Cover Story

The Woolf Woman

How Nicole Kidman did an about-face for ''The Hours'' -- Methodical research (and a prosthetic nose) helped the glamorous star get under the skin and into the head of troubled author Virginia Woolf

Nicole Kidman | WHILING AWAY 'THE HOURS' For her role as Woolf, Kidman toiled at perfecting her gait, her accent, and even her writing
Image credit: Nicole Kidman Photograph by James White
WHILING AWAY 'THE HOURS' For her role as Woolf, Kidman toiled at perfecting her gait, her accent, and even her writing

''You can't find peace by avoiding life.'' It's one of Nicole Kidman's favorite lines from ''The Hours,'' and it seems singularly suited to the actress. In the past year, she's basked in the golden glow of her first Oscar nomination (for ''Moulin Rouge''); tramped through a seven-month shoot in Romania for the upcoming Civil War drama ''Cold Mountain''; zipped to Sweden for Lars von Trier's experimental '30s-set drama ''Dogville''; melted into the role of a tough, damaged janitor in ''The Human Stain''; and is now on screen, fragile and blooming as author Virginia Woolf in ''The Hours.''

A mind-scrambling year. Yet here sits Kidman, in the final days of December, serene as the moon. Curls clipped up, double-breasted blazer buttoned down, elegant fingers wrapped around a cup of coffee, she reclines in a green brocade armchair courtesy of L.A.'s Four Seasons (by way of your grandmother's house).

Friendly and conspiratorial, the actress is ready to tell a fairy tale of sorts: how she managed her entirely genuine transformation into the brilliant, suicidal Woolf, a performance for which she's already received a Golden Globe nomination. ''It's weird -- I don't quite remember when it started or when it ended, it was just there and layered itself,'' Kidman says of the metamorphosis that has awed critics and spurred talk of a second Oscar nod. ''I just [wanted] to find her soul...the machinations of her mind, so it would become mine. So it was my skin and my breath existing in Virginia's.''

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