Kate sees dead people.

Kate Hudson moves from romantic comedies to a supernatural thriller and feels right at home in a haunted house, reports LAWRIE MASTERSON

Switching from her usual, bubbly image to playing the caregiver of a mute, elderly man in a foreboding house where strange things happen was not that much of a stretch for Kate Hudson.

She grew up in -- and now owns -- a house in Pacific Palisades, California, previously occupied by James Whale, British-born director of movies such as Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

Strange things have happened there, too.

``I do believe there's a spirit in my house,'' Hudson said in New Orleans, where her new supernatural thriller, The Skeleton Key, was filmed.

``It hasn't done anything crazy yet, but it would be one of those still, LA days and a plant in the den would start to move, do weird things.

``My mum has had more experiences with this spirit than I have, so she would be a better person to ask.''

Hudson's mother, the ebullient Academy Award-winner Goldie Hawn, bought the house when she was married to singer Bill Hudson and six months pregnant with Kate.

``I lived in it until I was 12, then she built another house,'' said Hudson, 26, who is married to rock musician Chris Robinson and has a son, Ryder, 19 months.

By the time Hawn sold the house, she was divorced from Hudson -- with whom she also had a son, Oliver, 28 -- and in a relationship with actor Kurt Russell. Hawn and Russell (together for 22 years) have a son, Wyatt, 19. Bill and Kate Hudson were estranged for many years and she refers to Russell as ``my Dad''.

``Somebody else lived in the house for about 12 years, then put it on the market and I bought it back,'' Hudson said.

``So now I'm back in the house I grew up in and, you know, living in the master bedroom where my parents made my beautiful little brother.''

James Whale (1899-1957) was the subject of Bill Condon's 1998 movie Gods and Monsters. The film covered the last years of his life, during which he developed a relationship with his gardener, former Marine Clayton Boone, played by Brendan Fraser.

``Sometimes I feel like it's either him or his lover who are still there,'' Hudson said, laughing as she added she could now imagine the ``Kate Sees Dead People'' headlines.

``It's a very creative house. You definitely feel something going on in there.''

The house in The Skeleton Key -- Felicite Plantation, built in 1847 on the Mississippi River about half-way between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana -- contains a more sinister energy.

Hudson plays Caroline Ellis, a sceptical young woman with no time for local superstitions, who takes a job as carer to Ben Devereaux (John Hurt), left almost paralysed and mute after a stroke.

His wife Violet (Gena Rowlands) entrusts Caroline with a skeleton key that unlocks every door -- including one she discovers hidden by a bookcase in the attic.

That room contains artefacts apparently connected to the practice of a Louisiana bayou brand of magic known as hoodoo, used locally for healing, control and good (or bad) luck.

``I thought it was some made-up thing, actually, when I read the script, but it's definitely real,'' Hudson said.

``There were a lot of people on the set who were well versed in it and we had some interesting conversations.

``You look at people who are sceptical and they're like, `You're crazy'. But no, these things have been going on since the beginning of time. You have to open yourself up to at least experience what other people have experienced.

``I was raised Jewish, but not a practising Jew. My mother is a Buddhist, which lends itself to a lot of the spirit world and opening yourself up to everything. I believe in the whole spirit world. I believe in manifestation of energy and I believe we are among something that is greater than we are.

``I travel with crystals. I always travel with some kind of water, like spray water. It's not holy water, but they say when you're around negative energy, it's important to cleanse yourself with water. I do stuff like that and I always travel with sage. If I'm feeling weird or strange, I'll sage myself.

``When you really believe in these little rituals, they can help you to clarify your spirit or to clear energy away to help you feel better. It's the same thing as being religious -- why do people pray, why do people go to church, believe in God?

``It allows you to step outside of yourself and be able to give yourself out into the universe so things can come back to you, I guess.''

Whatever, it seems to be working for Hudson. British director Iain Softley (The Wings of the Dove, K-Pax) wanted her so badly for The Skeleton Key that he delayed the movie almost a year when she became pregnant with her son.

``When I got pregnant I said, `I would love to do this, but I totally understand if you have to make your movie','' Hudson said. ``When they said they were going to wait, I was honoured.

``I always say if you work hard, if you treat everybody with respect and you're part of the team, I really think people want to continue to work with you. That's all I can hope for.''

Hudson had never done a thriller, but said accessing fears was ``a lot easier than trying to tell a joke or to walk that really fine line you walk when you're doing something that's funny''.

A bigger problem was quickly losing the more than 30kg she put on during her pregnancy with Ryder.

``I had to work at it really hard,'' Hudson said. ``But you've just got to be determined.''

(This article appeared in IE, The Sunday Herald Sun, August 7 2005)


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