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The Story of Two Oscar Favorites: Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman

Aired March 16, 2002 - 11:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, he's the rough-and-tumble Aussie became one of Hollywood's leading men.


RON HOWARD, DIRECTOR, "A BEAUTIFUL MIND": He's a rock and roller. He's a motorcycler. He's also an artist.


ANNOUNCER: A high school athlete, who had early dreams of being a rock star.


ANNE-MARIE O'NEILL, SENIOR EDITOR, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: He named himself Russ le Roq and he was this Elvis look alike with this hair.


ANNOUNCER: Last year's Oscar winner...


RUSSELL CROWE, ACTOR: At my signal unleash hell.


ANNOUNCER: ... with his eyes on this year's prize.


LEAH ROZEN, MOVIE CRITIC, "PEOPLE" MAGAZINE: I think you're looking at back-to-back Oscars.


ANNOUNCER: The story of Russell Crowe and the many complexities of his beautiful mind.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NICOLE KIDMAN, ACTRESS: I believe you were expecting me.


ANNOUNCER: After a roller coaster year, she's creating her own Oscar buzz.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She is a real movie star.


ANNOUNCER: From a private romance that thrust her into the spotlight to a divorce that played out in public.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were the most glamorous marriage in Hollywood.


ANNOUNCER: Now, after a year of personal loss, Nicole Kidman's stunning solo act.


KIDMAN: Let's have fun.


ANNOUNCER: The story of two Oscar favorites, now, on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn.

They come from the Land Down Under, the bloke and the beauty, Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman, two of this year's biggest Oscar nominees, compelling, captivating and sometimes combustible it's Aussie edge and attitude at the Academy Awards. As Crowe and Kidman prepare to take the red carpet, we take a look at what got them there, beginning with a man not only who put the "R," in rugged but also restless.

Russell Crowe now from Bill Hemmer.


BILL HEMMER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russell Crowe cannot miss. Since his 1995 Hollywood debut in the "Quick and The Dead," he's garnered not one, not two, but three consecutive Academy Award nominations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations, Russell! HEMMER: Last year, he took home the Oscar for "Gladiator". And this year, everyone is buzzing about his performance as a schizophrenic mathematician in the film "A Beautiful Mind".

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to Princeton.

ROZEN: If I was a betting person, and I'm not, I would put my money on Russell Crowe this year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You do eat, don't you?

CROWE: Oh, on occasion, yeah. Table for one. Prometheus alone change of the broth with a bird circling overhead. You know how it is.

ROZEN: I think you're looking at back-to-back Oscars.

HEMMER: He's at the top of Hollywood's "A List," commanding $15 million per picture.


HEMMER: But this Australian import seems anything but interested in the attention.

CROWE: That's all very interesting and flattering and all that sort of stuff, but you know, quite frankly, you know, I've got one, and you know, spread it around a little bit, you know. I don't need it. I don't need a million of them.

HEMMER: Perhaps, he's running out of shelf space.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The winner is Russell Crowe, "A Beautiful Mind."

HEMMER: There was a Golden Globe back in January. And last month, Crowe grabbed this British Film Award plus headlines when a portion of his acceptance speech was cut short for time.

CROWE: I'd like to thank the British Academy.

HEMMER: Crowe allegedly did some trimming himself, cutting the producer down to size.

O'NEILL: He doesn't confirm, to the Hollywood stereotype, of how a movie star should be.

CROWE: You must deal with your own about the rule, slightly.

O'NEILL: He certainly comes across as surly when he's at award shows.

HEMMER: Award shows, press conferences, you name it.

CROWE: I don't do my job to garner praise or garner awards. So, you can take your cynicism and you can put it where the sun don't shine.

HEMMER: It seems Russell Crowe is as complex as the characters he plays on the screen.

HOWARD: He's a really interesting paradox because, he is a rough-and-tumble Aussie, he is really -- he's a rock 'n' roller, he's a motorcylcer, he has a farm. He loves his farm. He's also an artist. He's an interesting combination, and I think that's probably what makes him so -- sort of fascinating to watch.

HEMMER: With comparisons to Brando and DeNiro is this 37-year- old destined to be one of Hollywood's greats?

ROZEN: We have another Tom Hanks on our hands, but with an Aussie accent.

