Eager to get on with their new lives, Hollywood's hottest ex-couple, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, close the book on their 10-year marriage

By Michelle Tauber
December 03, 2001 12:00 PM

It was an unusually gray day in Los Angeles, where sunshine usually is as abundant as cell phones and sushi. Inside, the setting was just as subdued. At approximately 1 p.m. on Nov. 12 a small group of lawyers and managers convened in an oversize conference room in a Los Angeles office building to hash out the final details of their clients’ much-anticipated divorce. At around 5 p.m., just as heavy rains began to splatter the windows, the clients—Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman—made their separate entrances. Kidman, wearing a casual blue suit and scarf, arrived alone. Cruise, clad in black pants and a black T-shirt, was accompanied by a personal assistant. During the next three hours the estranged couple “interacted very well,” says Kidman’s lawyer Sorrell Trope, as they and their attorneys divided the spoils of their 10-year union, the final step in their nine-month divorce proceeding.

Shortly before 8 p.m. each signed the documents before them and the meeting came to an end. Says Trope: “Everyone was very pleased and happy.” Maybe even a little warm and fuzzy. When it came time to leave, Kidman and Cruise parted not with curt nods or handshakes but with an embrace. “Nicole is relieved that everything is finally over,” says a friend, “and that she and Tom will have some kind of amicable relationship.” For his part, Cruise told PEOPLE, “We are great friends. She is someone who I love and always will.”

Thus ended the war of words and images—played out in legal documents, photo ops and artfully nuanced public comments—that characterized Cruise and Kidman’s relationship since their split was announced Feb. 5. Gone were the accusations of stonewalling and tight-fistedness, the cryptic to-ing and fro-ing over why they parted, the questions about Cruise’s relationship with Vanilla Sky costar Penélope Cruz. Instead, Cruise, 39, and Kidman, 34, who were officially divorced three months ago, focused on their combined $350 million fortune—the homes, planes and power boat—carving it all up like Thanksgiving turkey. On Kidman’s plate: a five-bedroom Pacific Palisades spread and a multistory waterfront home on Australia’s Sydney harbor. On Cruise’s: a 280-acre estate in Telluride, Colo., and his airplanes, including a $100,000 Pitts S-2B, a $1.2 million Beech F90 and a $28 million-plus Gulfstream IV jet. As for alimony and child support—at $250 million, Cruise’s net worth is estimated to be nearly twice Kidman’s—the couple’s settlement keeps those morsels tightly under wraps.

Kidman and Cruise agreed to joint legal and physical custody of daughter Isabella, 8, and son Connor, 6. The children will live alternately with both parents, and Cruise and Kidman will make joint decisions about their lives, including their education and religious upbringing. (Kidman, who was raised Catholic, has previously expressed her concern to friends that Cruise would want to raise the children as Scientologists.) Under the agreement Kidman will be able to take the children to her native Australia anytime, and they will continue to be educated via the private schools they have been attending while in Sydney, their homeschooling arrangement in Los Angeles and the tutoring they always receive while their parents are on location. “The olive branch was extended by both sides,” says Trope, “and each reached for it.”

Much to the surprise of some in the legal community. When Cruise first filed for divorce on Feb. 7, he and Kidman could not even agree on the date their marriage fell apart: He placed it at December 2000, just shy of 10 years, while she placed it at Feb. 4, pointing out that they had celebrated their wedding anniversary on Dec. 24. In her detailed response papers filed on May 2, Kidman upped the ante, claiming that Cruise had walked out and that she had been pregnant with his child, which she later miscarried. Over the summer, however, relations between the two seemed to mellow. They agreed to a bifurcated, or expedited, divorce, which came through on Aug. 8, and met four or five times after that to discuss a property settlement—including one previously scheduled meeting at a West Los Angeles office on Sept. 12, the day after the terrorist attacks. Says Cruise’s spokeswoman: “It had gone on long enough, and the two of them sat down and settled it themselves.”

A tough job, but after almost a year of making headlines, both Cruise and Kidman are clearly ready to move on. “Change isn’t always a bad thing,” Cruise told Access Hollywood last month. “We’re a family, we’ve always been a family…Now just the parents are no longer together, but we still care about each other.” Kidman, too, has regained her high-heeled footing—even remarking occasionally that, at 5’10”, she’s delighted to step out in stilettos again without towering over her 5’9″ husband. “Divorce is divorce, and it’s a really tough thing to go through,” she told British talk show host Michael Parkinson in October. “Then you have to pick yourself up and move forward. And that’s what I am doing.”

Indeed, since the split, Kidman has been constantly continent hopping, visiting family and friends in Australia for weeks at a time and promoting her movies Moulin Rouge and The Others from Venice to Tokyo. Printed reports linking her to Counting Crows lead singer Adam Duritz and British pop star Robbie Williams (with whom she recently recorded a duet of Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid”) were far from the truth. “Nicole has said, ‘Anybody who’s a single mother will understand that I don’t have the time or the energy to date right now,'” says a friend. Not that Isabella and Connor are holding her back. “The kids keep telling her to go out and have some fun,” says the pal. “I think particularly Isabella, who is very protective of her mother and has spent time with Tom and Penélope together, says, ‘Mommy, why don’t you go out?'”

