From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
It's one of those things divorcing couples do. You book and pay for a vacation, months in advance, then the relationship sours and you agree to split it. According to his publicist, that's what Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman decided to do with the two-week paid-up holiday they had planned a year ago at the exclusive $1,475-and-up-a-night Wakaya Club resort in Fiji. Kidman took the first week, arriving with the couple's children, Isabella and Connor, on July 6. Four days later she was joined by Russell Crowe, sparking fevered speculation that the two were an item. In fact, Crowe, a longtime Kidman friend, had brought along his own tall blonde companion.

The real surprise came when Cruise turned up with a date too. On July 15 the star jetted in to Wakaya and rented the entire resort with his sister Lee Anne and a few friends from his next movie. Vanilla Sky, including his Spanish costar Penélope Cruz. The next day the actor's spokeswoman Pat Kingsley confirmed that Cruise, 39, and Cruz, 27, had been going on dates in the days preceding the trip. Kidman heard the news the next morning in Sydney, where she has been continuing her vacation with the children. "Nicole was just totally in shock," says a close friend, adding that Kidman, 34, had asked Cruise about rumors linking him with his costar while Vanilla Sky was being filmed in New York City and L.A. from November to March. "She said, 'He flat out swore to me up and down that there was nothing going on,' " says the friend. Kidman's initial reaction was to suspect otherwise. "She said, 'He obviously had her waiting in the wings and just waited until he started looking like a nice guy again [to go public with the romance].' All this time she's been wondering why the marriage ended, and this could be it."

What's more, Kidman's spokeswoman denies that they had ever planned to split the trip and says Nicole had no idea that Cruise was planning to visit the island—let alone with Cruz. Regardless of the travel plans, Kingsley insists that Cruise and Cruz, who finished filming Sky in March, hadn't seen each other again until his birthday party at a Santa Monica nightclub on July 6, where they took to the dance floor three times. The following week "they went out a couple of times," Kingsley says, including a lunch date at the trendy L.A. eatery Spago Beverly Hills, where they hugged and cheek-kissed as they bade each other goodbye. For her part Cruz kept even her Spanish pals in the dark about her South Pacific plans. "She didn't tell me and I didn't ask," says her friend and Madrid-based agent Katrina Bayonas. "That way I don't have to lie to the Spanish press."

For Cruise the flap over his fledgling romance is just the latest distraction in a period that has been as packed with challenges as any high-wire movie stunt. Nearly six months after announcing his sudden split from Kidman, he finds himself juggling roles as Hollywood's most powerful leading man, a newly single father and a combatant in a high-stakes divorce battle. "I don't think for a moment he's not feeling pain about [the split]—I know he is," says actor-director Sydney Pollack, Cruise's friend and Eyes Wide Shut costar. "He is not going around complaining to magazines and talking to people about it. Tom is a very disciplined guy. He's getting on with his life—being a professional and being the best father he can be under the circumstances."

In fact, Cruise will spend most of August with Isabella, 8, and Connor, 6, including time at his estate in Telluride, Colo. "My kids are the most important thing in the world to me," Cruise recently told PEOPLE. "They always have been and they always will. There is nothing else in the world that matters to me right now."

Nevertheless, the Cruise-Cruz connection complicates what some observers say is Cruise's struggle to play catchup in a public relations battle with his estranged wife. While a Kidman spoke guardedly about the split during the international publicity blitz for her film Moulin Rouge—"All I will say is, it's been awful, one of those things where you just say, I cannot believe this is happening to me,' " she told Oprah Winfrey in May—Cruise has remained mum, save for his cryptic, studiously analyzed comment that "Nic knows exactly why we're getting a divorce." "Lots of people have urged him to speak out, and he just says he's not going to do that," says Bert Fields, his business lawyer. "He's primarily moved by the kids and not wanting to make this a public debate."

Privately the debate is just getting started. The marriage could be formally ended by Aug. 7 if the L.A. superior court grants a motion for bifurcation—a fast-tracking process that allows a marriage to be dissolved before division of assets and custody is settled—which Cruise has filed. Meanwhile, Cruise and Kidman have agreed to work with a private mediator—the first session, at which both are expected to appear, is scheduled for the end of this month—to begin the process of resolving their differences to avoid a public showdown in court. The two have each requested joint legal custody of Isabella and Connor, allowing them to make decisions together for the children, whom they adopted as babies. Kidman is seeking primary physical custody, while Cruise has requested shared physical custody. Coming to terms over money could prove particularly difficult. With a personal fortune estimated at $100 million, about half of Cruise's, Kidman, under California law, is entitled to half the couple's community property—assets acquired during the marriage. But settling on a dollar figure, given their complicated finances, could be problematic. Kidman is also asking for family support payments until Connor turns 19. "In terms of assets and money, [Kidman] asked for what I believe is way, way more than any court would give," Cruise's divorce lawyer Dennis Wasser tells PEOPLE. Responds Kidman's spokeswoman: "Nicole believes it's undignified and inappropriate to comment on any aspect of the divorce proceedings."

