Minghella's journey to Cold Mountain began in 1997, when ''English Patient'' author Michael Ondaatje gave him a copy of Charles Frazier's novel. Days later, ''Cold Mountain'' leapt into the critical spotlight and caught Hollywood's notice. Several studios were interested. Primary suitors included the production companies of Brad Pitt, Jonathan Demme, and Sydney Pollack. Pollack quickly got Minghella on board.
At first blush, Minghella's pitch to Frazier didn't seem convincing. The British director confessed to Frazier that he knew nothing of the Civil War. But he won the writer over when he went on to explain that he saw the film as a story about the chivalry of those left out of the war. And Frazier also appreciated an endorsement from Ondaatje, one novelist to another, that Minghella would do right by his work. The director, who would later welcome Frazier and his wife to the set, began writing a screenplay and agonizing over a long list of leading men--including Matt Damon, Daniel Day-Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Law (whom he'd just directed to an Oscar nomination in 1999's ''Ripley'') and Tom Cruise--to play Inman. (He also contemplated several Adas, including Julia Roberts and Portman, who ended up playing a young widowed mother.) As it turned out, Kidman also thought the role was right for Cruise. She had read Cold Mountain and pestered her then husband to pursue the role. ''My career was not in the condition where I could read a book and go, 'Oh, wouldn't that be great to play that role,' whereas his was,'' Kidman says. ''So I would read for him. When you are married to someone and you love them, you read something that's a love story and you put them somehow into it in a strange way.''
At the time, Kidman and Cruise were in London filming ''Eyes Wide Shut.'' Pollack, who was also in Stanley Kubrick's film, mentioned ''Cold Mountain'' to Cruise, whose interest was now doubly piqued. And it wasn't long before Harvey Weinstein began pushing Minghella to cast the star. Kidman was not then part of the picture--after the intense 19-month ''Eyes Wide Shut'' shoot, she had no designs on costarring opposite her husband. ''We did not want to make a movie together again,'' Kidman recalls. ''There is something about on-screen coupling that doesn't work. I certainly wouldn't put myself through it again if I ever ended up in a relationship with an actor, because it's not worth it. There is something about protecting that sanctity of a marriage.''