From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Tom Cruise didn't work the red carpet at the Oscars on March 25. And his appearance onstage to present the Best Director award seemed to slip by before most viewers had recovered from the surprise of witnessing his first high-profile outing since his split from Nicole Kidman. Even more startled to see him were the A-list attendees at the Vanity Fair party later that night at Mortons. "He came in the back door. That's why a lot of people didn't realize he was there," says one guest, recalling the hubbub that ensued when they did. "People were treating him like the King of Hollywood."

Only one thing was missing: his Queen. Just last year Kidman, Cruise's glamorous wife of 10 years, had held court with her husband at the same soiree. "They caused a huge bottleneck," recalled one attendee. "Everyone was stopping to stare or talk to them." For the Hawaiian-born Australian actress, this year couldn't have been more different. While her estranged husband took the stage at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium, Kidman hunkered down at the home of a friend and, with millions around the world, watched the show on TV with a small group of pals.

Like her family in Sydney, that tight circle of friends has been a primary source of support and solace for Kidman, 33, since Cruise announced an end to their marriage on Feb. 5 and filed for divorce two days later. Now that it's been revealed that she suffered a miscarriage in mid-March, she may need them more than ever. On March 29 the Star tabloid broke the news and published a photograph of Kidman outside UCLA's Women's Health Center with Dr. Jonathan S. Berek, professor and vice chair of the university's division of obstetrics and gynecology.

Soon Kidman's Australian publicist Wendy Day, among others, confirmed the report. "She did miscarry, and it was a difficult situation," says a close friend of Kidman's. "It's a physical pain, but it's more an emotional loss." And while the public revelation sparked a flurry of tabloid rumors, her friends maintain emphatically that Cruise, 38, was the father. Says one: "Oh God, yes! No shadow of a doubt."

Even so, those friends say, Cruise has kept his distance from Kidman. Though they talk occasionally by phone about matters regarding their adopted children—Isabella, 8, and Connor, 6—and share custody, one friend says Cruise greeted Kidman's devastating news coolly. (Through a spokeswoman Cruise declined to comment.) "They were in conversation, and he was privy to the information," says the friend. "She was left quite alone."

And apparently wondering even now what went wrong. "She is still clueless as to why [Cruise ended the marriage]," says another close friend. "She's over wanting to get back with him, but she still doesn't understand what happened." If so, she's not alone. Friends who heard Cruise read aloud a tender love letter to his wife at a party at their home on Christmas Eve were shocked to hear they had parted just six weeks later. "It was a very romantic thing," says one guest. "It was as sweet as it could get between two people." What's more, Kidman told friends, the pair were still very much a couple when they attended the Golden Globes on Jan. 21. "He was openly affectionate after 10 years. Then they separate and he files for divorce?" asks one friend incredulously. "It shows he had no interest in trying to work things out."

That, of course, is only one side of the story. Through their representatives both Cruise and Kidman chose not to comment for this article. Privately, though, Cruise told a source on the set of his latest movie, Steven Spielberg's Minority Report, "Nic knows exactly why we are getting the divorce. But she's the mother of our children, and I wish her well."

Whatever the reasons for the split, the aftermath—compounded by her miscarriage—can't have been easy for Kidman. For much of her decade-long marriage, the actress made no secret of her desire to add to her family. "I'd like to give birth and adopt more children," she told Vanity Fair in 1994, after adopting Isabella and Connor. "We plan to do that. Definitely."

It never happened, though Kidman's every visit to a hospital during her marriage sparked avid tabloid speculation—never confirmed—that she was suffering from some reproductive ailment or another. In 1991, for instance, Kidman was hospitalized in New York City for what her publicist called the removal of painful scar tissue. More recently, in 1998, she was photographed leaving UCLA Medical Center accompanied by Berek, the same physician seen with her there last month.

Friends suggest that her recent pregnancy was not planned. And certainly its conclusion, so close to the end of her marriage and just weeks after her mother, Janelle, and sister Antonia flew home to Australia after a weeklong stay in California, must have felt like cruel timing indeed. "We're very sorry that it has happened," Janelle, a nurse educator, said from Sydney last week, "and would like to be with her while she's going through this."

Kidman, who is close to her entire family, including her father, Antony, a psychologist, would no doubt like that too. "It's lovely to have somebody who you know is always there for you," she told Marie Claire magazine shortly after her mother's visit. "That's so rare."

