When it comes to ''In the Cut,'' it's impossible for the director of ''The Piano'' to know what audiences won't find provocative. An adaptation of Susanna Moore's 1995 novel, ''Cut'' tracks an emotionally stunted literature professor (Meg Ryan) whose chance involvement in a murder case leads to an erotic liaison with the detective (Mark Ruffalo) investigating the crime.
Campion was initially hesitant about undertaking such a sexually explicit, emotionally raw enterprise. ''But as I started to bind with the material, I found myself exploring my whole life's relationship issues and realized, I have to do this,'' says the director, who also worried that she wasn't ''sexy enough'' for the project. ''But then I thought, I could do some homework.'' Dare we ask what kind of homework? She laughs. ''It would have to be practical, right?''
Campion was originally going to make the film with her ''Portrait of a Lady'' star, Nicole Kidman. But as she was prepping ''Cut'' for the cameras in 2001, Kidman was rocked by her split from Tom Cruise and backed out (her name remains on the film as a producer). Enter Ryan, who was looking for more challenging material than her usual romantic comedies. ''It's definitely a departure,'' says the actress, who lobbied and auditioned for the role, proving to Campion that she could improvise and handle the director's often unstructured shooting style. Says Campion of Ryan: ''I'm always influenced by people who are chasing something, because I know they know it's for them and they'll go there for it. And she did.'' ''Cut'' was shot last summer in New York City for ''a low, low budget,'' says Ryan. ''It was like being in this high-performance little jet instead of this big 747.'' As for the sex scenes, saved for the last week of filming, ''Nobody loves it,'' says Ryan. ''Everybody knows it's uncomfortable. We did the best we could.'' Campion says ''Cut'''s final cut will be within R-rated bounds. ''I'm fine with that,'' she says, ''because whether we see a dildo in a scene really isn't what the film's about for me.''
The Killer Moment Asked for one, Campion just laughs and laughs...