HEMMER: Russell Ira Crowe debuted back on April 7, 1946 in Strathmore Park, New Zealand. You could say he was born into show business. His parents were film caterers and his grandfather was a decorated World War II cinematographer.

TIM EWBANK, BIOGRAPHER: His grandfather actually won the NBE for his bravery in bringing back these pictures. They made a tremendous impression on him, that facet of his grandfather's life.

HEMMER: The family moved to Sydney, Australia when Russell was four and within two years, he made his first TV appearance on the series, "Spyforce".

EWBANK: Wandering around those TV and film sets at an early age, he lost all fear and he also saw how it worked. He'd go behind a door and see there was nothing there.

HEMMER: At Sydney Boy's High School, Russell's no fear attitude helped him on the cricket and rugby field, but it was his talent for mimicking others that got him noticed.

CROWE: I think I watched too much TV when I was a kid. We get a lot of American television and stuff. And so, I always used to just impersonate, you know, -- or not impersonate, but you know, copy people's accents.

EWBANK: He's got a great year, and even now, he can mimic most people.

CROWE: How wonderful, I'm talking to the BBC. Now, move your hand over here. Now, move your hand over there. Hello, how are you?

HEMMER: The family headed back to New Zealand in 1978. Russell was 14 then. Putting his acting career aside, he picked up a guitar, and he picked up a new name.

O'NEILL: In his mid teens, Russell started a band. He named himself Russ le Roq and he was this Elvis look alike with this hair, this big Elvis hair, really bad clothes. And he wrote his own songs, and one of them was called "I Wanna Be Like Marlon Brando". EWBANK: He's obviously not yet a Marlon Brando, but the ambition must have there, I think.

HEMMER: Russ le Roq would soon drop out of high school to pursue his pop star dreams.

But when his singles went rocketing to the bottom of the charts, he took up with the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" playing Dr. Frank N. Furter and Eddie for more than 400 performances.

EWBANK: I think he suddenly realized when he got up on stage and he wasn't just the singer in a band that acting was really what it -- what he really wanted to do. And from that, the seed was sown to really try and make it.

HEMMER: In 1987, Russell headed for Sydney, opting not to study at the famed National Institute of Dramatic Arts; he would audition and then hone his craft performing in the streets of Kings Cross.

EWBANK: He bust a lot in the streets of Australia. He was barely earning enough just to sort buy of, you know, a bowl of rice and a few ciggies from strumming away. But somehow, he managed to survive.

HEMMER: Surviving would mean picking up odd jobs -- bingo caller, fruit picker, insurance salesman and waiter. He worked at this famous Sydney restaurant, Doils, for a short time, but finally in 1990, he got his big break.

He was 25, cast in a small film called "The Crossing" and during the filming; he would meet and fall in love with his costar actress, Danielle Spencer.

EWBANK: The films opens with an incredible scene of them together, making love in some shed, I think it was. And he kissed her very, very passionately. And I think she set up and really felt that, you know, there might be something more to this.

HEMMER: And there was. The two would date on and off for the next 12 years.

Crowe's star would rise quite quickly in the Land Down Under. He would win two Australian Film Institute Awards, the first, for his role in 1992 film, "Proof".

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Describe him to me.

CROWE: What, each one?


HEMMER: But it was the controversial film, "Romper Stomper" that would garner Russell Crowe his second AFI award and make him a star.

CROWE: I want people to know that I'm proud of my white history and my white blood. ROZEN: He was the leader of a group of skinheads who were beating up anyone who didn't look like them.

CROWE: And those -- a white supremacist. He's a racist, a fascist, extremely disturbed man.

ROZEN: And you just came out of the movie going "who is that guy," "What else can do?"

CROWE: Come on, I'm not going to fight.

HEMMER: When our story continues, Hollywood's sexist leading lady brings Russell Crowe to the Wild Wild West. But to many involved in "The Quick and The Dead," his arrival is anything but welcome.



ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Here's Bill Hemmer.


CROWE: What is your name?

HEMMER: By 1994, just about everyone in Australia knew the name Russell Crowe. Following his star-making turn in "Romper Stomper," his next film, "The Sum of Us," stunned everyone.

CROWE: I like doing it with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and I don't think that's ever going to change because I don't want it to.

