First Feature Film Shot At U.N.

Director Sydney Pollack had been all over New York City, but never inside the United Nations until he scouted locations for "The Interpreter."

Over the next 14 weeks, Pollack will spend nights, weekends and holidays here filming his thriller about a U.N. interpreter (played by Nicole Kidman) who overhears a conversation that could cost her her life. Sean Penn is the co-star.

Pollack signed a contract with the United Nations last Friday giving a green light for the first feature film to be shot inside the 39-story Manhattan landmark, said U.N. Undersecretary-General Shashi Tharoor. To avoid disruption to U.N. activities, there will be no filming during working hours.

Pollack, who won producing and directing Oscars for "Out of Africa" in 1985, said most Americans "don't know what the U.N. looks like and don't understand how the U.N. works, and don't know what its day-to-day business is, so we're terrifically excited to be able to do all of that."

"I am ashamed to admit that I went to school here in New York. I got married here, I worked here, I walked by this building a thousand times," he said. "I had never been inside it until the first location scouting trip, and I was awed by it. And I was also embarrassed that I hadn't ever been in, and that's also true of both Sean and Nicole."

Secretary-General Kofi Annan decided to allow the filming because the United Nations was intrinsic to the story, Tharoor said, and the script "in many ways was faithful to the values this organization stands for."

"We felt it was going to get a lot of people into the movie theaters to see things of the U.N., and learn things about the U.N., who would not otherwise have paid much attention to this organization," he told a news conference.

While the United Nations is an integral part of the movie, Pollack stressed that "The Interpreter" is first and foremost a thriller and a love story with chases and people in jeopardy.

Kidman's character comes from a fictional African country called Matobo "with a lot of civil strife, ethnic cleansing, a country whose leadership has changed fairly radically," Pollack said. Penn plays a secret service agent trying to prevent the leader of a country from being killed.

The two see the world through different eyes: the interpreter "believes very much in the power and sanctity of words, and ... believes that if they're used properly they can be as powerful as bullets or weapons; the agent has "the mentality of a cop" who only reads people through behavior and has contempt for words, Pollack said.

In addition to entertainment, he said, every film has an underlying theme.

"It's a film that very much is anti the use of violence for settling problems between people and between countries," Pollack said.

Asked whether Penn's strong stand against the U.S.-led war in Iraq could taint the movie, Pollack said, "He's taken very strong positions about the Bush administration and about the war in Iraq. Whether that will have anything to do with an audience reaction to the film or not, that remains to be seen. I don't know."

"The Interpreter" has a budget of about $80 million. Pollack hopes it will open around Thanksgiving. The United Nations won't have script control, but it will be shown the footage, he said.

Pollack and Tharoor have been negotiating about U.N. officials and ambassadors possibly playing themselves - but Tharoor said Annan will not be in the movie.

By Edith M. Lederer