Nicole Kidman is weeping. As she stands on the cliffs high above the early morning waves of Australia’s Bondi Beach, Kidman’s startling blue eyes fill up with tears. She is talking about the death of Stanley Kubrick, the reclusive genius who directed Kidman and her husband, Tom Cruise, in the $65 million psychosexual thriller Eyes Wide Shut. Kubrick’s thirteenth and final film, due on July 16th, is said to contain scenes of unprecedented erotic intimacy only hinted at in the much-talked-about teaser trailer, which shows a nude Kidman, in front of a mirror, being passionately kissed and fondled by Cruise. No one speaks. The only sound is that of Chris Isaak singing “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing.”
Just how bad remains to be seen. Over the next several hours, Kidman will talk frankly about growing up red-headed and wild in Sydney, her marriage to Tom Cruise, their children and her own sexual evolution. But it’s the loss of the best friend and father confessor she found in Kubrick — the seventy-year-old director died of a heart attack on March 7th in his home near London, just days after the Cruises first saw the finished film — that Kidman returns to often. “Nic’s never lost someone so close to her,” says Cruise. “I’d been through it with my own father, and it really hits you hard, takes you up short.”
At her suggestion, my first day with Kidman begins very early indeed. We are to meet at dawn on Bondi Beach to watch the sun come up over the Pacific. So here I am, at 6 A.M., standing in the nearly deserted parking lot adjacent to the surf, watching a few ghostly figures run along the cement boardwalk. Per instructions, I’m searching for a blue BMW. Fifteen minutes later it pulls up and a tall (five feet ten), laughing redhead, whose luminescent white skin virtually glows in the mist, emerges.
She’s dressed casually in blue jeans, a black sweater and running shoes; there is little about Kidman to suggest the femme fatale of such films as To Die For, Batman Forever and Practical Magic, much less the bombshell whose soul- and skin-baring performance in the London and Broadway hit The Blue Room prompted one critic to dub her “theatrical Viagra.”
“I must say I wasn’t offended by the term,” says Kidman, who arrives today on less-seductive duty, her famous red ringlets tucked under a baseball cap. She’s ready for fun, especially at her own expense. “Driving here, I suddenly thought that saying, ‘Meet me in the middle of a parking lot at sunrise’ was maybe too vague,” she explains with a grin. “After all, it is the other side of the world.”
Sydney is also home to Kidman, the city where she grew up and has now returned with her husband and their two adopted children, Isabella Jane, 6, and Connor Anthony, 4, to live for a year while he films the sequel to Mission: Impossible and she stars in two Australian films: Jez Butterworth’s Birthday Girl and Baz Luhrmann’s musical Moulin Rouge.
Mr. and Mrs. Cruise are ensconced in a harbor-view home bought and decorated by Kidman. Nearby live her parents — Janelle, a nurse-educator, and Antony, a psychologist-biochemist and college professor who is the author of several self-help best sellers, including Managing Love and Hate. Kidman’s only sibling, younger sister Antonia, also lives in Sydney, where she is an entertainment reporter for the local Fox affiliate. Antonia is married to a sports agent and is the mother of five-month-old Lucia — a niece much adored by her aunt.
“I haven’t really lived here for nine years,” says Kidman, who is exceptionally close to her family. She had planned to be with Antonia during the birth of Lucia, but the baby arrived a week early. Still, says Kidman, “I was with Antonia by phone from New York the whole time.” Now she’s reveling in this year of being home. “I’d come back to visit, but to actually stay here, be able to go over to my mom’s place and have a cup of jasmine tea, which is what I used to do at eighteen … well, it’s great to be doing it again at thirty-two.”
All the Kidmans share her joy. “Last Sunday, Tom, Nicole, my husband and I went out on a boat, fishing for the day,” says Antonia. “Tom is such a good dad, so involved, so much enthusiasm. Nicole has a big life, but the way she deals with it, you don’t notice it’s big.”