EWBANK: To jump from playing this Hando, this vile, vicious character to playing a gay rugby playing plumber in "The Sum of Us" was an extraordinary leap.

ROZEN: He said part of the reason he want to do it was because there were all these people who actually liked the skinhead, you know, and admired him, and he wanted to confuse them.

HEMMER: Crowe's gift for transformation and confusion would ultimately catch the eye of one of Hollywood's biggest stars.

O'NEILL: Sharon Stone is kind of attributed with discovering Russell, at least in the U.S.

HEMMER: But his big screen Hollywood debut would be anything but quick.


EWBANK: Columbus Studio heads demanded him to be the -- they felt that he wasn't up to it. Who was this guy? Nobody knew him.

SHARON STONE, ACTRESS: I saved your life last night. ROZEN: All kinds of people were saying to her, "Are you kidding? No way, no way." She said, "No, no, no, he's the guy."

EWBANK: She stuck to her guns and she was proved right. She said, you know, Russell Crowe is sexiest guy working in movies today, and she was ahead of her time.

HEMMER: Although the quirky western opened amid mediocre reviews, it was enough to move Russell up the Hollywood ladder.

While doing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) forgettable film, "Virtuosity," Crowe's bad boy image off screen would begin to emerge.

On comparisons to Mel Gibson...

CROWE: I'm really bored. Right at this moment, how do I feel about that? Really bored. I think, you know, it's a silly thing to say.

HEMMER: On how physically taxing the role was...

CROWE: No one knew -- as taxing physically as sitting down all day doing six-minute conversations from 9:00 to 6:00 at night, you know.

HEMMER: But his mood would lighten when questioned about love life.


CROWE: No. No girlfriend.


CROWE: No horse.


CROWE: No dog. Just a lonely guy.

HEMMER: Lonely? It seemed his legendary Aussie nickname had not yet made it to the states.

O'NEILL: In Australia, there is an urban legend that has eventuated in Russell being, pretty widely known as girl, Russell, go.

EWBANK: He got together with some actress on one of -- one of the sets, and, apparently was entertaining her, and, at a moment of -- shall we say high passion, he was allegedly to have sort of been urging himself on, go, Russ, go.

HEMMER: After "Virtuosity," a series of bad film choices including, "Rough Magic" would have critics scratching their heads.

ROZEN: It was weird because Russell Crowe after "Virtuosity," after "The Quick and The Dead," you were waiting for him to happen. HEMMER: It would take two years, but in 1997, Russell Crowe happened.

CROWE: Where is Six? Where is the girl?

HOWARD: I think "L.A. Confidential" is probably the first time that I was really sort of aware of the name "Russell Crowe" and a performance.

HEMMER: Director Curtis Hanson would cast Crowe immediately after this screen test.

CROWE: What is, is justice. That's where [bleep] lie, justice.

HEMMER: The film set in 1950s' Los Angeles dealt with police corruption.

CROWE: One more dance, Johnny.

HEMMER: Crowe played "Bud White," a tough cop with a good heart.

CROWE: The way I see it is "L.A. Confidential" the first adult movie that I've made in America.

HEMMER: "L.A. Confidential" would garner critical acclaim and America would notice Russell, the movie star, for the first time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're going to be a big star. Are you ready for it?

CROWE: Yeah, yeah, when? Yeah right. Whatever.


HEMMER: Concerned he was being typecast as tough guy; Crowe took a 14 month break. He would retreat back to his farm in Australia to read and write, play the guitar, and search for the perfect script.

It came in the form of "The Insider," playing a middle-aged corporate whistle-blower. But when director, Michael Mann approached him he hesitated.

CROWE: And I said, look, all right, it's very flattering and all that and it's a great script. But you're being a little silly here Mr. Mann. You should go and get yourself one of them 50-year-old actors to do this job.

MICHAEL MANN, DIRECTOR, "THE INSIDER": And he came down and we read. And it was just the two of us. I was reading one part and he'd read the other, and we're working right across my desk.

CROWE: He put his hand on my chest, and said I'm not talking to you because of your age. I'm talking to you because of what you've got in here.

MANN: I knew right then and there, this is the guy. This is Jeffrey Wigand.

CROWE: And I thought, best work with this fellow.

You manipulated me into this.

HEMMER: Gaining nearly 50 pounds, audiences were stunned by his appearance as the former tobacco executive.

