Nicole Kidman

Longtime BFFs Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts have quite a bit in common. Both are fair-complected Australians who’ve gotten attention from Oscar in the past, and who hope to attract still more by playing princesses this fall. (Watts has Diana, Kidman has Grace of Monaco.) Naturally, then, when Werner Herzog needed a replacement for one, he turned to the other.

Kidman has entered talks to take over for Watts on Queen of the Desert, a fact-based epic about the “female Lawrence of Arabia” Gertrude Bell. Watts had been attached to the lead since 2011. Hit the jump for all the details.

Deadline broke the news, but did not give a reason for Watts’s exit. This isn’t the first casting shakeup for the project. Earlier this year, James Franco was brought on board after Jude Law departed. Robert Pattinson remains attached as Bell’s contemporary and colleague T.E. Lawrence, a.k.a. Lawrence of Arabia.

Bell was a remarkable woman. An explorer, writer, political officer, and archaeologist, her involvement in British imperial policy during the early 20th century helped shape the Middle Eastern region as we know it today.

In fact, her story is so interesting that in typical Hollywood fashion, there are two separate biopics about her in development at the moment. Herzog’s is one, and Ridley Scott’s Gertrude Bell starring Angelina Jolie is the other. It’s been a while since we got any updates on that one, however.

Kidman was last seen in Chan-wook Park’s Stoker, and is currently on the festival circuit promoting Jonathan Teplitzky’s The Railway Man with Colin Firth. Her next release is Olivier Dahan’s Grace of Monaco, which The Weinstein Co. has scheduled to open November 27 in the U.S.

Queen of the Desert is Herzog’s first narrative feature since My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans in 2009. He’ll direct from a screenplay he wrote himself. No start date or release date has been announced.

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