Now, perhaps, more than ever. On March 7 in L.A., Cruise filed a one-page sine die stipulation, which effectively gives Kidman unlimited time to respond to his Feb. 7 filing for divorce. At stake is some $250 million in property, cash and other holdings. But don't expect a messy court battle. "Given their celebrity status and the amount of money they have, I would say there's about a 99 percent chance that this case will be settled," says L.A. family-law attorney Lynn Soodik, who is also representing Meg Ryan in her divorce from Dennis Quaid.

Cruise, who has reportedly taken up residence in a pricey bungalow at the Hotel Bel Air, already shares custody of the children with Kidman, who has remained in the family home, a five-bedroom mansion in Pacific Palisades. The children, who are home-schooled, spend up to a week at a time with each parent. But while Cruise and Kidman speak on the phone, they seldom meet face-to-face, often handling the children's transfers through their assistants. Despite the arrangement, Kidman clearly sees herself as something of a single parent now. "Obviously, my children have a father who's going to be completely involved, but in terms of doing it alone, that's scary," she told Marie Claire. "It's a whole new path I'm about to walk. And it's daunting."

Keeping her career on track in the cutthroat world of Hollywood might also prove challenging. "Everyone's talking about what is going to happen to her now that they've split," says one Hollywood insider. "He's the star. And in this town, whoever is the biggie gets the friends." And a question persists as to how much star power Kidman commands on her own. Says a studio executive: "It remains to be seen if she can open a movie."

If she can, she'll soon have a chance to prove it with Moulin Rouge, the lavish production from Australian director Baz Luhrmann (William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet) in which Kidman plays Satine, a singer and courtesan at the legendary Paris nightclub. Despite her personal problems—and a nagging knee injury she sustained during filming—Kidman has been working almost daily recording vocals for the soundtrack of the movie (yes, she sings), which will open the Cannes Film Festival on May 9, two weeks before its U.S. release. "She's not acting like the weak little lamb who's been victimized or is too crushed to go forward," says a source at Fox Studios, which is distributing the film. Adds Luhrmann, referring to the fact that Kidman worked despite her injuries: "She embodies, more than anyone I have ever known, the catch line of Moulin Rouge: 'The show must go on.' "

For Kidman, that entails completing a full promotional schedule for the film—including trips to Cannes and Australia. Next she will play Virginia Woolf in the Miramax historical drama The Hours, costarring Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore and currently filming in London. (No word yet on whether she'll be taking the kids on her travels.)

Far from hiding out at home, Kidman appears to be charting her own course. Though designer Roberto Cavalli sent her a selection of gowns to wear to the parties following the Academy Awards, Kidman settled on a different occasion for coming out—five days before Cruise appeared at the Oscars. On March 21, as 3,000 guests gathered at L.A.'s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion for a black-tie fete welcoming singer Plácido Domingo as artistic director of the Los Angeles Opera, a sylphlike figure in a clingy black dress emerged onstage from the wings. "She said, 'Good evening, I'm Nicole Kidman,' and a gasp fell over the audience," says the opera's public relations associate John Weller. "They immediately began to applaud for her. She stood there and smiled, a little overcome by the show of support. I don't think she was expecting it. She was blushing and very appreciative."

The next night, while the rest of Hollywood continued to gear up for the Oscars, Kidman dined quietly with Best Actress nominee Juliette Binoche and another woman on the leafy patio of the nouvelle Italian L.A. restaurant Ago. In all, says a friend, Kidman "is a strong, strong woman and she's in good spirits. Lately much better than the first week."

Still, she faces a rocky road ahead. "All of her instincts and her being would want to just go back to Australia right now and be with her family and take the kids with her," says the friend. "But that would be a complication, and all she's concerned with is having the kids stay on the straight and narrow. Her main concern is to keep them steady."

If that means taking a different path from whatever Hollywood may offer her, then so be it. "There are times you say, 'I'm going to work,' and there are times you say, 'No, I want to stay home and take care of my children,' which is what I'm choosing to do now," she told Marie Claire. "I want to do that."

A worthy ambition, and one that, at least for now, seems more attainable than another goal Kidman has set for herself. "I think down the road she would like to be friends with Tom," says a friend. "A dream of hers is that they could be peaceful."

Susan Schindehette
Elizabeth Leonard, Julie Jordan, Michelle Caruso, Mark Dagostino, Frank Swertlow, Cynthia Wang and Lorenzo Benet in Los Angeles, Pete Norman in London and Penelope Green in Sydney

  • Contributors:
  • Elizabeth Leonard,
  • Julie Jordan,
  • Michelle Caruso,
  • Mark Dagostino,
  • Frank Swertlow,
  • Cynthia Wang,
  • Lorenzo Benet,
  • Pete Norman,
  • Penelope Green.