From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
THE RUGGED HILLSIDES AND WINDING roads of Ireland's Dingle Peninsula were too romantic for words, so newlyweds Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman readily gave way to nonverbal communication while rehearsing Far and Away on location in Ireland last May. "One day, director Hon Howard was saying, 'Come on, let's do a bit of work,' " recalls propsman Derek Wallace. "Tom and Nicole were kissing. Finally, one of the truck drivers said, 'Somebody get a bucket of water—quick!"

Actually, it probably would have taken a Dublin fire brigade to cool the ardor between the slight (5'9"), chisel-featured Cruise, 29, and the stately (5'10"), Pre-Raphaelite Kidman, 24. In the 18th month of their marriage, they are enraptured with one another to the exclusion of a curious and perhaps envious world around them. "We have so much in common that it's almost as it we are the same person." Kidman has said. "We know what it takes to make each other happy."

Not that their love is entirely selfish. While they may not quite match the big-screen sizzle of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, their real-life romance adds more than the usual verisimilitude to the passionate play of Far and Away. This Irish-American romantic epic could put all four of their sweaty palms on the title of Hollywood's Most Romantic Couple. The only romantic hit in a season of action-adventure sequels, Far and Away opened robustly over Memorial Day weekend and put memories of their first joint effort, 1990's critically panned Days of Thunder, far and away behind them.

The greatest reward of this film, however, may have been in its making. They were married just five months before production began, and "Ireland was really the honeymoon period for them," says Irish location manager Martha O'Neill, who followed the crew through Dingle, historic Dublin and picturesque County Wicklow. "They stuck together. When Oprah Winfrey had them on her show last month, she asked if they did everything as a couple. "Yes," said Tom. "We like being together 24 hours a day."

Fortunately for both, Cruise's clout in Hollywood (his 14 films have grossed more than $1 billion since 1981) allows the couple not only to live in their own world but also to control it to a degree that few other megastars can manage. They reportedly insisted that a sophisticated Scientology-created audio system (Cruise and Kidman belong to the controversial Church of Scientology) be used to record their Far and Away dialogue. Their publicists also mandated that reporters on a recent Far and Away press junket sign agreements that restrict the use of their interviews to the release and distribution of the film.

That demand is right in character for Cruise, an intensely private person who sculpts his public image as carefully as he does his biceps. For example, almost until the day of their separation in. January 1990, Cruise claimed to be happily married to first wife Mimi Rogers. "When I was asked direct questions in the press about my marriage, I felt that to compromise our privacy was to compromise a basic trust," he later said.

Cruise's defenders chalk up his cautiousness to self-consciousness. After all, PEOPLE'S 1990 Sexiest Man Alive spends his life under a microscope. "Everyone would ask me, Is Cruise really stuck up?' " says production assistant Nathan Elliott. "I don't think so. I think he's just really shy."

During shooting in Billings, Mont. (which passes for Oklahoma in the film), last spring and summer, the Cruises rented a five-bedroom, six-bath, 7,500-square-foot wood house at the end of a private dirt road. The owners, Mike Overstreet, president of Corporate Air, a cargo and charter airline, his wife, Linda, and their 15-year-old daughter, Shara, temporarily moved into a nearby condo, telling their friends that they were doing some remodeling. Secrecy was so important that when a classmate of Shara's announced that Tom Cruise was staying in the Overstreet house, Shara denied it, saying only, "I wish!"

When the couple would let down their guard on the set, it was only in safe situations. Though extras were cautioned against talking to the stars, Nicole took time out one day to speak warmly with some of the child actors in the movie. But mostly Cruise and Kidman spent their between-scenes time sequestered in their silver-gray Bluebird bus, customized with a fully furnished living room, microwave-equipped kitchen and a large bedroom with a queen-size bed. On top of the bus sat a satellite dish.

Throughout the shoot, Cruise lavished Kidman with public-displays of TLC. "He was always taking care of her," says extra Tony Leone. "He would put a towel around her, making sure that she was feeling good." Though rumors swept the set that Kidman may have been pregnant, both Cruise and Kidman vehemently deny it. A skydiving trip in late July with Cruise, costar Thomas Gibson (who plays Kidman's unctuous suitor) and Cruise's good friend Emilio Estevez, put an end to the gossip. While Kidman played it relatively safe, jumping hand in hand with a friend from the set, soloing Cruise "ate it really bad," says local sky diver Dave Donovan, who witnessed the descent. "He landed so hard, I didn't know if he would get up."

Tom, a relative novice in the saddle, did better on horseback. Screenwriter and coproducer Bob Dolman noticed a little good-natured competition between Cruise and Kidman, a seasoned rider. During filming of the race scene, a truck driving alongside the stars tracked their speeds. "We clocked Nicole at 35 m.p.h.," Dolman recalls, "and she rode up to Tom and said, in his face, '35!' Then it was Tom's turn, and he rode as fast as he could, seemingly just to beat her. "We clocked him at 39, and he raised his fist in the air and said, 'Yes!' "

Another time, though, Cruise said, "No!" and the locals were miffed. He and Nicole posed for a cast picture with some 100 extras, with promises that each would get a copy. Then they were unable to authorize its release. "We found out that some stipulation in Tom's contract forbids those kinds of pictures," says Leone. "It put a real bitter taste in everyone's mouth." Still, nobody begrudged the Cruises their good time. On one set, a board was put up on which the crew was invited to propose titles for the then unnamed film. Somebody scrawled TOM AND NICOLE'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE.