That 1999 performance would garner his first Academy Award nomination.

CROWE: Forty-eight pounds I put on to play that role. Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How'd you do that?

CROWE: Cheeseburgers and bourbon, man. Ah, it was heaven.

HEMMER: Kevin Spacey took home the Oscar that year, but Crowe, once again, would make a remarkable transformation.

CROWE: At my signal, unleash hell.

HEMMER: Emerging six months later, 40 pounds lighter, with muscles to spare, he would unleash hell at the box office.

ROZEN: I think in "Gladiator," the favorite scene for everyone has to be when he is in the gladiatorial ring, in the arena, and he reveals -- takes off that helmet and goes...

CROWE: My name is Maximus Decimus Meridus, commander of armies of the north, general of Felix allegiance and loyal servant to true emperor, Marcus Aurelius.

ROZEN: It's almost like a huge declaration of Hi, I am Russell Crowe and I am big old movie star.

HEMMER: When the Russell Crowe story continues, Hollywood sexiest gladiator falls in love and nearly falls into the hands of kidnappers.


ZAHN: Risk and romance ahead for Russell Crowe, but his first week's passages.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): It's all over but the crying for one of television's longest running talk shows. "The Sally Jesse Rafael Show" will be canceled after this, its 16th season. It had sunk to ninth in the daytime talk ratings battle.

In 1998, the show was third best behind Oprah and Jerry. No word on what's next for 59-year-old Rafael and her trademark red glasses.

Back up outfielder, Rueben Rivera was released by the Yankees after being accused of stealing from a teammate's locker. Lawyers familiar with the case say Rivera took a bat and glove from popular shortstop Derek Jeter and sold them to a sports memorabilia agent for $2,500. Rivera had been leading the spring training grapefruit league in stealing, bases that is.

Hollywood's odd couple, Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie have adopted a seven-month-old boy from Cambodia where Jolie had recently filmed "Tomb Raider." They hit a snag though in bringing young Maddox (ph) to the United States. The couple still has to get their baby a visa before bringing him home. Once everything has worked out, the couple plans to raise the boy both in America, and Cambodia.

For more celebrity news, pick up a copy of "People" magazine this week. We'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues with Bill Hemmer.


HEMMER: When "Gladiator" debuted in May of 2000, Russell Crowe's star power would shift into overdrive.

CROWE: You walk out into Coliseum and there's 5,000 extras going, "Maximus, Maximus," you know, it's theater on an absolutely grand scale.

HEMMER: Ridley Scott's epic would gross nearly half a billion dollars, catapulting Crowe to Hollywood mega star.

A megastar with reports of a mega ego.

O'NEILL: Russell Crowe's reputation is, as someone who's tough and arrogant, somewhat surly.

CROWE: Mate, I'm not thinking about, you know. I'm thinking about going down to try to vixen and having a drink.

EWBANK: You know, he certainly likes to party. He likes to drink. Women find him very attractive.

HEMMER: And so would the tabloids, linking him to everyone from Jodi Foster to Nicole Kidman. Crowe denied every romance except one.

CROWE: With Meg, we were doing the job and the personal thing was separate, separate all together.

HEMMER: In June of 2000, news of an affair with "Proof of Life" co-star Meg Ryan would explode in headlines. Cast as a hostage negotiator who falls in love with a married woman, clearly life had imitated art.

O'NEILL: And then when Meg Ryan told the world that she was going divorce Dennis Quaid, then it became apparent that Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe were more than just a passing fling.

HEMMER: In the fall of 2000, photographers tracked the couple around the globe.

O'NEILL: Both of them seemed to be totally in love with each other. He took her to Australia. She met his family. He showed her around his beloved farm.

HEMMER: Crowe also introduced Meg Ryan to the band he had been playing with since early 1990s, Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts.

BRIAN M. RAFTERY, "ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY": There's a couple different reasons for the name Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts that Russell likes to tell. The most popular one though is that it's actually taken from a movie that -- a film set he was on where the sound engineer needed 30 odd feet of grunt noises for a fight scene and I think he just fell in love with the term.

HEMMER: The Grunts would hit the road in August of 2000. Crowe would play to sold out houses in nine U.S. cities, sign recording contract, and cut an album. Once again, the media circled.

