It took some heavy-duty diplomacy, but the United Nations is finally ready for its close-up. The institution has costarred in many a global crisis, of course, but director Sydney Pollack's twisty tale of a UN interpreter (Nicole Kidman) who accidentally overhears an assassination plot and turns to a skeptical Secret Service agent (Sean Penn) for help marks its Hollywood debut. Pollack, whose last political thriller was the 1975 classic Three Days of the Condor, had his work cut out for him getting his cameras inside; the UN had even snubbed Alfred Hitchcock when he was shooting North by Northwest. ''Their first response was 'We didn't
let Hitchcock, so why should we let this guy?' '' says the director. After pulling every available string, Pollack finally persuaded Secretary-General Kofi Annan to let him shoot on weekends. ''The weight of that building, the magnitude of what's gone on there you feel it as an audience,'' says Kidman, who's sharing the screen with
fellow Oscar winner Penn for the first time. Plus, she adds, ''it just felt cool [to have] the security people walk you into the General Assembly. Immediate access!''