Though Kidman’s life has changed dramatically since she left these shores for America at age twenty-two, somethings will always stay the same. Like her struggle for simplicity. Any special attention makes her visibly uncomfortable. And because she doesn’t act famous, she is not treated that way — at least in Australia. As she and I stroll from the boardwalk up into the cliffs overlooking the beach, no one bothers us. The occasional jogger, recognizing the lanky star, merely nods and lopes on.
But then, on Bondi Beach, Kidman is sanded gentry. “I came here all through my life,” she says, surveying the beach and its sprinkling of cafes. “You’d get fish and chips, eat them with Mom and Dad, and go for a swim in the afternoon. There’d be the shark alarm — you’d have to run out of the water — a loud blaring that is still so vivid.”
Kidman still swims with sharks — the Hollywood variety. But the girl from Down Under’s early training served her well. She made her film debut at fourteen, in Bush Christmas (1983). Three years later, the miniseries Vietnam made her an Aussie sensation and garnered her several awards. Though her parents allowed Nicole to leave high school to pursue her career — “My mother said, ‘So few people know what they want to do, go ahead’” — her childhood had been filled with literature, theater, opera and free-spiritedness. It took another gift from the sea, a 1989 film called Dead Calm, to bring Kidman to the attention of American audiences — and, most important, to Tom Cruise, who asked her to audition for his carracing epic, Days of Thunder. Kidman won the role — and Cruise, whose marriage to actress Mimi Rogers was faltering. A year later, in 1990, Cruise and Kidman were married.
“From the first moment I met Nic, there was that spirit,” explains Cruise. “She is so much fun, always up for anything. She’s got this excitement about life, all these interests — children, art, music, sports, travel. A lot of the pressures came at the beginning of our relationship. Even though she’d been acting as long as I when we met — and I was used to a level of recognition — all of a sudden we were together and there was that attention. Nic handled it all with such grace and generosity.”
Kidman’s early years in Hollywood were tough. None of her films reflected the talent she’d shown in such Australian gems as John Duigan’s Flirting (1990). “Dustin Hoffman called me after she read for Billy Bathgate,” recalls Cruise. “And Hoffman’s got great taste in performance. He said, ‘Ah, man. Where did she come from?’ ” But Kidman’s blossoming gifts mostly wilted under Hollywood gloss, such as her second teaming with Cruise, in Far and Away (1992), and negligible items such as My Life and Malice.
“The thing about Nic is that she’s always had talent,” says Cruise. “She’s never been afraid to take a risk. Some people can use life to feed a performance; the more sophisticated they get, so do the roles. You either move forward or move back. Nic always rises to a challenge.”
Finally, in Gus Van Sant’s To Die For (1995), Kidman found her breakthrough role, as a TV weather girl who’d kill to get ahead. She won a Golden Globe for her sharply comic turn and, later, the title role in The Portrait of a Lady, directed by fellow Aussie Jane Campion. But the expected Oscar nomination eluded her. This year, Kidman was also overlooked for a Tony nomination for her acclaimed performance on Broadway in The Blue Room.
If there’s one word to use about Kidman, it’s underestimated. Many see her as regal, glacial, aloof — a misconception she attributes to her shyness. “Though I’m more out of my shell now, I can still get very, very shy,” she says. “It used to tick Tom off. We’d go to a dinner party and I’d hardly speak. He didn’t understand it.” Perhaps that was because privately she is so different: Smart, funny, warm, spontaneous. In short, a great dame.
Kidman is also “extraordinary” in Eyes Wide Shut, claims Cruise, who rates the experience of sharing the Kubrick master class with his wife as one of the highlights of their lives: “We’re going to sit back together at eighty years old and say, ‘Remember last century, when we made that movie with Stanley Kubrick?’” Cruise says that Kidman is equally creative as a mother and as a wife. “I’ve been with her for ten years, and it’s never a dull moment, that’s for sure,” he says. “I feel very fortunate to have the family I have.”
