July 2006

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Nicole Kidman & Tom Cruise

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

He was a hot-shot stock-car driver. She was a winsome 22-year-old brain surgeon. Theirs was truly a marriage made in make-believe.

The film was released as Days of Thunder, but when she got the call that he wanted her to read for a part, the working title was Daytona, a reference to its Florida racetrack setting.

At that point, Thomas Cruise Mapother IV was one of the biggest money-spinners in Hollywood, an Oscar nominee who’d recently been voted Best Dressed Male Movie Star. Nicole Kidman, who had just made her US debut in Dead Calm, was sceptical but game. “I’d been to LA before. But hey, free trip!”

The reading took place in a Paramount conference room before Cruise and a small platoon of co-producers. Kidman summoned her professional nonchalance and Cruise greeted her with collegial compliments, but there was one small, unforeseen problem. The fastest rising star in show business was so short that the pilot he played in Top Gun would not have met the minimum height requirement for the US Navy. When he stood to shake the willowy redhead’s hand, she found herself looking downward.

Kidman knew the rules. “It simply wouldn’t do, having the girlfriend tower over the macho race-car driver.”

For a moment, nobody spoke. Then the two actors burst out laughing. She picked up the script and began to read. He talked intensely and did things with his hands. It was lust at first sight. Nic thought Tom was the sexiest man she’d ever clapped eyes on. Tom felt the same. “It was totally physical.”

The next day she was told that she had the part. It wasn’t written yet, but it was hers.

The movie was a dumb, noisy star vehicle with Cruise in almost every scene. While tropical storms lashed the racetrack set, Kidman did a lot of waiting around for her turn as the improbable eye-candy, love-interest neurosurgeon. But before the shoot was over, the two were an item.

The rest is tabloid history. For ten years, the sun shone on stardom’s golden couple. He told the world to show him the money. She was to die for. Then the squirt did the dirty.

Since their divorce, Kidman has won an Oscar, sung on a hit single and dusted off her high heels. Mapother, now rich beyond the dreams of avarice, has become an Operating Thetan Seven of the inner circle. His height remains 170 centimetres.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

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