by Cathy Booth
It was just the two of them, sitting in the dark. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, by themselves in a small screening room in midtown Manhattan last March, watching Eyes Wide Shut, the film directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring the Cruises, naked, in love and at war. It was past midnight when the film ended, but they watched it again. “The first time, we were in shock,” Kidman recalls. “The second time, I thought, ‘Wow!’ It’s going to be controversial. I’m proud of the film and that period of my life. It was my obsession, our obsession, for two or three years.”
Two or three years for one movie? Were they mad? With Kubrick’s famous obsession for perfection, the 18-week shoot turned into 52 weeks over 15 months. Cruise, one of Hollywood’s $20 million men, took himself out of the game at the height of his career, accepted a sizable pay cut, moved his family to England, put himself through workdays that ran 12 to 16 hours and, in the process, developed an ulcer.
But far from feeling that they were hostages to Kubrick’s vision, Cruise and Kidman say they dived in, eyes wide open. “We knew from the beginning the level of commitment needed,” says Cruise. “We felt honored to work with him. We knew it would be difficult. But I would have absolutely kicked myself if I hadn’t done this.”
Hours after the screening, Cruise, flying to Australia, where he was preparing to shoot Mission Impossible 2, called Kubrick from the plane. “Stanley was so excited. We talked for four or five hours,” says Cruise. Four days later came a call with the news that Kubrick had died. “I said, ‘No, that’s impossible,'” says Cruise. “Then the other phone line was ringing, and it was Nic in New York. She was really disturbed. I was in shock.”
Even now, neither Cruise nor Kidman can talk about Kubrick without misting up. Kubrick had originally been worried that the couple would put on movie-star airs. But the three of them became extraordinarily close during the making of Eyes Wide Shut. Kubrick began to woo Cruise as early as 1995, after his longtime friend Sydney Pollack, who produced Cruise’s film The Firm, reassured him that the young star was no brat. At first Cruise thought Pollack (who ended up appearing in the film too) was kidding when he said Kubrick wanted the star’s fax number. But soon, Cruise recalls, they began “faxing each other back and forth, never really discussing the movie, just talking about airplanes and cameras.” A year later, Kubrick faxed Kidman with an offer to be in the film with her husband. “I didn’t need to read the script,” says Kidman. “I didn’t care what the story was originally. I wanted to work with Stanley.”
When the notoriously travel-phobic Kubrick invited the couple to his house in the English countryside, they were surprised to find a warm family man, not the weird hermit of the press clippings. Cruise and Kubrick, both pilots (though Kubrick refused to fly later in life), ended up debating the effect of aviation on World War II. “Stanley was not what you expected. He was very open,” says Cruise.
By the time filming began in 1997, the three had become virtually inseparable. The set at Pinewood Studios outside London became their home away from home. Says Cruise: “By the end, we felt as if we lived on that set. We even slept in the bed.” When Kubrick filmed Cruise and Kidman in the nude scene that opens the film, he closed the set and operated the camera himself, intensifying the intimacy among the three of them.
The pace of work on the $64 million project was leisurely. Obsessed with getting it just right, Kubrick wrote and rewrote the script while they were shooting it, sometimes faxing changes to his stars, often as late as 4 a.m. The long shoot, and its subject matter, eventually took a toll physically on Cruise. He woke up one night early in the production in terrible pain from an ulcer. “I didn’t want to tell Stanley. He panicked. I wanted this to work, but you’re playing with dynamite when you act. Emotions kick up. You try not to kick things up, but you go through things you can’t help.”
Kidman could see the pressure building. “We were both dealing with jealousy and sex in a way that it was always lurking around. We shot for 10 1/2 months, but we were there for a year and half. That’s quite a strange thing to always have with you, day in and day out. You never quite walk away from it. Stanley as well.”
The actors are determined to preserve Kubrick’s final legacy. The film’s climactic orgy scene had threatened to earn it a restrictive NC-17 rating in the U.S. According to the film’s producer, Jan Harlan, it was Kubrick’s idea to digitally add figures to partly hide the most explicit 65 seconds of the scene when it is shown to American and Asian audiences. “There is nothing in the picture that Stanley didn’t approve,” vows Cruise.
Before his death, Kubrick cut a tantalizing 90-sec. trailer of Tom and Nicole, naked and necking. He knew it would have everyone guessing: Do they? Or don’t they? “Stanley loved ambiguity,” says Kidman. As in all the Kubrick films, the answer to Eyes Wide Shut lies in the seeing.
Time, July 5, 1999 | Vol. 154 No. 1