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Empire, June 2004

Empire Magazine's 15th Birthday - The Greatest Actress of Our Generation - Empire salutes the actress of our lifetime

When it came to identify the great stars of our time, we didn't have to look hard for a genuine screen goddess. She is an elegant beauty with brians who is a fine actress. She chooses brave and interesting work across an unpredictable range. She is popular with men and women, critics, and the people who have worked with her. Haughty, desperate, cunning or frail, we really, really like Nicole Kidman.

By happy coincidencen, her international career and Empire both launched in the same year, 1989. Fifteen years on, the irresistible rise of Nicole has landed her well on top, Oscared, up to the knees in new projects (Birth, The Stepford Wives, The Interpreter, Bewitched, Emma's War) and commandng $15 million for a mainstream picture - while other promising ingenues of the late '80s-early'90s arrived and disappeared, stalled, or were arrested.

Nicole Mary Kidman was a young natural at Sydney's Phillipe Street Theatre, and made her film debut at 16 in Aussie holiday staple, Bush Christmas. Devotees of TV mini-series noted her in the Kennedy Miller productions Vietnam and Bangkok Hilton. But it was Phillip Noyce who unveiled her grown-up acting skills in a full blodded thriller. She was too young to be playing Sam Neill's wife Rae in Dead Calm, but she was so good, so persusively distraught as the bereaved mother and resourceful as the captive of Billy Zane's homicdal maniac, that no-one minded. She as way too young to be playing a medical specialistt in Days Of Thunder, but playing doctor with Tom Cruise was a bigger story than the movie.

Did the decade as half of Hollywood's Most Golden Couple help or hinder her? Whatever the tabloid tittle-tattle suggested, the full glare of the world's hungry hacks and prying paparazzi cannot guarantee a glittering career if you can't deliver the goods. When Cruise and Kidman acted together (Far and AwaY, Eyes Wide Shut), critical eyes focused admiringly on Nicole. Acting apart, she managed nicely opposite leading men from Dustin Hoffman to George Clooney. The revelation was her relentless Suzanne, a perfectly pitched performance - deadly and dead funny - as the wannabe TV celebrity in Gus Van Sant's To Die For, for which she ought to have received an Oscar nomination. The irony of her angelic mien with that mane of red-gold curls was nicely exploited in Malice, toying with Alec Baldwin, Bill Pullman and audiences before the shock twist exposed her as the ruthless femme fatale. And her West End debut in The Blue Room was the sensation of the season, enchanting drama scribes who weren't there just for a peek at the nude scene.

Cruise's departure after their tenth anniversary celebration enveloped her in sympathetic perception as a wronged woman, and she carried off that role with exceptional class, stepping forth to promote Moulin Rouge amid the turmoil looking like a goddess with raised fist. It didn't hurt that she had in the can a killer one-two punch with Moulin Rouge and The Others. Either performance was Oscar-worthy, and The Others' Grace was carried off with the style of the great screen divas of yesteryear.

The nose was the subject of much joshing around her Virginia Woolf in The Hours, but the American Academy is openly hooked on prosthetics for pretty women. If the Oscar was payback for past work, at the work was outstanding. Mistakes? There've been a few. The Portrait Of A Lady should have been Nicole's Piano, but corsetting her waist down and working herself to exhaustion were underminded by the dreary oddity of Jane Campion's adaptation. Dyed hair and dirty nails notwithstanding, Kidman as a cleaning lady who's lived rough and low was simply unbelieveable in The Human Stain, although her Russian con artist mail order bride was the best thing in the oddball Birthday Girl. Opinions on Dogville divided sharply between masterpiece and dog-poop, but it was a bold, evidently trying venture for Kidman. For Cold Mountain she got a cooler reception than she should have, faithful as she was to the book's self-contained heroine rather than a turbulently emotive belle. She doesn't have anything to prove anymore, freeing her, at least for the space of a few more films, to have a go at what she fancies.

In a few years Nicole will be, without doubt, fabulous at 40 - one of the benefits of keeping that famously perfect skin out of the sun - but even when time inevitably thins the choice roles, there is every reason to suppose she can and will be a star of stature, 15 years from now.
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