TORONTO — Everyone's asking Nicole Kidman why.
Why the gloom of playing author Virginia Woolf in "The Hours"? Why the harsh hopelessness of her upcoming film "Dogville"? Why the doomed love of another new film, an adaptation of Philip Roth's "The Human Stain"?
Everyone assumes such somber drama is the result of Kidman's blue period — dark times that followed a miscarriage and the end of her marriage to Tom Cruise two years ago.
There's no easy answer.
"I had dinner with Philip Roth, and I would say, 'Why,' about something, and he said, 'Eliminate why in conversations,' " Kidman, 36, said in an interview with The Associated Press at the Toronto International Film Festival. "And it is interesting that once you start to eliminate why, then it doesn't matter.
"If you ask yourself why, particularly in acting, you can overanalyze yourself, the mystery of it, the mystery of your own psyche. The mystery of somebody else's when you put them together in a movie. I suppose it's like chemical equations, where you just put them together and see what happens."
The equations have added up in Kidman's favor in a huge way the last two years. After a decade in Cruise's superstar shadow, Kidman emerged as a critical and commercial sensation with the ghost tale "The Others" and the musical "Moulin Rouge," the latter earning her an Academy Award nomination.
As Woolf in last year's "The Hours," Kidman won the best-actress Oscar, which now rests on her mother's mantel in Sydney, Australia, "where people in the neighborhood can come over and touch the Oscar," the actress said with a long laugh.
Along with "The Human Stain" this fall, Kidman has another film with awards prospects coming before year's end: "Cold Mountain," adapted from Charles Frazier's Civil War best seller about a wounded Confederate soldier (Jude Law) on a journey back to his old sweetheart.
With that flurry of films, distributor Lions Gate, which bought "Dogville" at last spring's Cannes Film Festival, had to hold its release until early next year to avoid flooding the market with Kidman flicks. Both "Dogville" and "The Human Stain" played at the Toronto festival.
Danish director Lars von Trier's "Dogville" is a challenging fairy tale that runs three hours and was shot on an almost bare soundstage, with only a few props and chalk marks on a black floor to designate sets. Kidman plays a fugitive on the run from mobsters in a Depression-era Rocky Mountain town, whose residents initially harbor her, later brutally subjugate her, then are subjected to horrific retribution.
In "The Human Stain," Kidman plays a janitor in a love affair with a widowed, disgraced academic (Anthony Hopkins), both characters gradually revealing harsh secrets from their past.
"The film for me is about people hiding things, secrets, what ultimately do you confront and deal with in your life. How much do you reveal to another person," Kidman said. "And I think the way in which damaged people can need each other, what they give to each other. They seem an unlikely couple, but at the same time, they're so important to each other, and so necessary, in a way."
"And I love his line, when he says, 'It's not my first love, it's not my great love, but it's my last love.' That for me resonated very strongly because, yeah, that's what you have in life. Different connections, different loves at different times, and what they actually mean to you. And they're all important."
The romance of "Cold Mountain" is a "more hopeful kind of love," and Kidman is just finishing a much lighter film, a comic update of "The Stepford Wives."
After that, she'll have a few months off at the end of the year to spend with her two children before settling on her next film. Kidman had hoped to reunite with von Trier for two more films featuring her "Dogville" character, but she said their schedules may not allow it.
Steady work has helped her put the pain of divorce behind her, Kidman said.
"I think your life is your life. There's ups and downs, and you maneuver within it and you accept that it's a journey, however long, however short," Kidman said. "That's the theme of 'The Hours.' What is happiness? Ultimately, what is your expectation of happiness, and what are you trying to achieve in your life?
"You want a rich experience on this earth, so seek it out."