If the tall, aloof red-head inspired little empathy during her ten-year marriage to Hollywood's highest paid leading man, then her new role as wronged-wife-putting-on-a-brave-face has finally elicited some genuine interest in the willowy actress.
"It was a big shock for me," admits Nicole, in what must be a major understatement for the actress who suffered a miscarriage just a month after her very-public separation. Not to mention the humiliation of witnessing another actress, PenÚlope Cruz, take her place, enjoying the luxury of the family private jet; spending holidays with her ex and their two adopted children. It's hard for the public to separate fact from fiction in a marriage which has been the subject of endless debate from start to finish.
We are all guilty of poking holes in the lifestyles of those whose lives seem so separated from our own mundane reality in terms of wealth and glamour. Doesn't if make us feel better to imagine that life at the top isn't all it's cracked up to be?
As infamous US DJ Howard Stern put it on the day the super-couple announced their split: "Hollywood's most famous marriage is over. .. .and the children will shortly be returned to the props department. "
Not that one would repeat such a tasteless quip to the clearly hurting actress who is today forced to re-invent herself as Nicole Kidman, single-mother-of-no-fixed-abode, and not Mrs Tom Cruise, untouchable empress of five grand estates; professionally coifed glamour-queen; ever-shielded from the prying eye by private jets and a legion of SAS-trained bodyguards.
Yet the show must go on for 34-year-old Nicole, who has proved herself a real trouper, plunging into gruelling publicity rounds for her latest film, Moulin Rouge (2001), just weeks following her separation - just this month finalized as divorce.
"It's all been very surreal. I did have a miscarriage and I'm still coping with that. 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. It's been awful, but I will move forward day by day. I'm dealing with this, and I find I'm stronger than I thought. Although there are times when I don't feel that strong. I mean, there are times when I feel really, really weak. I think it is just that when you are a mother, and you have two people who are dependent on you, and look to you to be guided, you have to rise to that occasion."
"As much as you want to curl up in a ball and hide away from the world, you can't . .. you just can't," says the actress who says her biggest concern has been protecting the couple's two adopted children - Isabella, 8, and Connor, 6. "I try to do everything with them that I used to do as a child, so that their lives, as much as you can make them, are like the life you had as a child. I had a great childhood, so now, it's so much about trying to give our children that. "
If Nicole once cited her marriage as being her biggest personal achievement, then today she views motherhood as her life's work. "Being a mother, raising two kids, that is my biggest accomplishment so far. And I hope it will continue to be. I started at 25 and I'm 34 now. Today there are lots of single mothers. It's like a club. I can't wait to see what my kids are like when they are older. I have such a great relationship with my own parents. I can tell them anything, and they'll do anything for me. And they have a deep friendship and love for each other. But their love is realistic, not sort of kissing around ridiculously and pretending everything's great and not dealing with all the ups and downs of a 40-year marriage. I cherish that, and I'm so glad I have that to hold up."
"My present situation is strange and bizarre and all of those things, but it is what it is. As my dad says, 'Nic, it is what it is. ' You know, it's not what it should have been, not what it could have been. It is what it is. We will be the parents of two children for the rest of our lives, and that is the priority. So with that comes the need to be very mature, and the need to deal with it rationally," says the actress whose latest role sees her adopt a pose far removed from that of abandoned wife - dressed to the nines in bosom-boosting corsets doing the can-can for paying admirers in they stylish 19th century Parisian burlesque musical, Moulin Rouge (2001).
The irony is not lost on Nicole Kidman, who fully appreciates that this has been the best of times and the worst of times. "When you undergo something like this divorce and it's so public, so scrutinized, it's very difficult. I'm not complaining, because I know I made my bed. But it does make you reevaluate what you hold dear in your life. My aim is to survive and not become a victim. I'm determined to keep my sense of humour," says Nicole as she chats at Los Angeles' Century City Tower Hotel, dressed in a black V-neck sweater and black skirt; her beautiful red hair set off by antique emerald drop earrings, and pale, bare feet poking out from beneath her skirt.
In person, she radiates a fun, mischievous sweetness. And what's most unusual about a conversation with the down-to-earth actress is precisely what's missing: she isn't at all wary, defensive, cautious, or hesitant - the qualities that often seem to be part and parcel of a star's life.
Perhaps, in the end, the final outcome will be that Nicole finally finds herself as an actress. Despite an impressive body of work over the past decade - including films Billy Bathgate (1991), Malice (1993), My Life (1993), Batman Forever (1995), Practical Magic (1998), Portrait of A Lady, the (1996), Peacemaker, the (1997) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999) - it is true to say her career has been overshadowed by her status as Hollywood wife. "Mmm, yes and no," she says, pondering the notion. "This is a strange time for me in that there is even more media interest in me than ever before. Certainly, when you've reached a certain level you go, 'I don't need to push myself, don't need to challenge myself'. Success, I think, is something so corrupting to us all. It brings power, but it also brings complacency. In this business, it's very easy to be corrupted, and to pretend there are reasons for doing something you might not want to do," confesses the actress who reveals she has little personal confidence despite the fact she comes over as being so untouchable.
"Confidence is not something I've ever had in spades," she says, hesitantly. "But, then, I think that it's probably not so good as an actor to become to attached to yourself and your identity within the world. It's good as a human being though. " And it's also good for the box office that Nicole Kidman is seen as a humbled figure - which is, after all, something we can all relate to.
As life imitates art, the recent tragedy of her private life is further echoed in her portrayal of Moulin Rouge (2001)'s doomed courtesan, Satine, who falls in love with Ewan McGregor's struggling writer.
Starring in Baz Luhrmann's outrageously avant-garde musical, Nicole's love-lorn character would seem to duplicate her current plight. "Her role shows her as audiences have never seen her before," says fellow Aussie Luhrmann. "If Nicole is now a single person and not part of that royal family, this defines her independence like no other film could. "Nicole's got a big, hacking laugh and she's kind of tomboyish and playful. But she's also regal in a very classy way. "She's got that spirit I think her parents gave her, to pick yourself up and try again -- that old-fashioned, hold-your-chin-high kind of thing. "
By all accounts, Luhrmann appreciated the fact that McGregor and especially Kidman could take the rough-and-tumble days on Moulin Rouge (2001)'s intense song-and-dance set - and the bruised egos that go along with them. "We had some moments. Nicole is not without complications, unsurprisingly. But if this was a circus high-wire act, she walked the wire without a net," attests Luhrmann. Sort of like what she's doing now in her personal life.
As Luhrmann proudly announces today, "Nicole Kidman's show will go on. " While both Ewan and Nicole reveal themselves to possess fine voices, then Nicole reveals more than intended when you ask her to chose a personal favourite in the love song category. "That changes depending on who I'm in love with," she chirps spontaneously. Rapidly calculating how such a response sounds in the light of her oh-so-recent divorce, she laughs, rolling up her eyes, before covering them with her hands, and begging: "Oh no!" It could easily have been a "gotcha!" moment, but anyone who has met Nicole over the past six months cannot be deceived as to the depth of her romantic despair.
OK, so yes, she loyally attended her old pal Russell Crowe's recent Los Angeles concert - performing with his band 30 Odd Foot of Grunts - but it's not hard to distinguish between the body language of lustful fan/swooning groupie and that of supportive friend/long-time buddy. If few of us can relate to the dizzying heights which come with the privilege and wealth of Hollywood stardom, then we all know what a broken heart feels like. If Nicole was hard to warm to in the past, then her current dilemma places her within reach of collective sympathy. Nicole, perhaps, puts it more succinctly: "Now I'm a person that carries everything that's happened to me, my past, with me into my future. "But I refuse to let it make me bitter. I still completely believe in love, and I'm open to anything that will happen to me. I'm looking forward to whatever comes next in my life. "