Nicole Kidman, star of the new, big-screen version of 'Bewitched', is about to quit the movies for a year or two. She talks to John Hiscock about her need for a break, life after her traumatic split with Tom Cruise - and her relationships with Hollywood hard men Sean Penn and Russell Crowe
For the past few weeks Nicole Kidman has remained resolutely silent as her ex-husband Tom Cruise has bemused Hollywood with his bizarre behaviour and wild declarations of love for his girlfriend Katie Holmes.
Kidman and their two adopted children, Isabella, 11, and Connor, 10, have not been able to avoid images of Cruise kissing Holmes for the cameras and talking about their marriage plans.
Now the 37-year-old Oscar-winning actress is packing her bags and getting away from it all on a series of holidays that could keep her away from Hollywood and work for up to two years.
"You won't see me for a long time," she said, in an interview in New York. "It could be a year; it could be two years." Then she giggled: "I'm big on holidays, and I've planned a few. I'm not going to give you my holiday schedule, but it'll be a while before I come back."
She and Cruise share custody of the children, who spend part of the year with each parent. Although she has discussed their father's new romance with them at length, she has never talked publicly about her feelings. "I have two children with Tom Cruise, and I never answer anything in relation to his life and our life as a family, out of respect for them," she said.
She has, however, poured her heart out to her friends, including Sean Penn, with whom she co-starred in The Interpreter and who was there to listen to her problems. Penn later told Vanity Fair that she has "an intense relationship with disappointment".
Kidman insists her talks with Penn were "very private". "He was somebody who really understood me and was very generous and very, very gentle with me, which I appreciate. And so there were things that I was able to reveal to him that I probably wouldn't reveal to many people."
Although she is unfailingly friendly and cheerful in public, the actress admits she has hidden depths and sorrows that few people know about.
"I've had things that have affected me on a really, really deep level that are not written about and that I never speak about," she said. "They are my own private burdens. That's what I call them and we all have our burdens. Occasionally you meet people you become close to and who understand certain things about your life and probably Sean is one of them."
Another one is her old pal Russell Crowe, who is currently facing a prison sentence if convicted of assaulting a hotel desk clerk in New York. He is due up in court on September 14.
"I've phoned him and talked with him," she said. "Russell and I have walked a parallel path in terms of our careers and coming from Australia and trying to navigate our way through the world. We just do it differently, but I'm always there for him."
Kidman, who suffered a miscarriage in March 2001, about a month after Cruise had filed for divorce, has gone on to carve out a shining career for herself and is acknowledged to be one of the best actresses of her generation.
She has demonstrated her willingness to explore her talents and experiment with a wide range of roles, some in decidedly non-commercial projects, and, with only a few exceptions, her choices have proved both brave and interesting.
Her roles in Eyes Wide Shut, Moulin Rouge!, Birthday Girl and The Hours, for which she won a best-actress Oscar, all enhanced her reputation as a "serious" actress and she followed them with The Human Stain, Cold Mountain and Lars von Trier's Dogville, delivering performances that pushed the boundaries of her dramatic abilities and on-screen sexuality.
Only The Stepford Wives and the soon-to-be-released Bewitched, a reworking of the 1960s television series in which she plays a good-natured witch who is cast in a television series while trying to disavow her supernatural powers, have been poorly received in the US.
Yet her private life has not been so successful. Ever since she separated from Cruise she has been fair game for the gossips and rumour-mongers. She has been linked with a number of men, including Tobey Maguire, rapper Q-Tip, singer Lenny Kravitz, New Zealand businessman Eric Watson and, recently, Elizabeth Hurley's ex-boyfriend Steve Bing.
She insists some of the so-called romances never existed and says that if she ever becomes serious about a man he will have to be approved by her children.
"I always say to them if a person comes along that I'm serious about then it will be up to the three of us to decide," she said, laughing. "He will have to get through three people."
Kidman is not one to disavow her roots. She receives strong family support from her sister, mother and father, and she has maintained close friendships with people she has known most of her life.
"I've got friends that I've known since I was born, and we look at each other and go, 'Can you believe we're still here?' I'm still very close to my next-door neighbour whom I've known since I was three, and my sister Antonia is my other half, and I have a number of girlfriends.
"Naomi Watts and I are very, very good friends and have maintained that through so many things. I think that's really rare, particularly for actresses, and I take a lot of pride in that.
"I also have Russell and a number of people who aren't in the acting business at all - a carpenter who I've known since I was 16 and who I used to go surfing with, and just people who are there in my life."
She has returned to her penchant for the unorthodox with her latest film, Fur, a low-budget film about the life of photographer Diane Arbus, which co-stars Robert Downey Jr and on which she is just finishing work.
"Robert plays a man covered in hair whom I fall in love with. It sounds strange but I hope it works," she said. "It took a long time to get the financing, and people told me the film would never have got made because they wouldn't have been able to raise the money if I hadn't signed on to do it, and that is glorious. It's a wonderful thing to hear because it makes me very, very proud to be able to support these independent films, and I think that's where I think I do my best work anyway."
When she finishes Fur she has scheduled two weeks' work on the drama The Lady from Shanghai in Hong Kong and has nothing else planned except a vague commitment to do a film with Crowe and Australian director Baz Luhrmann sometime in the not-too-near future.
Kidman made her first film, Bush Christmas, in 1983 when she was a frizzy-haired 16-year-old, and ever since she has been absorbing the acting process, discovering that as she matures, her life experiences are helping her in her on-screen characterisations.
"I think that once you reach a certain stage in your emotional life you are so layered in the intensity of what you have experienced and it is there in such a very profound way that your ability to access it is far stronger.
"That's why they say a young woman can't play Nina in The Seagull because she doesn't have the experience to do those last scenes; and it's why it's very, very difficult to cast Romeo and Juliet as 14-year-olds, which is what they should be, because where are 14-year-olds with the experience and the intensity of emotion to be able to depict what Shakespeare was saying, as well as to understand it?
"It's a wonderful thing as an actress to be in your thirties and to have had a life that has taken you through a number of different experiences and tragedies - and extreme happiness as well."
'Bewitched' is released on Aug 19.
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