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Take a quick tour of downtown Nashville and there's no sign that Nicole Kidman lives here: no swarms of paparazzi, no posters for her upcoming film. The face of her husband, country music megastar Keith Urban, is all over -- on radio station billboards, on collages of country crooners painted on the sides of buildings. A sign in front of the American Red Cross office reads "Donate blood, win Keith Urban tickets!" But Kidman is practically invisible, and happy about it.
"I love living here," Kidman says, kicking off her sandals and settling into an armchair in a local hotel. She's dressed in a floaty white skirt and a cotton print camisole. "It's a long way from New York and Los Angeles, but that's part of the attraction. I feel protected here, especially now that I have the baby." That baby is 1-year-old Sunday Rose, to whom she gave birth at age 41. "There are certain limitations to my career because I'm based here. And that's cool. Keith has enormous ambitions, which I support. His tours and albums are much bigger than what I'm doing right now."
Don't be misled -- Kidman is doing plenty. She spends a lot of time on the couple's 36-acre farm, about 45 minutes outside Nashville. "If I was unhappy I wouldn't be able to live on a farm. I'd feel too lonely," she says. "But when you're happy I think you can live anywhere." She loves their thickets of trees, her vegetable garden. Most mornings Urban plays the piano for her and Sunday. "I hum a little," she says. "When your husband's a huge singer, the last thing you do is sing with him." Every week she hosts a 10 a.m. baby group, moms and dads eating muffins and sharing intel. "This is my way of having 10 kids," says Kidman, who confides that she would like to have another. (Her two older children, Isabella, 16, and Connor, 14, live mostly with their father, Tom Cruise, in Los Angeles.)
Because Kidman and Urban have a rule -- they don't spend more than four days apart -- she often accompanies him to gigs. They also have a place in Los Angeles with rooms for Isabella and Connor, and they own a 110-acre cattle ranch in Australia that has four alpacas. "Sunday's third word was 'wow,' and I say that word a lot," says Kidman. "I hope when I'm 80 I'll still be saying it. I've been given extraordinary opportunities, with huge dreams fulfilled. I'm 42, and my eyes are still wide open."
Between 2001 and 2008 Kidman made 17 movies, one of which, The Hours, won her a best-actress Oscar. But it seems Kidman's days of zooming from one film set to the next are over. "I was running from my life, in a way," she says. "My imaginary life was better than my flesh-and-blood life. That's a sad thing to say, but it was. Now I love my real life so much it requires an enormous belief in a film to want to take it on." She pauses, then says, "I think that we're in the world to connect. Because that's what you're left with. You're not left with your houses or awards or money, you're left with the people that you built relationships with."
She was lured away to film a role in the new musical Nine. The movie stars Daniel Day-Lewis as a director enthralled with the women in his life -- his mother (Sophia Loren), his wife (Marion Cotillard), his mistress (Penelope Cruz), his costume designer (Judi Dench), his prostitute (Stacy "Fergie" Ferguson), a reporter who's profiling him (Kate Hudson), and his lead actress and muse (Kidman).
On the set in Italy, a makeshift green room filled with couches and draperies became a kind of she cave where the actresses gathered to compare blisters from their respective dance numbers and to talk about life. Sunday was only 6 weeks old, and when she wasn't nursing or attached to Kidman in a sling, the other women took turns caring for her. "Kate had her son there," Kidman recalls, "and Penelope and Fergie were like, 'I can't wait to have a baby.' We're all women's women."
In November Kidman was due to leave home again, this time traveling to Kenya for a few days on behalf of UNIFEM, a United Nations organization dedicated to ending discrimination and violence against women and with which she's had a long association. She wants to help start a hotline for abused women. "It's so they'll have a place to call. A lot of women are so terrified; they'll go to the police or court and don't win. We can set up shelters and raise money," says Kidman. "I'm constantly trying to find new ways to give back," she adds. "Women are nurturers. There's so much we can do with the power of our feelings, the power of our sensitivity."
Kidman has always had powerful women in her life. Her mother, Janelle, raised her and her younger sister, Antonia, to be strong-minded and sent them to all-girl schools. "She wanted us to have a sense of our place in the world," says Kidman. "She didn't want us to be shaped by our relationship with boys. She wanted us to focus on our intellect instead."
When Nicole was 17, Janelle, a nursing instructor, battled breast cancer. The experience helped make Kidman vigilant about her own health. "My health is not for me," she says, "it's for my daughter." When she had a suspicious spot removed from her forehead recently, she insisted it be biopsied. "It wasn't anything," she says, "but it was important to do because skin cancer is on the rise." She meditates daily; her father, Anthony, a clinical psychologist, taught her how when she was a child. She swims and hikes. "When you have a child later in life, you have to stay strong," she says, flexing her biceps. "I want to be able to run around and do everything with her."
For advice on parenting -- and everything, really -- Kidman turns to her sister, who lives in Australia and has four children, ages 2 to 11. "I'm so close to her, like a twin," Kidman says. Antonia was in the room for Sunday's birth -- along with Janelle, a doula, and a female doctor ("all these women, and Keith," Kidman says, cackling). She and Antonia saw each other through their divorces, Kidman's in 2001, Antonia's last year. In both instances one sister immediately hopped on a plane and stayed with the other. "A lot of it was literally holding each other and listening," Kidman says. "Our motto is, 'Just get in there. Don't retreat. Stay in it.'"
Kidman brings that same energy to her marriage, which was tested early on when Urban entered rehab for alcohol addiction shortly after their wedding. "Keith and I have a very honest, profound marriage, which we both contribute to every day," she says. "We have a phrase, 'Does this contribute to the good of our union?' Because that's what's most important." She smiles. "I love being in love. I believe in the power of love, the way it can heal. The more you keep choosing it -- because there are times when you can choose to be angry at the person or to love him -- the more it nourishes a family."
As if on cue, there's a knock at the door. "Here he is!" Kidman trills. Urban, shaggily handsome, has come to pick her up. A hotel security guard escorts her and Urban down in the elevator, waving away people who try to board on other floors. The lobby is jumping with teenagers on a church retreat. As Kidman and Urban pass through, the kids fall silent, but the second the doors close they erupt, craning their necks to see them go -- the famous singer and the very happy mom.
"I've had so many unpredictable things happen in my life," says Kidman. She looks back on the most important people and moments of that extraordinary ride.
On her sister, Antonia
"I learn from her all the time. She can juggle a lot of things and still be present for her kids."
On Connor and Isabella
"Once your kids become teenagers, a lot of parenting is knowing when to speak and when not to speak. I have to step back and let them live their lives."
On her marriage to Keith
"Even when I was living like a gypsy, running from movie to movie, living out of a suitcase, I think I always had a dream of this family life, a vision of it off in the future."
On visiting women's shelters in postwar Kosovo with UNIFEM
"I heard harrowing stories of women whose faces, bodies, lives were ravaged. Part of my job is to scream loudly and make governments take notice."
On starting out
"I got rejected a lot. I never got the lead in the school play. I went on an Annie audition and they were like, 'No! You're too tall.' I wanted to be Annie so badly."
"I loved bringing life into the world. To be completely responsible for this baby growing inside me, I'm grateful for that experience."
On squeezing into her evening gowns for Nine when she was nursing 6-week-old Sunday
"They're not very big, my boobs, so they just became normal size. I loved it! I felt very Woman. When you've had a slightly androgynous body your whole life, having breasts is a nice feeling."
On her parents
"There's equality in their marriage, and great love. I hope I bring that to my marriage."
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, December/January 2010.