'Days of Thunder' at 30: Nicole Kidman looks back at racing film that introduced her to ex Tom Cruise

Nicole Kidman was bound to make the move overseas. After working steadily in Australian film and television for six years, beginning with 1983 movies like BMX Bandits and Bush Christmas, the fledgling actress drew international acclaim for her role as a grieving mother whose boat trip with her husband (Sam Neill) turns treacherous after an encounter with a stranded man (Billy Zane) in Philip Noyce’s Hitchcockian 1989 thriller Dead Calm.

Among those enamored with Kidman’s performance was Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise, who handpicked her to costar with him in the 1990 NASCAR drama Days of Thunder, which followed an incredible consecutive string of critical and commercial successes for the actor (1986’s Top Gun and The Color of Money, 1988’s Cocktail and Rain Man, and 1989’s Born on the Fourth of July). The film turns 30 on Saturday.

“I just remember being amazed that I was in America, and suddenly I had this role in this huge Tom Cruise movie,” Kidman, who has since become one of the most revered actors of her generation, told Yahoo Entertainment during a 2014 Role Recall interview (watch in full above, with Days of Thunder chat starting 38 seconds in).

In the Tony Scott-directed Thunder, Kidman plays Dr. Claire Lewicki, a neurosurgeon who enters into a romance with Cruise’s racing star Cole Trickle after he’s hospitalized with a major injury. “I went and worked in a hospital for a couple of days,” Kidman said about the project, in which she used her native accent. “I’m a researcher. I’m a geek.”

Life imitated art as Cruise and Kidman entered into a tabloid-frenzied relationship, marrying six months after the film was released and adopting two children together.

"I moved here because I fell in love and got married… I always make choices for love, and everything kind of had to fall in place around that, Kidman (who’s earned four Oscar nominations, including one win for The Hours) told Variety in 2018.

“Being married to Tom Cruise at 22 is something I’m always reluctant to talk about, because I’m married now to the man who is my great love [Keith Urban], and it almost feels disrespectful,” Kidman shared with The Cut in a Women and Power profile that same year.

The marriage, Kidman says, offered her some protection in a dangerous industry still 17 years away from Hollywood’s #MeToo reckoning.

“I got married very young, but it definitely wasn’t power for me — it was protection. I married for love, but being married to an extremely powerful man kept me from being sexually harassed. I would work, but I was still very much cocooned. So when I came out of it at 32, 33, it’s almost like I had to grow up.”

After Days of Thunder, Kidman and Cruise made two more films together — the 1992 immigrant love story Far and Away and Stanley Kubrick’s long-in-the-making 1999 swan song Eyes Wide Shut. They divorced in 2001.

Buy the new Days of Thunder 4K UHD release on Amazon.

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