Adam B. Vary
January 08, 2007 AT 05:00 AM EST

Two weeks ago, The Hollywood Reporter named Nicole Kidman the best-paid actress in the business. It’s an announcement that would have seemed well deserved…if this were 2002. That was the year when Kidman was evolving into the kind of rare Hollywood creature not seen since the days of Ingrid Bergman: an Oscar winner (for The Hours) who combined critical adoration (Moulin Rouge) with undeniable mainstream appeal (The Others).

But since then…slumming as a janitor in The Human Stain? Sharing a bathtub with a 10-year-old boy in Birth? Shaving Robert Downey Jr. in Fur? These offbeat indie choices might have made sense if Kidman’s career were cooking, but from 2003 to 2005, most of her prominent features — The Stepford Wives, Bewitched, and The Interpreter — disappointed big-time. As the paychecks keep coming (Kidman reportedly received about $16 million to star in the 2007 sci-fi thriller The Invasion), two questions arise: Is she worth it? And has she lost her golden touch? ”I’m interested in doing things that are unusual,” the actress told EW last summer. ”People try to say, ‘Be safe.’ And I always go, ‘No, I want to try to do things that, even if they don’t work, [are] at least bold.”’

A noble answer. But Kidman clearly understands that Hollywood can tolerate experimentation (or, ahem, ”failure”) for only so long, and of late has been charting a new course. She’s joined Daniel Craig for both The Invasion and the long-awaited adaptation of The Golden Compass. And she’ll reteam with her biggest fan — Moulin Rouge ‘s Baz Luhrmann — for a WWII epic with Hugh Jackman. If even one of these projects succeeds, it’ll go a long way toward wiping the tarnish off Kidman’s star. And besides, even Meryl made She-Devil.

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