Illustration: Vulture/Courtesy of Studios
It feels like Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman must have worked with each other some time in the past, right? Nope — despite sharing tabloid pages throughout the ’90s, the two actors had never appeared together onscreen until the upcoming HBO miniseries The Undoing. But though their paths didn’t cross, their star trajectories followed remarkably similar patterns.
After a steady string of Australian film roles, Kidman breaks out as a young wife in peril in Dead Calm. She goes to Hollywood, gets cast in a bunch of girlfriend parts, and — oh yeah — marries Tom Cruise. Though seven years older, Grant has to wait longer for his big break; at this point he’s mostly known for supporting performances in period pieces.
With star turns in Four Weddings and a Funeral and To Die For, Grant and Kidman cement themselves as sex symbols, albeit in two very different modes: breathy and seductive for her, bashful and neurotic for him. Their romantic relationships (Grant is dating Elizabeth Hurley) establish them as tabloid staples.
Professional and personal crises. Grant is arrested after soliciting a prostitute, and his first forays into Hollywood are discouraging. Kidman undergoes the grueling Eyes Wide Shut shoot and suffers a miscarriage towards the end of her marriage with Cruise. They both take breaks between movies.
Grant reunites with writer Richard Curtis on Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and Love Actually, which reestablish his charming screen presence. Kidman throws herself into ambitious auteur projects like Moulin Rouge!
As the decade goes on, both are increasingly ill-served by studio fare. After the trilogy of American Dreamz, Music and Lyrics, and Did You Hear About the Morgans?, Grant’s career as a Hollywood leading man is over. Kidman does interesting work in indies like Margot at the Wedding, but her big-budget efforts — The Golden Compass, Australia, Nine — are one disappointment after another.
A period of liberating experimentation. Kidman gets great reviews for the tiny Rabbit Hole and pees on Zac Efron in The Paperboy. Grant takes another hiatus — during which he helps expose the News Corp. phone-hacking scandal — returning with a series of race-bending cameos in the totally bonkers Cloud Atlas. (He also fathers five children by two different women.)
In their 50s, both actors enjoy a comeback powered by supporting roles and TV work. Kidman gets another Oscar nomination for Lion
*A version of this article appears in the October 12, 2020, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!