The most amazing thing about Nicole Kidman’s performance in To Die For wasn’t the Aussie actress’ perkily perfect American accent. It wasn’t that wickedly slinky rain dance she did for Joaquin Phoenix. It wasn’t even her character’s uncanny ability to switch from sweet to savage with a mere flip of her strawberry blond mane.
No, the most amazing thing about Kidman’s performance in To Die For was that she made it so easy to forget that she’s Mrs. Tom Cruise.
That’s not nearly as simple a trick as it sounds. When Kidman, 28, wed Cruise in 1990, skeptics assumed she was just another gorgeous Hollywood wannabe. Who knew she could actually act? There have been hints in various films — her stalked boatnik in 1989’s Dead Calm, her psycho femme fatale in 1993’s Malice — but nothing prepared audiences for the tour de force she delivered as To Die For‘s Suzanne Stone, a rapacious small-town weather girl who’d do anything to get ahead — including murder.
”I’ve noticed a huge change in the way people view me since To Die For,” Kidman says in London, where she’s just finished playing Isabel Archer in Jane Campion’s adaptation of Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady, a role coveted by just about every under-35 actress in Hollywood (the film’s due in theaters next December). ”I’m getting scripts night and day now. I can’t believe it.”
Of course, To Die For wasn’t Kidman’s only movie in 1995 — she also had a sizable part in an obscure art-house flick called Batman Forever — but it’s the one that gave wings to her career. Ironically, the film was rumored to be a dud: Long release delays and talk of heavy reediting had industry insiders predicting disaster, perhaps even ending the career of director Gus Van Sant, whose last release had been the spectacularly awful Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. ”During filming I remember Gus came up to me and said that Cowgirls got really bad reviews and he just laughed about it,” Kidman remembers. ”But I don’t care if someone made a good movie or a bad movie prior to working with me. I care how they work on my movie.”
A savvy policy—and one that’s paid off. After To Die For‘s debut at the Cannes Film Festival last May, where it was the hot ticket, Mrs. Cruise suddenly found herself on top of Hollywood’s A list. In fact, she and Tom will reteam next summer for no less esteemed a director than Stanley Kubrick in the erotic drama Eyes Wide Shut. She’s also considering playing Emma Peel in a big-screen version of the 1960s series The Avengers. ”I’m intrigued,” she says. ”She’s such a character. She’s got such a dry English sense of humor.”
Speaking of a sense of humor, how’s Tom adjusting to his wife’s new superstar status? Has professional jealousy crept into their relationship yet? ”No,” Kidman laughs. ”He’s been so supportive. He’s been here in London the whole time I’ve been doing Portrait of a Lady, taking care of the children. He’s been great.” Just don’t call him Mr. Kidman.