Farther and Farther Off the Wall

It's a shame this page doesn't bestow a Newsmaker of the Year award, because Michael Jackson deserves some kind of recognition for keeping our staff fully employed. In the last week alone, Jackson generated stories on claims that the Santa Barbara police abused him, concerns that the Nation of Islam has taken over his life, allegations that CBS paid him $1 million for a "60 Minutes" interview and counterclaims (complete with videotape evidence) that he exaggerated the abuse charges. Even in their heydays, Ben and Jen, Madonna and Courtney Love combined never inspired copy at this pace.

Of all these holiday-season gifts, the one that seems the most bizarre--and we use the term loosely--is the Nation of Islam story. Is there any black man in America who seems less likely to enlist the help of militant black separatists? The fact is, Jackson has been cozying up to the African-American establishment for months. He's befriended radio host Steve Harvey, appeared at the BET and Soul Train Awards, and teamed up with Al Sharpton to help draw attention to his contractual dispute with Sony Music. It's not unusual for black performers such as Denzel Washington and Spike Lee to employ Nation members in their security detail, as Jackson reportedly did at a Neverland Ranch Christmas party. "They are who you call when you want the white man to think twice and the black people to respect you," says Mike Tyson, who has long been a Nation of Islam member. But there's something strange in the Jackson situation. Both the organization and Jackson's spokesman deny the Nation has had any influence in the singer's business or personal affairs, yet Leonard Muhammad, the Nation of Islam's chief of staff (and Louis Farrakhan's son-in-law), stood behind Jackson at a televised press conference. "It's ironic how Michael reaches out to the community when things are going bad," says one African-American music executive. "It's very sad and predictable, since O.J. did the same thing when he got into legal problems and went back to being white after it was over." Back to white? Let's hope that doesn't require any more plastic surgery.

Q&A: Nicole Kidman

Nicole Kidman's back in the Oscar race with the Civil War love story "Cold Mountain." She spoke with NEWSWEEK's Jeff Giles about the movie and her mates Russell Crowe and Naomi Watts.

Years ago, when you first read "Cold Mountain," you suggested it to Tom Cruise. Were you thinking of playing Ada at that point?

Oh, no. There was no way they would have cast me back then.

Right. You weren't Nicole Kidman yet.

[Laughs] What does that mean? I was married to Tom, and I said, "Oh, my God, you've got to go get this." And he went and got it.

Tom eventually walked away. Anthony Minghella later cast you, Jude Law and Renee Zellweger on the same day. What if one of you had said no?

At one stage, I think Jude was going to say no! [Laughs] He was in the middle of a play, and he hadn't read the screenplay. I kept saying, "Would Jude Law hurry up and read this? It is such a beautiful screenplay." He then read it and became absolutely devoted.

"Cold Mountain" will be an Oscar contender. How do you feel about competition generally?

Strangely enough, my heart is also in Russell's movie ["Master and Commander"] because I know him so well. And I've got my girlfriend Naomi in "21 Grams."

OK, stop. You're only hurting your own chances.

I'm hopeless. I'll go and sell everybody else's thing. But that's OK. It feeds the industry. My God, there's so much animosity, and it's so much better to have generosity. I know what it took for those people to make those movies.

"Cold Mountain" doesn't have a conventionally happy ending, but it's certainly romantic.

The ending says "at least you found each other--that's more than some people get." There aren't enough films about the belief in love. So many of us are so cynical. There's something beautiful about saying, "Well, there can be great, mythic loves."

Ada kisses Inman once, then literally waits years for him. Do you think there's a kiss worth waiting years for, or is that 19th-century goofiness?

There's definitely a kiss worth waiting for. Definitely. [Laughs] I hope so!