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Nicole Kidman

updated 05/04/1992 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/04/1992 AT 01:00 AM EDT

First, the hair: lots of it, lush and red and crazy with curls. Next, the height: she's 5'10" minus the hair. Then, the husband: Tom Cruise, Hollywood's cockiest grin, a perfect match for Kidman's stoic luster. Cosmopolitan called the Australian, 24, "a sexy, high-spirited beauty," but she grew up feeling like "the ugliest person alive." Kidman funneled that insecurity into acting and as a teen won two AFIs (Australia's Oscar). In 1989, Dead Calm, her high-seas movie scorcher, lit Cruise's fire when he screened it; he quickly cast her as his Days of Thunder love interest. Five years Kidman's senior (and officially 1" shorter), he fell hard during the filming and married her on Christmas Eve, 1990. The couple costar again in this month's period Irish romance, Far and Away. "She's absolutely, stunningly beautiful in it," says its director, Ron Howard. "As good as our cinematographer was, he didn't have to work too hard to make her look great." He just turned the camera on and got out of the way.

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