Kidman agrees, especially now that she’s back near her own family in Sydney. “When I was a little girl, you’d go out early and catch fish,” she says, recalling outings with her grandfather. “I didn’t catch big fish, just lots of little ones that covered the bottom of the boat. I’d always get very upset about the hooks coming out of the fishes’ mouths and cry.” And would her grandfather throw them back in?
“Not really,” she says with a smile. “A tough Australian guy? He’d say, ‘Snap out of it. You eat it, don’t you?’” She pauses. “Of course, I couldn’t wait to leave Australia, didn’t really appreciate it. I only missed it because of my family. Now, when I’m away, I miss the city. I miss Bondi. I miss home.”
This is a difficult time for you, since the opening of Eyes Wide Shut is tempered by the death of your great friend Stanley Kubrick. What do you think he wanted the movie to say?
And did he? her voice trails off]. It’s tainted the experience a bit for Tom and me.
But what a compliment to be starring in the last film by the man who directed such classics as Dr. Strangelove and Lolita. And what about that provocative trailer?
Why did it shock you?
But you knew you were going to be. laughs]. I showed it to my mother, who said, “Wow. I want to see the film.”
That is the point of a good trailer, but I’m afraid what most people will remember is that Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are nude and making love.
Were the nude scenes difficult to do?
How many people were on the set?
Was it difficult being that sexually explicit, even with your husband? She glances back over her shoulder, as if looking at Tom; her voice gets sexy] “Baby. Oh, hi. How ya doing?” [Laughs]
It’s said that you and Tom play psychiatrists who are married to each other.
With their patients. But Tom is a psychiatrist?
Can you say what he does play?
But you’re married in the movie?
And you live in New York?Laughs] You’ve gotten more out of me than anybody else.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about Eyes Wide Shut?
How do you define “sex romp”?
The word is that your character in the movie shoots heroin. laughs]. No, I’m joking. But there’s no drugs, no Tom in a dress, no psychiatrists.
But the film is based on [Arthur Schnitzler’s] novella Traumnovelle, in which the man is a shrink.
About Kubrick the man, then. How did he come to meet you and offer you this role?
What did you say? laughs]. If my character’s got one line, one word, I’ll play Alice.” In fact, Tom and I both went into the movie saying, “You have us. All of us. We want to dedicate our lives to making this film.”
What did Kubrick say? Laughs] He wouldn’t have settled for anything less. He expects utter devotion, and we were willing to give it.
When did you first meet him?
What did you talk about at the dinner?
What is Christiane Kubrick like?
Hard to think of Kubrick the family man.
Did you leave that dinner feeling you had struck an empathetic relationship ?laughs].
Kubrick was that rare director who could’ve tied you and Tom up for three years.
Kubrick had the reputation of seeing actors as the least important part of the process.
But he could be very demanding?
In what way? laughs]. He had a great sense of humor.
He sounds quite controlling.
Did he deal with Tom in the same way? Lolita, he’d have two cameras going, because he said you’d only get it a couple of times and you better have the cameras on. He was like that with me, too. He’d say, “Now you can play.” And I would.
Kubrick was known for endless takes.
Was Kubrick a father figure or a friend?
Why was Kubrick different?
Because? sighs]. Cats and dogs. He’d always come to work with cat hair on him [laughs]. One of his cats passed away while we were filming, and he was very upset.
Did he seem ill during shooting?
Was Tom with you when you heard about Kubrick’s death? Suddenly, Nicole, looking anguished, tears up.] Stanley’s imagination is such a loss to the world. I was so close to him. I can’t believe he’s not around. I loved thinking of him over in England, conjuring up things.
How did you get through that first day?
When did you finally see Tom?laughs]. I’m surprised he didn’t will himself out of one. But it was really for Christiane and the girls. I found it quite traumatic. I went to Princess Di’s funeral — Tom knew her; I’d only met her a few times — but I’d never been to a very intimate, private funeral.