On a visit to London last month, Kidman took up the challenge with a bunch of friends, including actress Naomi Watts (Mulholland Drive) and Jez Butterworth, the director of her upcoming romantic comedy Birthday Girl, due in February. “We went out practically every night,” says Butterworth. “We went go-carting, went out to dinner and went gambling and all this kind of stuff.” For the most part, though, Kidman’s career has kept her on the go. With Moulin Rouge (which has raked in more than $100 million so far) and the $150 million-grossing The Others, it was one of her biggest years to date, and talk of an Oscar nomination is starting to quicken. “She has definitely entered the league where she can carry a movie and have box office,” says Bob Weinstein, cochair of Miramax, which bankrolled The Others. “Two things that Hollywood is interested in.”

A third: her ex-husband’s relationship with 27-year-old Spanish actress Cruz. Since making their romance public in July, Cruise and Cruz—costars in the romantic thriller Vanilla Sky, which opens Dec. 14—have been tangoing all over the globe. In July they enjoyed a tropical getaway in Fiji (a trip that had initially been planned for Cruise and Kidman) and in the late summer retreated to Telluride with his children, where they wowed locals with public displays of affection. On one occasion, Cruise surprised Cruz as she was shopping for negligees at the upscale boutique La Femme Fatale. “He grabbed her around the waist, pulled her close and kissed her full on the mouth,” says an observer. “It was like a scene out of a movie.”

Settling back into L.A., the pair took in a Madonna concert with Isabella in tow on Sept. 9, appeared side by side at the America: A Tribute to Heroes televised fundraiser 12 days later and attended a benefit for Cruz’s pet children’s charity, the Sabera Foundation of Calcutta, in October. For her part, Cruz—a practicing Buddhist—calls Cruise “a very special man,” telling Britain’s Hello! magazine in October, “He has an enormous heart, he is very intelligent, and he has a great sense of humor.” Friends say Kidman has little to say about her ex’s love life. Says one close pal: “I think the only thought she has is ‘Is it healthy for the kids to be exposed to your new partner when they are still coming to terms with their parents no longer being together?'”

Cruise, too, has been focused on their children, hosting them at the $50,000-a-month Tudor-style manor he reportedly rents in Beverly Hills, which boasts its own schoolroom complete with chalkboards and desks. “Tom’s terrific with them,” says friend Sydney Pollack, who starred with Cruise in 1999’s Eyes Wide Shut. “He’s always playing ball with Connor and showing off Isabella to me.” The children will stay with Cruise through November (including last week’s Thanksgiving holiday) and join their mother in Sydney in December, where they’ll likely spend Christmas with Kidman and her parents, Janelle, a nurse educator, and Antony, a psychologist, and sister Antonia, 31, a television journalist with whom Kidman has invested in a chain of department-store manicure salons. Although Cruise and Cruz are soon to embark on a publicity tour for Vanilla Sky that ends in Sydney on Dec. 20, he and Kidman have no plans to spend the holidays together; instead he’ll see the children for a few days before the New Year.

For both Kidman and Cruise, 2002 promises to be bountiful—or at least less emotionally stressful than 2001. With Birthday Girl andThe Hours, the story of Virginia Woolf, due to open in the first half of the year, Kidman also will be busy shooting the Lars von Trier film Dogville in Denmark. Cruise, who this year dispensed with not only his marriage but a lawsuit against a porn star whom he accused of spreading false claims that he is gay, should spend less on legal fees. (The porn star later defaulted in the suit.) He can also expect to earn even more: Upcoming projects include the Steven Spielberg drama Minority Report, due next June, and Cold Mountain, the Civil War movie that is set to start filming next year with Pollack as producer.

On the personal front, neither is making hasty plans. “I think this will take a while,” Pollack says of Cruise’s romance with Cruz. “Tom is not a guy who bounces from person to person fast. It will be a relationship in its own time.” Even so, he adds, “I think Tom’s not a guy who wants to live his life alone.” No arguments there. Cruise himself told Access Hollywood that he expects to remarry “when the time comes. I’m very much a romantic and an optimist.” That’s one area in which he and Kidman agree. “I’d love to get married again,” she told Britain’s Michael Parkinson in October.

There’s nothing like ending nine months of anguish to make the world seem like a shinier place. Although they aren’t exactly placing bets, those close to Kidman and Cruise believe the pair will remain on good terms, at least for the sake of the kids—which is also welcome news for their friends, who were worried about having to choose sides between the two stars. “Most of the time in divorces, you get custody of one,” says Pollack. “So far that hasn’t happened, and I hope it won’t.” On the contrary, Kidman and Cruise “have both had a certain amount of elegance about it,” he says of their marriage’s final chapter, “keeping it personal and private and going on with their lives.”

Michelle Tauber

Julie Jordan, Elizabeth Leonard, Michael Fleeman, Rachel Biermann and Ulrica Wihlborg in Los Angeles, KC Baker in New York City, Vickie Bane in Telluride and Sandra Lee in Sydney

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