CROWE: And the songs that we write are about things that have happened in our lives, you know, and, people that we've met. And it's a very simple thing as far as we're concerned.

HEMMER: After a successful tour, Crowe headed home to Australia. And in December, when a white tent on his property fueled rumors of marriage to Meg Ryan, he responded with anger.

CROWE: Just take, for example, the fact that somebody announces in the press that I'm getting married. If I ever am lucky enough to find the women to make that absolute commitment and decision that I'm going to be with for the rest of my life, I don't get to experience that joy or share that joy because this parasite prick has actually published it in the newspaper. And foreign people say, what, again?

HEMMER: The rumors were way off. Their six-month relationship was actually coming to an end. Reports would vary as to who broke it off.

CROWE: She is a magnificent woman, a marvelous person and a great actress. So that's -- you know, I don't...

LARRY KING, HOST: Sounds like you're friends.

CROWE: Absolutely. You know, and we just have one conversation maybe two nights ago.

HEMMER: Just when you thought Crowe couldn't grab one more headline, a plot to kidnap the film star surfaced.

CROWE: I had to meet with these FBI guys and stuff when I -- so I met with them, and they laid out a situation that they were very concerned about, and that was the Golden Globes this time last year. HEMMER: The FBI confirmed the threat, though details of the bizarre plot were never truly revealed, some labeled it a publicity stunt. Crowe just seemed amused.

CROWE: They obviously don't know me very well. After a couple of days, mate, they'll be on the phone, now, look we've got 50 grand, please take him back!

EWBANK: And I think at first, he probably thought it was a bit of a joke. But when suddenly, a security man had to surround him at every turn, it wasn't, you know -- it wasn't so funny.

HEMMER: In March of 2001 still surrounded by security, Crowe took home his first Oscar. The "Gladiator", was stunned.

CROWE: If you had asked me, you know, right up until the minute, I would have put a lot of money on Tom Hanks.

HEMMER: The usually self-assured Crowe visibly moved on stage and left the pressroom with this final thought...

CROWE: God bless America. God save the queen. God defend New Zealand and thank cross for Australia.

HEMMER: Flash forward one year later, Crowe is doing it again.

CROWE: Find a truly original idea. That's the only way I'll ever distinguish myself.

HEMMER: His role in "A Beautiful Mind" has garnered his third Academy Award nomination. And he's the odds-on favorite to take home the gold.

But for his legions of fans, the big question is Russell settling down?

KING: Are you now in love?

CROWE: Yeah, I am. Yeah.

KING: Do you want to tell us who?

CROWE: No, I don't.

CROWE: Sarah's coming home again.

EWBANK: He's written some very nice songs, and several of them are very much about his longstanding girlfriend, Danielle.

ROZEN: He says he's in love now. He won't say who he's in love with, but he keeps turning up with Danielle at all of these award shows.

EWBANK: She's seen the lows. She's seen the highs. You know, she's seen him when he's absolutely nothing. She's -- was at his side when he won an Oscar. KING: Is this something that could be the big one?

CROWE: Well, we'll just see. I'm not one for making predictions or, you know, that sort of thing. It's somebody I've known for a very long time and we're just together. It's as simple as that.

And you can stay away tonight.

HEMMER: Simply put by a man who is anything but simple. Lover, fighter, rocker, biker, farmer, movie star of global magnitude, the young Aussie who penned the song, "I Wanna Be Like Marlon Brando," seems to have gotten his wish.

CROWE: This is a great job and I want to encourage every one of you in this room to give everything you can to the story. God bless originality. Good night.

PAULA ZAHN, PEOPLE IN THE NEWS: If Russell Crow does win another Oscar next Sunday, there might be a little less room out there in his chicken house. That's where Crow reportedly keeps his first Oscar, down on the farm.

Coming up next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, what a lady, what a year, Nicole Kidman and why the show must always go on, when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS returns.


ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. When Nicole Kidman took on the lead role in the musical "Moulin Rouge" she put herself out there on the high wire, both literally and figuratively. It was a bold departure, one that's brought Kidman her first ever Oscar nomination. Here's Sherri Sylvester.


SHERRI SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Amid the "Can Can" dancers and an army of paparazzi, there was a certain red haired Aussie buzz in Cannes last year.

NICOLE KIDMAN: We declare the 54th International Film Festival of Cannes open.

