By Tom Gliatto
August 16, 1999 12:00 PM

At the end of the day, how do Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman wind down? Quietly. Very quietly. All they want to do after they leave their respective movie sets, says Kidman’s friend, actress Naomi Watts, is be with their children, Isabella, 6, and Connor, 4, and sink into their thoughts. “They write things down in little journals—poems and things,” says Watts, who knows Kidman from their early days in Australia. “And they reflect on the day.”

If any couple needs a bit of reflection, it could well be Cruise, 37, and Kidman, 32. In the days before the opening of their controversial, eons-in-the-making movie, Eyes Wide Shut, they swept through the media like a White House scandal. Kidman seemed to hop from one magazine cover to another, peering out from each with a look of calculated naughtiness.

While the eagerly awaited psycho-sexual drama—the final work of revered director Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey, Dr. Strangelove), who died of a heart attack March 7 at age 70—opened July 16 to mixed reviews, word of mouth has been uncommonly vicious. The box office receipts for the film, a 272-hour-plus study of a doctor trolling the sexual underbelly of Manhattan after his wife confesses thoughts of infidelity, plunged more than 70 percent in two weeks. And according to Cinemascore president Edward Mintz, whose company-tracks opening-night responses, Eyes received some of the worst grades in his 21 years of polling: 73 percent of people 25 and over gave it an F. “You start getting Ds and Fs,” says Mintz, “a movie shouldn’t have even been made.”

Presumably, Tom and Nic have their eyes wide open for Mission Impossible II, which Cruise is expected to finish filming this month. If the sequel does anywhere near as well as the first, it should make up for the millions Cruise might have sacrificed in acting fees to work with Kubrick.

In any case, after nearly a decade together the two still have one great consolation: each other. Kidman, who met Cruise on the set of 1990’s Days of Thunder and married him that December, put it presciently in a ’97 interview with Australia’s New Woman magazine: “When you have your husband, your best friend, your lover—everything all in one—standing there holding your hand, you feel secure. It doesn’t matter if everyone walks out.”

And while Cruise has said to London’s Time Out that acting out his intense confrontations with Kidman in Eyes was so wrenching “it could have been something that destroyed our marriage,” their union sounds capable of surviving Howard the Duck. The only place they seem to find fault with each other is on the tennis court. “They’re staunch rivals,” says Kidman’s friend, director John Duigan. Certainly Kidman could have asked for no greater fan than Cruise for her performance onstage last year in the London and New York City productions of The Blue Room, in which a brief nude scene inspired one critic to proclaim her “pure theatrical Viagra.” Cruise, says British theater publicist Joy Sapieka, “was here quite often backstage. He was very proud.”

According to Eyes costar Todd Field, who plays a cynical pianist and the troubled doctor’s friend from med-school days, “Tom and Nic talk about each other like they just met two days ago.” And legal woe to anyone who might imply otherwise. Last October, Cruise won a libel suit against the British tabloid Express on Sunday, which in 1997 suggested that the actor was gay and his marriage a sham. (He donated the approximately $320,000 in spoils to charity.) This spring he and Kidman both launched a suit against the Star for claiming that sex experts had to coach them in the art of lovemaking for Eyes Wide Shut, an allegation the couple’s attorney Bert Fields calls “absolutely false.” Adds the attorney: “Tom is not going to let people defame him or his family. He has the means to wage this war.”

Kidman is fiercely protective too. When Isabella once complained that a classmate had been pinching her, Kidman went straight to the teacher. “The thing I think is really important as a kid to know is that your mum is always on your side,” she told New Woman, “and she’s always going to fight for you.”

She and Cruise both proved good soldiers during the punishing Eyes Wide Shut shoot, at 19 months (November 1996-June 1998) one of the longest in movie history. They spent weeks alone rehearsing with the reclusive Kubrick, a perfectionist known for demanding as many as 60 takes of a scene or replacing cast members well into the course of production. And…they loved it, says producer Jan Harlan. “They and Stanley absolutely got on like a house on fire.” The Cruise-Kidman kids were even treated to a camera show-and-tell by the director.

Still, both parents “want to bring normal things into their [children’s] life,” says Naomi Watts. Cruise insists they will be spared the worst aspects of the Hollywood scene. “All the kids in L.A. get Ferraris when they’re 16,” Cruise, who has homes in L.A. and Down Under, told Australia’s Cleo magazine in 1996, “and there’s just no way in hell that’s ever going to happen with ours.” Isabella, he has said proudly, has a surprisingly good throwing arm, and one friend describes Connor as “Daddy’s boy.” One day on the set, recalls Vinessa Shaw, who plays a prostitute in the movie, “Connor was flexing and doing all these muscle movements, and I was like, ‘Who taught him that?’ ” Cruise laughingly admitted the boy might be imitating his fitness-conscious dad. Watts says she wouldn’t be surprised if the couple, who adopted Isabella and Connor, have more children in mind. “Tom and Nic are very family-spirited,” she adds. “The more the merrier.”

Such togetherness will not, for now, extend to their professional lives. With Cruise set to star in Steven Spielberg’s next movie, the sci-fi thriller Minority Report, and Kidman, who recently finished Birthday Girl, planning to sing and dance in Moulin Rouge, the couple have no plans to work together again soon. “In your life there are certain times when it’s the right time to work together,” Kidman said at Eyes’s L.A. premiere July 13. “Who knows when the next time will be?” No doubt their journals will be the first to hear.

Tom Gliatto

Liz Corcoran and Jane Cornwell in London and Julie Jordan, Kelly Carter and Lyndon Stambler in Los Angeles