04/04/2004 AT 09:00 AM EDT
Kidman, of course, knows both edges well. A shy, gawky girl whose moonlit skin always seemed out of place in her sand-and-tan hometown of Sydney, Kidman went from being Tom Cruise's onscreen girlfriend (in 1990's Days of Thunder) to Tom Cruise's real-life wife to Tom Cruise's ex, after their painful, high-profile split in February 2001. But even as she spent a decade as one half of the one-breath duo "TomandNicole," it seemed evident that the flame-haired beauty with the impossibly long legs – and, yes, perfectly pert nose – was just waiting to ignite. After paying her dues as the Love Interest (1991's Billy Bathgate; 1995's Batman Forever), Kidman showed 'em what she could really do with her indelibly brash performance in the 1995 black comedy To Die For, her heartbreaking work in 2001's The Others and her Oscar-nominated all-that-jazz pizzazz (even before Renee) in 2001's Moulin Rouge! Along the way, she also became one of Hollywood's most sophisticated style arbiters and a mom to Isabella, 10, and Connor, 8. But winning the Oscar had the stunned Kidman recalling her own childhood dreams. "It's one of those things, when you sit in your living room in your pajamas and you watch television and you think, 'Wow, that would be amazing to be a part of that,' " she says. "But you never think that that's a reality." Still, she doesn't plan to rest on her laurels. With every new film, "I still go back thinking, 'Oh my gosh, I'm going to get fired,' " she says. "I think you have to operate from the sense of everything is new and you're starting again."