In 1991, the Tahitian-born Lombard met a stranger in paradise: her mother

FIVE MONTHS AGO SHE WAS LYING ON A MOONLIT BEACH IN THE Cayman Islands with Tom Cruise, unbuttoning his shirt and nibbling at his lips while shooting a scene for The Firm. But now, in the garden of her rented two-bedroom beach shack in Venice, Calif., Karina Lombard, 24, is making waves by complaining about her far (and away) better-known screen lover. Sure, she was merely a young starlet, playing a small but pivotal role as the nameless prostitute who seduces Cruise's character, lawyer Mitch McDeere. Yet as soon as director Sydney Pollack yelled, "Cut!" there was no doubt, she says, who the star was. "There were like 50 people rushing to clean him up," she says of Cruise, with a mock pout. "And I'm standing there full of sand, and nobody comes to help me...I thought, 'Ewww!' "

Some people had (he same reaction to Lombard when she publicly criticized Cruise's wife, Nicole Kidman, for hanging around during the filming of that love scene. Lombard recently issued a "clarification" saying, "Nicole was absolutely not spying on me!" Still, once Lombard warms to the subject again, she doesn't mince words. After each take, she says, Cruise "was whisked away by his beloved." She shakes her head. "I was there to do a job," says Lombard, who is. after all, married herself (to Anthony Crane, 29, an actor and aspiring playwright). Kidman, she says, was "very rude."

Could all this carping merely be Lombard's ploy to generate publicity? That theory doesn't sit well with Martine Beswicke, who appeared with her in Wide Sargasso Sea, a steamy art-house film in which Lombard made her big-screen breakthrough earlier this year playing a 19th-century Creole heiress. "It's not that she's a bitch or egotistical," Beswicke says. "She's terrifically passionate; about her work. There's a wonderful naïveté about her." And yet, adds Sharon Mitchell, Lombard's former agent, "she's very worldly. She's educated in a way that most of us haven't been."

Lombard's background couldn't be more; exotic. She was born in Tahiti, the daughter of Henry Lombard, then 58, the Swiss-Russian heir to a Geneva banking dynasty, and Nupuree Lightfoot, a Lakota Indian medicine woman some 30 years his junior. In 1970, when Karina was only a year old, Henry, under pressure from his aristocratic family to leave Nupuree, persuaded her to give up the children. "She agreed we should have a 'white' upbringing," says Karina, who moved with her four older siblings, Helen, Ines, Charles and Denise, to their father's mansion in Barcelona.

At 11, Lombard was sent off to Vinet, a boarding school in Lausanne where, she says, "being American Indian meant being treated like a savage." Acting in school plays gained her the respect of her classmates, and after graduating from Vinet at 18, she settled in Manhattan, where she was accepted at the famed Actors Studio. But it was photographer Bruce Weber who, seeking a Native American for an ad campaign, spotted Lombard at a restaurant and gave her her first big break. Soon she was adorning the pages of Elle and Vogue.

Acting offers followed, and in 1991, while shooting a French TV series, Lombard found herself back in Tahiti. One day. she says, "a stranger with the shape of my face turned up at my hotel." It was Nupuree, who had seen Karina's photo in a newspaper. "She started crying, and I was completely frozen. She talked, but I couldn't hear her," says Lombard. After a second meeting, the two women warmed to each other. Since then, however, Lombard has not kept in touch with her mother. "You love the people you share a life with," she says by way of explanation. "I'm sure I'll see her again when I have children of my own." She also rarely communicates with Henry, who, at 82, is unmarried and living in Barcelona.

These days, Lombard is busy filming Legends of the Fall, a World War I epic in which she plays the wife of Brad (A River Runs Through It) Pitt. But neither Pitt nor Cruise can compare, in Lombard's estimation, with Crane. He is off on a five-month tour of the Himalayas—but she gets misty just recalling snapshots from their life. The way he proposed, for instance. A fitness buff, she recalls how, one day in 1991, Anthony slipped a Tiffany's diamond ring into her can of protein-powder food supplement. "It was so romantic," she says, "I started to cry."

MICHAEL A. LIPTON
JOHN GRIFFITHS in Venice

  • Contributors:
  • John Griffiths.