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Nicole Kidman

Nicole Kidman, going it alone - in style

"Moulin Rouge" was Kidman's first film to be released after her divorce from actor Tom Cruise.  

(CNN) -- After ten years as one half of Hollywood's hottest couple, Nicole Kidman is re-emerging as a top-shelf star with her sensual on-camera appeal.

Within a year of separating from husband Tom Cruise, she has come into her own, appearing in two hit movies, earning raves for her performances and singing on a hit record. Critics have praised her two recent films "Moulin Rouge" and "The Others," which brought in $170 million and $100 million, respectively.

She recently won a best actress Golden Globe Award in a musical/comedy for "Moulin Rouge."

And she can sing, too. She showed off her talent with a rendition of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in "Moulin Rouge." She also sang a duet with British pop star Robbie Williams on an album that ranked No. 1 on the U.K. charts last December.

But, although she shone professionally over the last 12 months, she struggled privately with her failed marriage to one of Hollywood's hottest stars.

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Rumors swirled in the press after Cruise announced his separation from the Australian actress last February. Kidman, it was said, was shocked by Cruise's news. But after the initial shock, she put a brave -- and, eventually, light-hearted -- public face on her divorce.

"I can wear heels now," the 5-foot-10-inch beauty said in an interview with CBS "Late Show" host David Letterman, jokingly referring to the way she had played down the difference in height between her and her 5-foot-9 ex-husband.

Longtime Hollywood observer and Vanity Fair columnist Dominick Dunne said Kidman concealed her pain with great dignity when she appeared at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival in France.

"Whatever is going on inside, she kept that private," said Dunne. "That's what a star does, you know. She has obligations and she fulfilled them."

Discovered down under

Kidman received a Golden Globe award for best performance in a drama for the 1995 film "To Die For," in which she played a television anchor who hires three teen-agers to murder her husband.  

Kidman's obligations to stardom began in a rehearsal studio in a Sydney, Australia, at the age of 10.

Born Nicole Mary Kidman in Honolulu, Hawaii, on June 20, 1967 - the family returned to its native Australia when she was 4 -- the young aspiring actress spent her weekends at drama school with the support of her parents.

"They both have a love of the arts," Kidman said. "I think they gave it great credence and value."

The young actress found success early. The TV film she made in 1983, "Bush Christmas," remains a national favorite. That same year, she played a role in "BMX Bandits," the story of a group of kids on bikes who take on a gang of bank robbers.

She took up acting full time at age 16. A year later, she won the Australian Film Institute's Best Television Actress Award for her role in the mini-series "Vietnam."

After more success in Australia, she captured Hollywood's attention in the 1989 thriller "Dead Calm."

Within a year, Kidman was cast in "Days of Thunder," a film about a troubled race car driver -- played by Hollywood heartthrob Tom Cruise.

An instant romance sparked between the two stars. On Christmas Eve 1990, the couple married in a quiet ceremony in the resort town of Telluride, Colorado.

Soon after their marriage, the couple starred in the 1992 epic "Far and Away." But Kidman, now a partner in one of the most talked-about couples in Hollywood, was determined not to be typecast.

Diverse characters

Kidman at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. On the right is Ewan McGregor, her co-star in "Moulin Rouge."  

From the sexy love interest in "Batman" to the neurotic newscaster in "To Die For," Kidman's characters have been diverse. The "To Die For" performance earned her a 1995 Golden Globe.

"I think she's often times underrated, because she's so beautiful, you just think of her as a pretty girl," said filmmaker Sydney Pollack. "But if you were to look at her work ... 'To Die For,' 'Moulin Rouge' ... she's always extraordinary."

"Moulin Rouge" director Baz Luhrmann said he noticed how extraordinary Kidman was during a Vogue photo shoot a decade earlier.

"She did a Carole Lombard, a Marilyn image. She did a great Marlene image and a Lucille Ball," he said. "She's a real movie star. She does manifest those almost iconic qualities that those actors did."

Kidman shows her penchant for hard work in her career and her personal life. In 1993, she and Tom began to build a family together. They adopted a girl, Isabella, and two years later a boy, Connor.

"We do it all," said Kidman in 1996. "You have to have priorities. When one (of us) is working, the other isn't. We make compromises."

The couple has been very frank with the press about the importance of making time for their children -- an issue that became a focal point for the press and their fans when Cruise announced his separation from Kidman on February 4, 2001.

Two months after their 10th wedding anniversary, the marriage was over. Cruise's publicist announced "an amicable separation."

Friends of Kidman are quoted as saying she was "broadsided" by the news. Reasons for the split were kept private.

"I think both of them are enormously self-disciplined," said Tina Brown, editor of Talk magazine. "I think they were really bound together for their passion for the business and the passion for their work. And I think in the end, this passion can be very disruptive."

The divorce was made final in mid-November and People magazine reported a friendly relationship between the two. They will share custody of their two children.

But Kidman hasn't shied away from appearing in public. She continues to promote her movies, and is known for arriving in couture and heels to Hollywood events.

The A-list actress says 2001 was sometimes embarrassing and humiliating, but insists it was just one year in a very long life.

"Because you do have to go on the journey, and with that comes hard times, good times and it's how you get through it all and how you become a fuller, more realized person," she said.

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