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THE REAL DEAL
"She's this really Aussie girl who's full of life and has this loud, honking laugh," says Moulin Rouge director and friend Baz Luhrmann of Kidman (at the Sydney premiere of Cold Mountain in 2003). "I don't know how we ever believed she was some kind of an ice queen," says The Hours author Michael Cunningham.
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A wig-topped Kidman takes time out to greet fans on the New York City sets of her upcoming supernatural thriller Birth (left, in March 2003) and the political drama The Interpreter (right, in April). Kidman says she's at her happiest when she's acting: "I love to be in character more than anything. It's when I'm most alive."
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As a little girl growing up in Sydney, Kidman's fair skin and flaming red hair made her stand out in a land of tan and blonde beauties – but her unique look helped shape her. "It makes you develop your personality. Because you don't conform, you have to find different ways of expressing yourself," she says.
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It was love at first sight for Kidman and Tom Cruise (left, in 1992; right, in 2000), who met during her 1989 audition for Days of Thunder. "I just remember ... electricity going through me," she told the BBC in 1998. Despite their divorce after a nearly 10-year marriage, Kidman says she'll "be there for him for the rest of his life."
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Kidman won raves for her portrayal of five characters in a London staging of the 1998 David Hare play The Blue Room ("Pure theatrical Viagra," one critic enthused). Paid considerably less than her movie salary (only $65 per night), she famously bared it all in a seductive love scene.
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... AND BABIES MAKE FOUR
Kidman and Cruise adopted daughter Isabella (right, in Cruise's arms), now 11, in 1993, followed by son Connor (held by Kidman, left), now 9, in 1995. "Their world is so real," she says of her children, who are home-schooled. "I'm just Mom to them."
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DRESSED TO THRILL
Need proof of Kidman's red-carpet prowess? The Council of Fashion Designers of America honored her in 2003 with its fashion icon award. From left, some of her greatest sartorial hits: a chartreuse cheongsam by Dior at the 1997 Academy Awards; a sexy lace ensemble at the Critics' Choice Awards in 2003; a Pucci halter dress at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival.
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Rebellious teenager Kidman, who attended the posh North Sydney Girls' School, used to hitch a ride on the back of her boyfriend's motorcycle, but admits, "I would always have to hide, because Mother was terrified of boys and motorbikes." At 16, the budding actress sped into her first film, the 1983 teen crime-caper movie BMX Bandits.
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Kidman counts fellow Aussie actors Naomi Watts and Russell Crowe (both in 2002) among her best friends. Watts even temporarily moved in to Kidman's Pacific Palisades home to help her through her breakup with Cruise. "They were these really, really strong, extraordinary people who just said, 'We're going to hold your hand and help you through this,'" Kidman says.
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"I was saying to myself, 'Don't cry, don't cry,'" recalls Kidman (who teared up anyway) of accepting her Oscar on March 23, 2003, for her role as suicidal writer Virginia Woolf in The Hours. "I just went blank. Everything I had thought in my head that I might say was gone. It was terrifying, and my hands started to shake."
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Kidman and younger sister Antonia (left, at the Golden Globes in 2003) remain close despite often being in different parts of the world. "We're always on the phone," says Kidman. And of her mother, nurse-educator Janelle (right, in 2001), she says: "From the minute I was born, my mom and I had this incredibly deep connection."
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BEAUTY & THE BEAT
Kidman met rocker Lenny Kravitz (in New York City) when she rented his Manhattan apartment in the summer of 2003. Though their romance was short-lived (the couple split in December 2003 after spending Thanksgiving together at his Miami home), "she will always be someone in my life," says Kravitz. Kidman has even talked about wanting to record a CD with him.
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The actress was giddy when she received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in January 2003. "Mine's next to Steven Spielberg, so I was pretty impressed," Kidman told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2003. "He's legendary. I get to be next to somebody pretty cool."
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Says pal Luhrmann about Kidman's tight-knit relationship with her kids (rooting for the New York Yankees at an October 2003 game against the Boston Red Sox): "When they're around she strikes me as extremely ordinary. Children are a greater force than being a superstar." Kidman jokes that her kids tell her, "Mom, get a boyfriend," but she says, "I'm in no rush."
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Kidman (arriving at a May 24 appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman) has a clear wish list for her future: "I just want to be true to my kids, true to myself, true to my work and good to the people around me, and out of that something will come."