What did Kubrick teach you about you?
You had to tell him everything about your relationship? Laughs] He was our friend. So strong, but intense. Tom would make pasta and salad, and Stanley would eat lunch with us every single day. He’d never been that close with actors before. He said that. He wrote me a beautiful note.
Is this the first time you’ve dealt with personal grief? deep sigh].
Recently you filed a libel suit against the Star tabloid for reporting that for Eyes Wide Shut, sex therapists had to be hired to teach you and Tom how to make love for the camera. Why sue?
How do you think people will respond to Eyes Wide Shut?
Kidman and I are speeding down an avenue in downtown Sydney, lost and laughing. We’ve left Bondi Beach for my hotel on Kent Street — a destination that eludes us. Before deserting her childhood seaside haunt, we’d stopped into Aquabar, a postage-stamp-size cafe that serves, quite possibly, the best porridge (with bananas) in existence. The owner, a friend of both Cruises, frequently plays host to the couple, who bring their kids to play on the same sands where their mother grew up. When we walked in, other breakfast aficionados barely acknowledged the presence of one of the most recognizable women in the world. After Kidman chowed down on porridge, Turkish toast and cappuccinos, we piled into her car and head toward town.
Minutes after reaching Kent Street, Kidman and I move into the hotel’s deserted bar. It is 9:30 A.M. and we’ve already been talking for close to four hours, which makes us both grin. The world is just getting started and we’re ready for our third breakfast (she, too, having caught a snack before sunrise) and more conversation.
You were born in Hawaii, returning to Sydney at age four. In between, your family lived in Washington, D.C., where your father studied at the National Institutes of Health. Do you remember living there?
How did they meet?
But they had rough times. Didn’t your mom once leave and come back?
What are your strongest memories of your parents as you grew up? laughs]. I’m waiting for it to happen with Bella. I take her to school, try to kiss her on the cheek, and she says, “Mom, time to go,” and pushes me out of the classroom. She’s six and embarrassed.
Were you a rebellious child?
Was the rejection painful? Spring Awakening.
Were you brought up seeing theater?
What about boys? You started dating at fifteen. Who was your first boyfriend?
And what was Doug like?
I’ve never focused on Tom’s hands. laughs]. I do have a hand fetish. Powerful hands that can be gentle. Oooooh. Girls’ hands I don’t care about. I can appreciate their beauty, but I’m not interested. Men’s hands playing guitar? Watching the hands move on a guitar?
Eric Clapton caressing his guitar.
Back to Doug. How long did that last?
Did you date? Go out in groups?
What was Doug’s reaction?
Except you slept together?Laughs] We’re not going into detail!
Will you be as open-minded with Bella?
Post-Doug, who was your next beau?
Sounds like you dated a lot. laughs]. I always had relationships.
Your parents gave you a lot of moral responsibility early on.
Because you’re so pretty, I’m sure boys were interested.
A woman’s initial sexual self-image comes through her father. My guess is that your dad — a six-foot-two marathon runner who made you and your sister do push-ups every morning — really adored you.
And your mother, she used to have you handing out pamphlets at feminist rallies.
So you were closer to your mother than to your father?
You said that your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when you were eighteen. How did it affect you?Windrider], and she called me from the hospital where the cancer was diagnosed. I dropped the phone and begged the producers to let me go back and see her. And they said no. Then it was a year in hell.
She was very sick?
Your parents also gave you a love of learning, which you haven’t lost. For instance, you’re now studying Russian. Killer’s Kiss?” And they said, “No, Fear and Desire.” And then they met him. We all went out to Stanley’s.
Do you think you and Tom can last for thirty-eight years, like your parents?
What keeps you and Tom together?
More than when you married him?
Last year, you sued London’s Express on Sunday over a rumor that suggested Tom was gay. Why finally take that step?
You and Tom have a decade of shared history — that’s a lot.
