A moment of silence, please, for Mrs. Tom Cruise. For a decade she served with honors as a celebrity wife. She made her own films when schedules permitted and appeared alongside her husband in Days of Thunder (the 1990 race-car flick on which they met), Far and Away and Eyes Wide Shut. Clasping Cruise's hand, she walked miles of red carpet. She was always at his side, raising two children, suing the tabloids. She will be missed. Last February Cruise announced that their marriage was coming to an end. "It was a big shock for me," says the woman who must now reinvent herself as, simply, Nicole Kidman. Still, she isn't grieving for her former life. Despite a miscarriage last month and scandalous allegations surrounding their high-stakes divorce (Was he too devoted to Scientology? Was she too devoted to another man?), Kidman is out in force these days promoting Moulin Rouge, the extraordinary musical slated to kick off the Cannes Film Festival this week.
"It's surreal," says Kidman, 33. "I did have a miscarriage, and I'm still coping with that." As for the divorce, "there are two kids involved, and the press is not the place to play it out... I could have said, 'I'm not doing any press for this film. See ya later. I'm not coming out until I am completely healed.' But I don't know if that will ever happen." In hindsight, is it so surprising that the couple didn't last? She was only 23 when they married. Since then, she has tried to define herself--and has succeeded in charming the critics--by working with fiercely independent directors like Gus Van Sant (To Die For) and Jane Campion (The Portrait of a Lady) and appearing onstage in David Hare's The Blue Room.
Yet while Cruise's spotlight has brought her fame, her career has been dwarfed by their marriage. Her forays into commercial movies, such as Practical Magic, have usually fallen short. Kidman admits without bitterness that "most of my choices were based around somebody else's schedule." The big question: Is she a star or merely a jettisoned planet in search of a new solar system? The answer may be found in two summer movies. The Others, coming from Miramax's Dimension Films in August, could turn out to be the season's horror sleeper. But first comes a far more out-there project, Moulin Rouge. When it starts hitting U.S. theaters May 18, the musical will probably have both critics and audiences debating whether it is art or just arty, and who knows if it can compete with the summer blockbuster bullies. This much is certain: you've never seen anything like it. Directed by Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet), Moulin Rouge is a postmodern, absinthe-fueled journey through the titular Parisian nightclub at the birth of the 20th century, set to mid- and late-20th century pop songs. Kidman stars as Satine, the doomed, ambitious courtesan torn between a penniless writer (Ewan McGregor) and a sugar-daddy duke (Richard Roxburgh). "She sings, she dances, she dies, she's funny," says Luhrmann. "You can't get more tested than that."
The test began two years ago during the last act of her marriage. Kidman was on Broadway, starring in The Blue Room, when flowers from Luhrmann, an old Aussie acquaintance, arrived in her dressing room. "I'd never got a box of long-stemmed red roses," she recalls, beaming at the memory. "The card said, 'I've got a great character for you,' but then he made me audition."