of high grass. "We would not rehearse anything. We would not repeat a scene over and over again because that would make it dull and unreal and you had to be ready for anything, because he could [find] inspiration from seeing a bird flying and land in a field of fennel," she said.

"He would say 'Q'Orianka take off your shoes and run through that fennel' and I would run through it and it would hurt like crap ... but I would do it again because I loved it."

Malick had her walking through a box of leeches and fighting off spiders and tics for the role.

Farrell acts the role of conflicted explorer Smith, who worries that the Old World's greed will destroy the innocent native peoples - called "naturals" in the movie.

Farrell had to miss the film's opening because he entered a rehab programme for treatment of an addiction to a prescription painkiller.

Kilcher, who is just starting out in the movie business, said she owed Farrell a lot for helping guide her through the movie.

"He was like my older brother." But she drew coy when asked if she preferred love scenes with the "bad boy" John Smith or with the mature "John Rolfe".

"You know I am still kind of young for that and think love comes in many forms ... I'll get back to you when I can distinguish those things."

On screen
* Who: Q'Orianka Kilcher
* What: The New World
* Where: Auckland International Film Festival
* When: 11.15am Thu, July 13; 6pm Sun, July 16

- REUTERS

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