Why does that appeal to you?
What do you think you’ve brought to Tom’s life? laughs]. He calls me the wild Aussie. I shake things up. I’m so embarrassed to say. I would hope, humor.
How did making Eyes Wide Shut change your relationship?
That wasn’t there before?
Most girls in their early twenties wouldn’t have appreciated the importance of kindness. At that age most girls are still into dangerous men.
I think your cultural differences help.
Tom seems to like being married. laughs]. I always say, “You’re such a flirt.” He’s a beautiful flirt — which is an important thing to cultivate. You must encourage the sexuality in your partner. As long as you trust the person, there’s no need to be threatened. Tom once said he fell in lust with me and then he trusted me. Lust and trust! [Laughs]
I sense that he’s very protective.
People forget that Tom had such a tough childhood.
But your children will have an abundance.
Do they know what you do?
Have they seen your movies?
Is Bella pretty? laughs]. I love children. Bella said something so embarrassing, so rude, recently [laughs]. We were in a car with a driver in Vienna, a promotional thing. And she says, in front of everyone, “My mommy has a vagina.” I go, “Yes, all right. We don’t talk about that now.” And then she says, “It has fur on it. Some vaginas don’t have fur, and some do.” The driver started laughing. You just want to die. Another mother and I were talking about children’s fascination with genitalia. Connor was sitting at the table; he’s always got girls around him — my sister, his sister, a girlfriend of mine — and he says, “Well, I’m the only penis at the table.” That’s the way he defines it: six vaginas and one penis at the table.
Both your children are adopted. How does that affect them and you?
Connor happens to be biracial. Obviously, that was your specific choice. laughs]. The Connor I know from changing his diapers every day.
Did motherhood transform you?
How do you do it? laughs]. I love acting, but it’s so much more fun to take the kids to the beach or the zoo. I could not work tomorrow and be fine because I have the children.
Does Tom have the same feeling?
Will you have more children?
In retrospect, did you understand when you married Tom Cruise that you’d be giving up your anonymity?
What happened when you first met Tom?
But he was married to Mimi Rogers.
So it was complicated?
Did you ever meet Mimi?
What was your parents’ reaction to Tom?
Was Tom’s fame a problem the first time you brought him home?
What was Tom’s reaction?
Why? If anything, you’re more famous.
You’ve clearly matured over the years.
To do what? laughs]. We play and wrestle, and play and eat. Then we sleep, eat more and play again. We’re like puppies. He’ll kill me for saying this!
And Tom always liked your being a jock. Laughs] He couldn’t believe how hard I could serve the ball. I’m proud of that.
And sky-diving — how many women would do that, even for Tom Cruise?
You got out on the wing of the plane?
Doesn’t that scare you?
Do you always take risks like that?
What does scare you?
What worries you about your life as a family?
Your family life sounds fulfilling. But in your work you seem to be exploring the exotic side of female sexuality.
What happened when you turned thirty?
Is creative exploration of your sexuality enough?
A compelling element, to the outside world at least, has been your involvement in Scientology. Are you devout?
Did you have to embrace Scientology in order to marry Tom?
How do you deal with your celebrity?
One could argue that your art changes the world. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner on opium and be brilliant! [Laughs] I can act. You don’t have to have genius for that.
Where do you see yourself eventually? Smiles] Living in Tuscany in a farmhouse, with lots of kids and grandkids running around. Big kitchen. A little opera. Drive into Florence. [Pause] But then I like a city life, too. Being able to go out at midnight, drink margaritas, dance a little salsa.
Can you and Tom do that without being bothered? laughs]. You have to keep going back to the simple things. Just holding hands, walking down the street. Or spooning, if you’re lying in bed [laughs]. Spooning can make you feel very contented.
It sounds like you and Tom have a life plan.
I’d put money on it. She reaches over and grabs my hand.] I hope you’re right. I hope you’re a prophet.
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