Still, master multitasker Cruise has been largely unflappable, even with the added stress of suing a magazine publisher and a gay porn actor for $100 million each for allegedly spreading rumors that he is gay. "Tom is very strong—he handles stress," says his first wife, actress Mimi Rogers, whose nearly three-year marriage to Cruise ended in divorce in 1990. "He's human. He has a temper. He blows up sometimes, whatever, but it's not like he can't deal with it." Colleagues on the two movies Cruise recently finished filming back-to-back agree. "Whatever personal pain he might have been going through, he never showed it on the set," says Cameron Crowe, director of Vanilla Sky, which is scheduled for release in December. Nor did Cruise ask for a break on the Steven Spielberg-directed sci-fi thriller Minority Report, which wrapped in early July and is expected out next summer. Cruise, says Spielberg, was "often the first on the set [after] putting the kids in school and then doing his workout—often before I even got there." When Cruise gets downtime, "he sleeps and eats and spends it with the kids," says Fields. "I don't think he has a lot of time for fun when he's making a picture."

He has, however, made time to appear at several recent Hollywood award-fests and other events, especially of the kid-friendly variety. Cruise volunteered for a chilly turn at the dunk tank during last month's Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation fund-raising carnival in L.A., where Connor § and Isabella were first in line to dump their dad in the drink. At the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards in April, his children and Lee Anne, 42, watched him grin stoically through the traditional shower of green goo. "He stood in the slime longer than most celebrities" and spent an hour with young fans, says host Rosie O'Donnell. "He was enjoying himself."

But Cruise—who recently changed the name of his private plane Sweet Nic to Sweet Bella, after his daughter—seems just as easy with the kids when photographers aren't around. While shooting a scene on the L.A. set of Minority Report, Cruise heard his cell phone ring during filming, recalls costar Neal McDonaugh. "Everyone stopped, and then you heard Tom say, 'Hey, Connor! Can I call you right back?' " Delighted, the crew cheered and called out a greeting. "The kids are doing great," says Lee Anne, who works in marketing at her brother's production company. "They have loving families around them. Tom is an incredible dad." (No argument there from Kidman: "I think he's a great dad and she does too," says her friend.)

As for the new woman in Cruise's life, the Madrid-born Cruz, trained as a ballet dancer in her teens, initially charmed her Vanilla Sky costar by imitating his character in Mission: Impossible. Cruz would make a gun with her fingers and hold it to the side of her head, Sky director Crowe told PEOPLE earlier this year. "It was such a kind of fan's imitation of him, but it was so perfect," he said at the time. "Tom loves it. He makes her do it all the time." Cruz, whose former loves include Spanish singer Nacho Cano and Czech film director Thomas Obermaier, is known for befriending her leading men, but she has denied reports of on-location romances with Matt Damon (during filming of All The Pretty Horses) and Nicolas Cage (on the set of the forthcoming Captain Corelli's Mandolin). "Every time I'm with someone new," she recently told a French journalist, "they say we're a couple."

Kidman, meanwhile, seems to be adjusting to her life as a single woman. During her marriage "I think she felt reined in to an extent," her friend says of the actress, who celebrated the wrap of her next movie, The Hours, by dancing with friends at a chic London club on June 29. "Everything she did and said reflected on [Tom], so there was always that feeling that she couldn't totally relax and do something goofy." Still, the friend adds, "in her heart I think she hopes that somehow he will soften through all of this and they could have a civil relationship like other people we hear about. Look at Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid."

Or Cruise and Mimi Rogers. After their divorce 11 years ago, "there was a sort of cooling-off period" before they were amicable again, says Rogers, 46, who is expecting her second child with longtime boyfriend Chris Ciaffa this month. Now the relationship is "nice and friendly," she says, though "between his life and mine, it's not like we have a lot of time to see each other." Sydney Pollack, too, holds out hope for a thaw in Cruise-Kidman relations and remains involved in developing The Lives of Lee Miller, a bio of the famed World War II photographer that Cruise's production company kicked off with Kidman in mind to star. "Tom's company commissioned the screenplay, and I think Tom's company would stay involved," says Pollack. "He admires her work enormously. He tries to keep separate whatever their personal problems are from his appreciation of her as an actress." For now, though, Cruise is still coping with his marriage's bitter end. "My brother has incredible dignity and I admire him for it," says Lee Anne. "He is living his life the best way he knows how."

Samantha Miller
Elizabeth Leonard, Michael Fleeman, Michelle Caruso, Mark Dagostino, Julie Jordan, Cynthia Wang and Ulrica Wihlborg in Los Angeles, Pete Norman and Eileen Finan in London, Peter Mikelbank in Paris, Jane Walker in Madrid and Michelle Coffey in Sydney

  • Contributors:
  • Elizabeth Leonard,
  • Michael Fleeman,
  • Michelle Caruso,
  • Mark Dagostino,
  • Julie Jordan,
  • Cynthia Wang,
  • Ulrica Wihlborg,
  • Pete Norman,
  • Eileen Finan,
  • Peter Mikelbank,
  • Jane Walker,
  • Michelle Coffey.