SYLVESTER: Hollywood superstar Nicole Kidman had come to France to promote and be honored for her movie "Moulin Rouge." What Kidman didn't expect was to take home a Golden Globe for her work in the musical.

KIDMAN: I think everyone who worked on this film just felt like, well we're going to go for it, you know, and if we fall flat on our faces, we fall flat on our faces, but let's try to do something different and we never thought we'd be standing here.

SYLVESTER: Just a month later, Kidman is nominated for an Oscar for her role as the beautiful French courtesan. It's been a year of surprises. Last spring, Kidman appeared to relish the attention in Cannes. It was her time to shine, but she was alone, and that's how it's been on every red carpet at every premiere, a solo Kidman, smiling, waving, even as she's pursued by the paparazzi across the Venice lagoon. Everyone in the world is chasing Kidman's melancholy story.

KIDMAN: Hey, it's been a strange year.

SYLVESTER: Last February, her movie star husband, Tom Cruise, shocked the entertainment world and Kidman herself announcing he wanted to end their 10-year marriage.

DOMINIC DUNNE, VANITY FAIR COLUMNIST: They were the most glamorous marriage in Hollywood, Tom and Nicole.

SYLVESTER: Long time Hollywood observer and Vanity Fair columnist, Dominic Dunn says Kidman covered up her pain, carrying on with great dignity while in Cannes.

KIDMAN: I'm very excited.

DUNN: She attended the premiere. She was waving to the people. Whatever's going on inside, she kept that private, and she did - I mean that's what a star does, you know. She has obligations and she fulfilled them.

SYLVESTER: Baz Luhrmann directed Kidman in "Moulin Rouge."

BAZ LUHRMANN, DIRECTOR, "MOULIN ROUGE": There's a line in our movie, "the show must go on for all our sakes" because I keep saying that to her, "get out there." But really, she's the one that embodies the show must go on. She's the one that said, you know, I've got to do this and I can only be eternally grateful for that, but she was the one.

SYLVESTER: The show must go on is very much Kidman's guiding motto. She'll show up no matter what. Are you at all concerned that all of the publicity surrounding your personal life will overshadow the publicity regarding the film and your work?

KIDMAN: I mean that's something that, you know, I don't have control over that. So I mean it is what it is and I, you know, my life is my life and I'm living it. I'm a person just like everybody else and I have all those things that happen, and you know that's sort of up to forces greater than me.

SYLVESTER: The so very Aussie Kidman began her life in America. She was born in Honolulu, Hawaii on June 20th, 1967. Her father, a biochemist and author was studying there. His research would later take the family on to Washington, D.C. But by the time Kidman was four, her family had returned to Australia to stay. Sydney became the place she'd always call home.

Kidman is very close to her younger sister Antonia, a television reporter in Australia, as well as to her father and her mother, a nurse and educator. While growing up, Kidman's extraordinarily pale skin meant Australia's sun life was out of bounds. KIDMAN: Instead to going to the beach or, you know, the normal thing that you do in Australia, I would go on the weekends to drama school.

SYLVESTER: At age 10, Nicole retreated to the comfort of the rehearsal studio to strengthen her acting skills. It was natural, she said, to disappear into a dark theater and she did so with her parents' approval.

KIDMAN: They both have a love of the arts and I think they gave it great credence and value, that it wasn't - and I really respect them as parents for doing that, because it wasn't sort of pooh-poohed. It was actually, you know, what you enjoy. My parents always took me to the theater when I was young. I was taken to see opera. I was taken to see modern dance. So I was exposed a lot to a lot of culture, and I really, that's what I try to do for my children as well.

SYLVESTER: You started very young acting.

KIDMAN: oh, no which one do you got?

SYLVESTER: "BMX Bandits" and "Bush Christmas." Kidman may cringe, but the TV film she made in 1983, "Bush Christmas" remains the national favorite and still airs every Christmas.

That same year, the cult favorite "BMX Bandits" was released, where a group of kids on bikes take on a gang of bank robbers.


SYLVESTER: Kidman chose to ride away from high school at 16 to pursue a full time acting career. Just a year later, in the Australian mini series "Vietnam," she won the Australian Film Institute's Best Television Actress Award. She was 17, and a rising star. When the story of Nicole Kidman continues, the movie "Days of Thunder" rolls into her life, bringing with it a hot Hollywood relationship.