The adventure continued in Ireland, where cast and crew returned last August. Though Dingle was the Auld Sod hideaway to which Julia Roberts had fled with Jason Patric after canceling her wedding to Kiefer Sutherland, it proved no refuge for Tom and Nicole. "The Irish are not interested in stars, because they're used to living with big literary names like Yeats and Joyce," says Seamus Byrne, Far and Away's Irish production manager. "But everyone was interested in Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. There was that bit of the prince and princess about them."

"Fans on the street would scream both their names," says Dublin actress Claudia Stokes, who was hired to help Kidman with her upper-crust Irish accent. "All the girls wanted to look like Nicole. She and Tom would put on jeans and look like they were out of Vogue magazine."

At Dublin's posh Berkeley Court Hotel the Cruises stayed in the Penthouse Suite with a marble kitchen, peach bedroom, Jacuzzi-equipped bathroom and a view of Dublin Bay. They played a daily round of squash, their favorite game, at Dublin's River-View Racquet and Fitness Club.

The couple shopped for Irish linen at a tony Dublin department store, Brown Thomas (where Cruise also bought two queen-size virgin-fleece mattress pads), and attended a play at the city's famous Abbey Theatre. They entertained actor pals Sean Penn and Billy Baldwin. Nicole's parents (Dr. Anthony Kidman, a Sydney biologist and psychologist, and Janelle, a nurse) and Tom's mom, Mary Lee (a teacher of dyslexic and hyperkinetic children), also visited.

Director Howard used the couple's intimacy to his advantage. In the final take for the well-publicized scene in which Kidman lifts a strategically placed bowl from a naked Cruise to sneak a peek at his private parts, Howard added genuine spontaneity to Nicole's expression of sly amusement by persuading Cruise to remove a cloth that had previously preserved his modesty.

If Howard ultimately made the most of their relationship, though, he was the last to know about it. While the movie was still in the casting stage, producer Brian Grazer recalls, "Cruise asked Ron, with a real straight face, 'Who are you thinking about for the girl?...What about Nicole Kidman?' "

"I'm not really sure who she is," Howard replied, promising to familiarize himself with her work. Grazer had to step in to explain the facts of life. "I said, 'Ron, she's great,' " he remembers. " 'But do you realize that they're living together?' "

The rest of the world had been keeping tabs on Cruise and Kidman since they began dating while filming Days of Thunder, after Cruise and Rogers announced their separation. At the time, Cruise had a reputation for being exceedingly serious. His 1986 Color of Money costar Paul Newman once sent Tom a six-pack of beer with the instructions, "You're always working. I want you to sit down. I want you to drink all these beers."

Kidman, who had starred in the 1989 Australian thriller Dead Calm and formerly dated Aussie TV star Marcus Graham, helped Cruise lighten up. "Nicole's a little giddier and more fun-loving than Tom is," says Ward Russell, Thunder's director of photography. "I think she brings out some of that in Tom. She would be laughing and joking, and he would be smiling and laughing more when he was with her." They married on Christmas Eve 1990 and now share two homes, a $5 million mansion in L.A. and an apartment in downtown Manhattan.

In L.A. Tom and Nic, as he calls her, knock around in jeans and T-shirts and hang out at the movies. "I couldn't tell you the name of a single posh restaurant," Kidman has said. "We don't have an entourage. My husband is my best pal. His company is enough for me."

It was too much for Mimi Rogers. After their divorce, she complained of the burden of being Mrs. Tom Cruise. "You cease to become a singular individual," she said. "You're never again mentioned without that name. And that's hard."

But Kidman is willing to accept the consequences. "I knew it would be difficult for my career when we decided to get married," she has said. "But I figured, god, you fall in love with somebody and get married once, properly. I want to be happy, and that's a big part of being happy."

And so they go, always arm in arm, to the Oscars, the Cannes Film Festival, the Hollywood premiere of Far and Away. Cruise babbles to Esquire that "Nic just makes me feel fun around her," and Kidman coos to W, "Two years isn't that much. Wait till we're together 50 years!" of course, it remains to be seen whether any high-profile dual-career marriage can go the distance in Hollywood. But the Cruises aren't worried. As Nicole said back in January, "Officially, we will be on our honeymoon the rest of our lives."

ELIZABETH SPORKIN
VICKIE BANE in Billings, LAURA SANDERSON HEALY in Dublin and Dingle and TODD GOLD, VICKI SHEFF-CAHAN and JOYCE WAGNER in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • Vickie Bane,
  • Laura Sanderson Healy,
  • Todd Gold,
  • Vicki Sheff-Cahan,
  • Joyce Wagner.