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Tom Cruise's Assignment, Should He Choose to Accept It: Survive the Fallout from Megasuccess|
His work ethic pays off in movies and marriage
COLD WARS COME AND GO, Iron Curtains fall and rise, but some things never change: Czech limo drivers are always disappointingly discreet.
Tomáš Charvát was Tom Cruise's chauffeur for a month in Prague last year, when the star was doing location shooting for his hugely popular new action thriller, Mission: Impossible, freely adapted from the vintage CBS series about the elaborately staged stratagems of a team of U.S. intelligence agents. Charvát will tell you that Cruise, 33, during his stay at the Hotel Praha, was so private he entered the building not by the side entrance but by the delivery entrance. That hotel management painted a mural of Czech fairy-tale characters for Cruise's children Isabella, 3, and Connor, 16 months. That he and Cruise joked about the fact that they shared the same initials.
And that once he accompanied Cruise and his wife, 28-year-old actress Nicole Kidman, on a quiet twilight walk around medieval Prague Castle, home to President Václav Havel. The couple announced they were going off to dinner and invited him along. Charvát declined. "I realized it was a romantic night," he says. "I left them alone."
Thanks for that bit of tact, Tomáš. He goes on to say that the two ate at a restaurant nearby. But otherwise, the scene fades out tastefully, the way old movies used to when the lovers adjourned to bliss.
Everything in Cruise's life lately seems to have this same unblemished perfection, traditionally reserved for Roman gods, who were the idealized reflections of mortal worshippers, and for superstars, who are the idealized projections of Hollywood dreams. Cruise moves in what cinematographers call the golden hour—that time, late in the day, when the light is most pleasing to the eye. With his career, his boyish good looks (a few gray hairs, but so what), his wife and family (and, Cruise might add, the spiritual support of the Church of Scientology), he seems to have achieved an unending golden hour.
Not only is Mission: Impossible an unqualified smash, raking in a record $75 million in its opening six days, but it marks Cruise's debut as producer. A savvy one. The concept of a movie of Mission had been kicking around Hollywood for years before Cruise picked it up, dusted it off and made it—as if to say, "See how easy?" Actually the shoot, in Prague and on soundstages at England's Pinewood Studios for five months last year, was technically challenging, what with its exploding fish tanks, ensemble assassinations and Chunnel chases. It went through rewrites and, last January, additional shooting. But none of this dimmed Cruise's blinding white smile as he attended the Hollywood premiere—or popped up in New York City to spend Memorial Day weekend with Kidman, who is shooting a movie there. Taut and springy—thanks in part to the daily jogging and gym routine he kept up throughout the MI shoot—he has established himself as a sophisticated action hero, heir to Harrison Ford, 53.
The golden touch extends to his five-year marriage to Kidman, whom he met in 1989. "They seem to cheerlead for each other," says Bruce Joel Rubin, who directed Kidman in 1993's My Life. Cruise recently said how thrilled he is that Kidman is the star of Jane Campion's prestigious movie of Portrait of a Lady, due in the fall—and how ticked off he was when Kidman didn't receive an Oscar nomination last year for To Die For, in which she played a demented local TV weatherwoman. Cruise and Kidman "know what makes the relationship work," says Henry Czerny, who plays CIA boss Kittridge in Mission. "And they pay attention to it."
Now they plan on a dual triumph. Later this year they'll team up to shoot Eyes Wide Shut, a psychodrama directed by the reclusive and mythic Stanley Kubrick (2001). "He just called me up," Cruise told Newsday. "I got a fax one day saying there would be a script in a few months and would I be interested?... It's just a damn miracle, that he wanted me and Nic to do this." As Cruise, now filming the comedy Jerry Maguire, recently told TV's Extra!, "The life feeds the work, and the work feeds the life."
Of course, there are currently two more mouths that need feeding. With their adopted children, "we got our hands full," Kidman said to PEOPLE last year from Rome while filming Lady. Her husband was the proud, smiling papa when he brought Bella and Connor to the Mission sets. One day, recalls production designer Norman Reynolds, the star came to a conference dandling little Connor in a harness. "We were in the middle of this meeting," recalls Reynolds, "and Tom said, 'You haven't met my baby yet,' and introduced us."
Despite all this, director Rubin notes, "it's hard for people to accept they're so normal." The actor's superhuman drive may have something to do with that. As producer and actor, Cruise can be—as one would guess from the little blue-gray lasers beaming out from under his brows—intense. "Hell, yes," says MI screenwriter David Koepp. "He's incredibly persistent and focused, and he'll drive you completely insane because he keeps coming at it and at it and at it. But then you realize that because he's gone at it, you're going to go at it." When Cruise heard a tape of the Mission: Impossible theme to be used for the film, he reportedly ordered it redone, even though an orchestra in L.A. had spent three hours recording the few minutes of music. He wanted to hear more flutes.
"The character trait that you notice first and that leaves the longest and clearest impression," Koepp adds, "is his directness. He doesn't dodge things." He will, however, jump, tumble or dangle, as the script requires. For the scene in the Chunnel, in which he leaps from a low-flying helicopter to the back of a moving train, he repeatedly was swung across a stage and, to make his landing, smacked his palms painfully against the locomotive metal. For the scene in which he escapes from CIA chief Czerny by blowing up a restaurant—and, in the process, its aquariums—he leaped through a shattering window as a cascade of water pushed him mightily from behind. "It was timed perfectly," says his producing partner Paula Wagner. And, despite glass shards, "he only hurt his foot," she says.
But the crew was flat-out astounded while shooting the movie's trickiest episode, in which Cruise, as agent Ethan Hunt, is lowered into the CIA's computer room and left hanging inches from the floor, like Peter Pan without uplift, unable to lower any limb for fear of triggering an alarm system. Cruise's ability to keep arms and legs rigid isn't just a matter of editing and camera angles. "If you look at the scene uncut, it is amazing," says first assistant director Chris Soldo. "He was just under such control with his body." (And he put coins in his shoes for ballast, says Wagner.)
Reports from the Prague and London crews are uniform: Cruise was crisp, precise, pleasant, remote, usually sticking to his entourage (cook, secretary, bodyguard) or conferring with director Brian De Palma. Marek Vašut, a Czech actor with a bit part as one of Cruise's agents, says Cruise "was friendly and professional, but not familiar." He adds, "His price on the market and his fame are paid for by a total loss of freedom."
Perfection, in other words, has its downside. Tour groups from Italy and Spain actually timed their trips to Prague to coincide with Cruise's shooting schedule. He once waved to a group of female fans, says his Czech bodyguard Petr Hájek, and they went berserk. "One woman bit me on the hand," Hájek says.
And there is always the Scientology issue, which follows Cruise like an ill-defined shadow. Cruise's membership in the secretive, powerful organization—whose celebrity roster includes John Travolta, Lisa Marie Presley and legal commentator Greta Van Susteren—builds yet another layer of security around areas of his life. His closest employees are Scientologists, as is his current wife. Cruise has had to deal with rumors that the marriage with Kidman is an arrangement, that she is a salaried wife, that he is gay. The couple have expressly denied these rumors as false—lately, on Cruise's part, with anger. When reminded of them by Premiere, he snapped, "[That] is a hard-line cynicism.... This is my relationship, and I'm being called a liar about it."
And yet sometimes the 5'9" actor reveals himself to be just as perfect as his 20-foot movie-screen image—good-hearted, decent, brave. On the cool, rainy night of March 4, driving through Santa Monica, Cruise saw a woman knocked down on Wilshire Boulevard by a hit-and-run driver. One of several witnesses who stopped, Cruise protectively pulled his car in front of the injured woman, 23-year-old Heloisa Vinhas, a waitress and aspiring actress. He followed the ambulance to UCLA Medical Center, where Vinhas was treated for a broken leg and bruised ribs. He stayed with her while she underwent tests. Because she was uninsured, he paid her $7,000 bill.
Vinhas was too traumatized at the time to realize that her good Samaritan was none other than Tom Cruise, "but of course I know who he is," she says now. "He's famous everywhere, even in the North Pole. Tom is a very nice man, the best." Willing, even, to share a golden moment of his golden hour.
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