ANNOUNCER: Now back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS with Sherri Sylvester.


SYLVESTER: After TV and film success down under, Australian Nicole Kidman's first Hollywood break was he seagoing thriller "Dead Calm." Fellow actor, Sam Neill used the word "star" to describe the 21-year-old Kidman.

SAM NEILL, ACTOR: She can do anything, but she does have that extra thing, which is she is a star and that's the sort of mysterious, that's the mysterious factor that you can not explain. It's just one of those things. SYLVESTER: Mr. Hollywood, Tom Cruise, was just coming off his divorce from Actress Mimi Rodgers, and after viewing "Dead Calm" was reportedly eager to meet the dazzling new actress. That meeting came within a year. Both were cast in the film "Days of Thunder." There was immediate on-screen and off-screen chemistry.

A quick romance followed and on Christmas Eve, 1990, the two married quietly in the resort town of Telluride, Colorado. Within months, Kidman was working again with her famous husband in the 1992 epic, "Far and Away." But Kidman's resume would never read Mrs. Tom Cruise. She was determined not to be type cast in any way. You've never been pigeonholed which is very rare. Is that a conscious, is that a conscious effort? You've never even done the same kind of film twice.

KIDMAN: I don't know if it's conscious. It's just that I'm drawn - as soon as I've done one thing, I'm drawn to probably the complete opposite. So, and my taste in films and also just in characters and stuff is very diverse.

SYLVESTER: The super couple were becoming part of Hollywood royalty, and children were now part of the dynasty. The couple adopted a girl, Isabella, in 1993, and baby boy, Connor, two years later.

KIDMAN: We do it all, Tom and I. It's, you know, they're the priority and so that means you make compromises.

SYLVESTER: And the compromises were worth it to build a family legacy.

KIDMAN: We always said that when we were making "Far and Away" it would be great, because then our children will be able to watch them when we were young and in love.

SYLVESTER: Kidman's children often go on location with her. They see her act, and in the case of "Moulin Rouge" hear her sing. Have you ever sung to them?

KIDMAN: I sing to them all the time. They tell me to shut up. They do. They tell me to shut up a lot.

SYLVESTER: Kidman gets far more respect in Hollywood. By 1996, she was a star in her own right, moving out of Cruise's orbit. It was the quirky film noir "To Die For" that propelled Kidman to stardom. Kidman shined.


SYLVESTER: Acclaim poured in, including a Golden Globe in 1995. Hollywood had noticed the girl from Sydney.

SYDNEY POLLACK, DIRECTOR: I think she's oftentimes underrated because she's so beautiful that you think of her as just a pretty girl, you know. But if you look at her work, "To Die For" and Baz Luhrmann's picture "Moulin Rouge" she's always good in films. Sometimes the films aren't as good as she is, but she's always extraordinary.

SYLVESTER: Director Baz Lurhmann says he noticed how extraordinary Kidman was during a Vogue photo shoot a decade ago.

LUHRMANN: She did, you know, sort of the Carole Lombard. She did like a Marilyn image, if I remember, and she did a great Marlene (ph) Dietrich image and Lucille Ball actually. She's a real movie star. I mean she does manifest those, almost icon-like qualities that those performers had in that time.

SYLVESTER: Qualities that include a focused work ethic.

LUHRMANN: When you work with Nicole as a professional, it's no walk in the park, because she's not an actor that says, you know "I'm an empty vessel, fill me. Do I put my hand here?" I mean she has as many ideas as I do, and everything is an intense experience.

SYLVESTER: If I give you a few of your projects, can you tell me what kind of risk was involved and what kind of reward you got?


SYLVESTER: We'll try. "To Die For" what kind of a challenge was it?

KIDMAN: It was great and I got to work with (UNINTELLIGIBLE). He'd done "Drug Store Cowboy" which I thought was amazing. He hadn't done "Good Will Hunting" at that stage, and it was just a great character and it was funny. It was great to do something that was a black comedy.

SYLVESTER: "Portrait of a Lady?"

KIDMAN: Yes. I mean ultimately I choose my films based on the director and Jane Campion who'd done the piano and stuff. It was just one of those things that I said "OK, this is something that will be very intense and very sort of soulful."

SYLVESTER: And "The Blue Room?"

KIDMAN: Scary.

SYLVESTER: In "The Blue Room," Kidman briefly appeared nude on the London stage. The 1998 play was a huge hit. Kidman's performance was hailed as pure theatrical Viagra. And finally, "Moulin Rouge?" Very high risk.

KIDMAN: High risk but also kind of celebratory, because it's - it's the reason I just think it's - I wanted to do it was that it was trying to push the envelope and that Baz Luhrmann, who did "Romeo and Juliet" and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and stuff, is so unique as a filmmaker and creates this wild crazy world, but still has this heart in the middle of it. It's a love story, which I really - I've never done a love story before and that was fun.

SYLVESTER: When we come back, love takes a troubled turn. Kidman and Cruise unite for a third time in "Eyes Wide Shut" as their marriage begins a countdown to collapse.



ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS with Sherri Sylvester.


SYLVESTER: Nicole Kidman appeared in three films with husband, Tom Cruise. Their last came in Stanley Kubrick's psychological thriller "Eyes Wide Shut." Kidman spent nearly two years on the project, and then just after okaying the final cut, Director Kubrick died. Kidman has said Kubrick's sudden death shocked her out of her youthful naivete. And you worked with Stanley Kubrick?


SYLVESTER: That was amazing. What memory do you take away from that?

KIDMAN: His brilliance. I mean I just revered him and loved him dearly.

SYLVESTER: Then on February 4, 2001, another shock. Shortly after their 10th wedding anniversary, a statement is released from Cruise's publicist, announcing an amicable separation. Three days later, Cruise officially files for divorce.

KIDMAN: It's such a surreal experience, when all those things happen in your life and they're all written about and they're all, sort of everybody watches and somehow you have to get through it. And thank God for my mum and dad and my sister, and the people in my life who love me.

SYLVESTER: Kidman's film "Moulin Rouge" is struck not once but twice with personal sorrow.

LUHRMANN: My father died on the first day of shooting this film and then finally later, while we were in post-production, you know, this very meaningful relationship that she had breaks up. So we both came to an experience of saying, "well will that crush us or will we get up on the horse and ride again?" The show must go on for all our sakes. That's the whole point of the film, and that's what we both have to deal with.

SYLVESTER: As her marriage disintegrates, Kidman must face the press to promote her work. She grins and bears it.

DAVID LETTERMAN: Ladies and gentlemen, here's Nicole Kidman.

SYLVESTER: Kidman used her legendary humor, as seen here on "The Late Show" with David Letterman, to diffuse the divorce questions.

KIDMAN: Hi. LETTERMAN: You look fantastic. I heard you're getting divorced. How's that going?

SYLVESTER: Kidman's ready with a well-rehearsed line.

KIDMAN: Well, I can wear heels now.

LETTERMAN: Twenty-three seconds of laughter later, Kidman takes charge.

KIDMAN: Now we move on.


SYLVESTER: Kidman does move on in black couture, to the premiere of her scary thriller "The Others." At midnight on that very night, August 8, 2001, the clock tolled on her marriage. Hollywood's fairy tale couple is no more.

What do you know now that you didn't know as a woman in your 20s?

KIDMAN: So many things. I mean I can't sit and rack it up in a couple of sentences.

SYLVESTER: The 34-year-old Kidman says, last year was sometimes embarrassing, even humiliating with all the tabloid coverage, but in the end came new insights.

KIDMAN: I think the most important thing in life is sort of knowing who your friends are and cherishing them, and in a weird way, you have your best of times and the worst of times. They come together and there's always balance, you know. It keeps your feet on the ground.

SYLVESTER: For Kidman, the show must go on.

KIDMAN: You know, it's 2002 now, so I'm really looking forward to this year.

SYLVESTER: This year, she won't be Mrs. Tom Cruise. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is now in every way Nicole Kidman.


ZAHN: Will Nicole Kidman win her first Oscar? Will Russell Crow become the next Tom Hanks? You'll have to wait until next Sunday and the 74th Academy Awards. Coming up next week on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, his life and lifestyle are legendary. Meet the founder of the world's most notorious bunny, Hugh Hefner. And thanks so much for joining us and be sure to join me every weekday for "AMERICAN MORNING" right here on CNN. I'm Paula Zahn, have a great week.





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