Though American-born (her father Anthony, a biochemist and psychologist, was studying in Hawaii), Kidman grew up in Longueville, a suburb of Sydney, Australia, from the time she was four years old. Early on, Anthony and his wife, Janelle, a nursing teacher and devoted feminist, introduced Nicole and her younger sister, Antonia, to the culture of social and political activism.
Kidman's first experience with acting came when she was six years old and she appeared in her school's Christmas pageant. She trained in dance, drama, and mime through her teen years, developing a particularly strong passion for ballet. She became a regular performer at Sydney's Philip Street Theater and in 1983 made her television debut in Bush Christmas, which still airs in Australia each December. In 1985, when she was only 17, members of the Australian Film Institute voted Kidman Actress of the Year for her work in the TV miniseries Vietnam. That same year, Janelle Kidman was diagnosed with breast cancer, and her eldest daughter dropped out of North Sydney High School to concentrate on her family and her acting career.
By the time she made her first American film, 1989's Dead Calm, Kidman was already a popular star in Australia. Her performance alongside fellow Australian actor Sam Neill won the actress rave reviews and led to a lead role in her next movie, the race-car drama Days of Thunder. Her costar was Tom Cruise, then most famous for his role as a cocky naval fighter pilot in 1986's Top Gun.
The movie was pure formula, but the chemistry was real: on Christmas Eve, 1990, in Telluride, Colorado, Kidman and Cruise were married after a whirlwind courtship.
Over the next few years, Kidman struggled to prove herself in the media and with the critics as not only "Mrs. Tom Cruise," but as an actress in her own right. The most striking evidence that she had succeeded in these efforts came in 1995 with her chilling portrayal of the murderous TV reporter Suzanne Maretto in To Die For, directed by Gus van Sant. With starring roles in high-profile movies such as Batman Returns, The Peacemaker, costarring George Clooney, and Practical Magic, costarring Sandra Bullock, Kidman cemented her own A-list status.
In the fall of 1998, Kidman took to the London stage in the playwright David Hare's The Blue Room, a role which she reprised on Broadway in 1999. Her performance-complete with a brief, highly publicized nude scene-earned high praise from critics. Kidman and Cruise spent much of 1997 and 1998 shooting Eyes Wide Shut for the director Stanley Kubrick, who died shortly before finishing the film, which was released in the summer of 1999. The two actors starred in the long-awaited film as a married couple who explores their psychosexual fantasies with strange and potentially devastating results.
Over the years, Kidman and Cruise fiercely and publicly defended the happiness and legitimacy of their marriage and have filed two different lawsuits against tabloid publications for stories they considered libelous.
On February 5, 2001, Kidman and Cruise announced through a spokesman that they were amicably separating after 11 years of marriage. The couple cited the difficulties involved with two acting careers and the amount of time spent apart while both are working. Cruise filed for divorce shortly thereafter, prompting media reports that Kidman was confused and devastated by the breakup. In late March, Kidman's publicist confirmed rumors that the actress suffered a miscarriage roughly one month after the separation was announced. The Kidman-Cruise divorce was finalized in August 2001. They have two children by adoption, Isabella and Conner.
Just as her private turmoil became public knowledge, Kidman was vaulting to the next level professionally, with critically lauded performances in two major released in 2001. She headlined the the long-awaited musical Moulin Rouge (2001), helmed by the outrageous Australian director Baz Luhrmann, playing a spectacularly beautiful cabaret performer. In the chilling suspense film The Others, executive produced by Cruise, Kidman impressed both critics and audiences (the low budget film was the sleeper hit of the summer) with her graceful performance as a young mother alone with her children in a decidedly spooky house. For the two dramatically different roles, Kidman earned twin Golden Globe nods for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy and Best Actress in a Drama, respectively.
Though she was forced to drop out of another film, the thriller The Panic Room, citing a knee injury sustained during the filming of Moulin Rouge (she was replaced in that film by Jodie Foster), Kidman had no lack of prime roles. In 2003, she won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for her performance in Stephen Daldry's The Hours, starring as the doomed author Virginia Woolf alongside Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore and Ed Harris.
In 2003, she starred opposite Anthony Hopkins in the film adaptation of the best-selling book The Human Stain. Upcoming projects include Jonathan Glazer's Birth, Frank Oz's remake of the 1975 thriller The Stepford Wives and the Dogville trilogy from Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier.