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Tom Cruise always avoids the eyes of other drivers. Zipping confidently
through midday Los Angeles traffic in his blue Porsche Carrera, he
obscures himself with a baseball cap and sunglasses. Pausing at a
light, a car to his left, he discreetly raises his tinted window.|
But he can't avoid himself. On the trip from Fox Studios to downtown Hollywood, he is driving straight toward an enormous billboard for Minority Report, his dark and timely new movie directed by Steven Spielberg, opening this week. Stuck in traffic, he gazes up at his famous profile and laughs. "The kids always go, 'There's Dad!'" he says. "I remember seeing a Risky Business billboard on Sunset. That was pretty exciting."
This year, on July 3 to be precise, the irrepressible young actor who danced in his skivvies in Risky Business in 1983 will turn 40. The braces he has been wearing on his teeth for four months ("My mouth wasn't closing properly," he explains) seem as if they should only add to his preternatural boyishness, but the crow's-feet around his eyes suggest a seasoning and maturity that weren't much in evidence before. After 23 films that have grossed more than $2 billion at the box office, Cruise maintains an uncanny ability to excite audiences. At the same time, he is respected and even well liked by many in an industry where his colleagues almost invariably root for only two things: the L.A. Lakers and one another's failures.
He has handled his career the way he drives his Porsche, moving steadily and carefully forward, idling as little as possible. Since 1996, while enriching the coffers of Paramount and his own production company with the Mission: Impossible action movies (a third, to be directed by David Fincher, is in development), he has stretched himself as an actor and received Oscar nominations for riskier roles in Jerry Maguire and Magnolia. Cruise is famously professional and polite, on time and always prepared, Hollywood's eagle scout. His not-so-secret craving is for control, starting with himself but not ending there. For one crucial scene in Minority Report, Cruise was required to submerge himself in a bathtub, then emit a solitary air bubble from one nostril. "Don't worry if you can't do it," Spielberg told him. "I can do it with [special effects]." Cruise insisted on doing it himself. "I kept practicing," says Cruise, sitting next to Spielberg in an office on the Fox lot. "I had to figure out how to get the air and then just control my nostril." Spielberg interjects with a smile: "This is something that Lee Strasberg can't teach."
But what he seems to have perfected--on film and in life--is the ability to win you over, to be liked without really being known. He is solicitous. He laughs at your jokes. He is curious without being prying. He looks you in the eye. He even asks your advice: before making a U-turn in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard, he says, "Should I do it?" You ask, "What do you do when the cops catch you?" He answers, "I hand out a few autographs."Yet he can be as distant as he is pleasant, as guarded as he is engaged, his very politeness a kind of barrier. His steadfast allegiance to the controversial Church of Scientology, his surprising split a year ago from Nicole Kidman, the gay rumors (and his diligent litigation in response) serve to remind us that despite all the ink spilled and all the gossip milled over the past two decades, Cruise remains someone about whom we have never quite been able to connect the dots.
To draw similarities between the actor and John Anderton, his complex, haunted character in Minority Report, is irresistible. In Spielberg's sci-fi mystery, Cruise stars as a seemingly stalwart cop in 2054 who heads an elite squad known as Precrime. Using a trio of psychic mutants called precogs, he can detect a murder before it happens, strap on a jet pack, then arrest the would-be perpetrator. But Anderton leads a double life, scoring a drug called neuroin in dark alleys, seeking oblivion after the unraveling of his family. Based on a 1956 short story by Philip K. Dick, the movie takes off when Anderton is accused of a future murder and goes on the run.
Cruise not only brought the story to Spielberg but also tapped into his most harrowing fears as a parent. The father of an adopted son, 7, and daughter, 9, Cruise said Anderton should have a son who was missing. "Tom came up with that to give the character complicated emotional baggage," says Spielberg, who confesses that he "had much more of a popcorn movie in mind until I began to think about the ramifications of arresting people without due process." The director says it was his friend Doris Kearns Goodwin, the historian, who alerted him to the constitutional problems of Precrime. "She said, 'This would be a wonderful thing,'" recalls Spielberg, "'but what about the Bill of Rights?'"
Although Cruise and Spielberg, friends for two decades, have been developing the script since 1999, the movie turns out to be topical, a celluloid mirror of current events. Jointly financed by DreamWorks and Fox, it opens amid controversy over Attorney General John Ashcroft's decision to put a terrorism suspect in military detention. Many have noted the similarity between the movie's idea of Precrime and the legal ramifications of arresting but not charging suspected terrorists.
The timing for Cruise couldn't be better. Minority Report is a smart move for him at this point in his career--an edgy, mind-bending piece of film noir in the vein of Memento and The Matrix. Cruise's audience is vast, but like him, it's getting older. It's the Matrix generation that he needs to capture if he is to remain top gun at the box office. Driving toward Hollywood, he shrugs off a question about his aging demographic. "I'm getting older," he says. "But a story is a story, and a character's a character. That's what I think about."To begin to understand Cruise, you must understand his relationship with the Church of Scientology, an organization that advocates self-styled scientific methods as cures for ailments of the body, mind and spirit. Founded by the prolific science-fiction novelist L. Ron Hubbard, who died in 1986, Scientology has been accused of using coercion to keep its members in line and intimidation to squelch criticism of its tactics. (Scientology sued TIME in 1992 for libel over a 1991 cover story's portrayal of the church as a ruthless cult; the case was decided in TIME's favor in 2001, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear Scientology's appeal.) Cruise is more than a defender of Scientology; he is a resolute advocate. "It's something that has helped me to be able to live the kind of life that I'm living and work toward being the kind of person that I want to be," he says.
Cruise says that Hubbard's teachings helped him put a hard-knocks childhood behind him. "I went to 15 different schools growing up," he says, "because of par-ents divorcing, father losing jobs, transferring, trying to find another job." Even today, Cruise, whose father died in 1984, often mentions the trauma of always being the new guy. "I thought, I can't wait to grow up because it's got to be better than this," he says. "The politics and the fights and always wearing the wrong shoes and having the wrong accent."
He also had a devil of a time learning in class. "It was a real problem for me," says Cruise. "I was diagnosed as having dyslexia. I confused letters. I was a slow reader. I didn't know how to use a dictionary. I tried, but I didn't have a system where I could learn. I couldn't catch up." In high school, he lived in Glen Ridge, N.J., with his mother. Cruise found confidence on the stage (he skipped his graduation because he was appearing in a dinner-theater production of Godspell) and started his movie career in 1981. His first audition was for a small role in Endless Love, and he got the part. "Suddenly I'm working," he says.
In the 1980s, his first wife Mimi Rogers (they would divorce in 1990) introduced him to Scientology. Cruise credits Hubbard's "study technology" with helping him overcome his learning disability. "It really changed my life," says Cruise, who in the past few years has given considerable time and money to the Hollywood Education and Literacy Project (H.E.L.P.). It is a secular organization but uses Hubbard's study technology to offer free tutoring to children and adults.
As Cruise walks through H.E.L.P.'s crowded headquarters on Hollywood Boulevard, none of the tutors or children--seated at desks that he paid for--seem to take special notice of him. He comes here often. "Do I wish I'd had something like this when I was a kid?" asks Cruise. "Absolutely. It would have saved me many hours and days and weeks of pain and embarrassment." When asked if H.E.L.P. could be used as a recruiting tool for the church, he says, "Listen, people who want to know about Scientology, they can read books. People may go in there and say, 'Who is this guy?' and start reading [Hubbard's] other books. Good for them. There are tools that he has that can improve their lives. But the purpose of H.E.L.P. is to help. "
Cruise doesn't seem to need much help of any kind these days. The man who was struggling to read 15 years ago is now regarded as having a keen eye for scripts. He is a tightly programmed individual. Not robotic--Cruise likes to laugh, and he laughs a lot--but he does seem to be remarkably free of the kind of negative emotions that tend to plague mere mortals. And it is playing mere mortals that seems to give him the hardest time. In Eyes Wide Shut, where Stanley Kubrick put a camera on his face to capture inner turmoil, Cruise appears uneasy rather than tormented. He seems most comfortable, onscreen and off, when he is taking action. He describes himself as a pragmatist. He is, above all, organized. "I've always admired the guys who schedule their lives," says Cameron Crowe, who directed him in Jerry Maguire and Vanilla Sky. "To a person who's not that way, it's something grand to watch. Cruise is that way."
"I don't like dragging things on or having a lot of unfinished projects sitting around," says Cruise. "That drives me insane." He deals with adversity swiftly and without mercy. Last year Kidman told TIME that Cruise's filing for divorce "was a big shock for me." Though both of them have refused to offer reasons for the breakup, it's characteristic of Cruise to make a firm decision, keep his own counsel and move on quickly. Asked why he didn't have the braces put on the back side of his teeth, he replies, "Because it's faster this way, and I really don't care."
With the same deliberateness, he has set out in recent years to eradicate persistent rumors that he is gay. In 1998 he won libel damages against a newspaper that called his marriage a sham. Last year he filed two $100 million lawsuits against men who, according to Cruise, spread lies about his sexuality. "I'm not anti-gay," he says, "but how would you feel if someone said your relationship was a sham?" And yet the lawsuits raise a question: Does he protest too much, inviting even more speculation? "If it made it bigger, so what?" he says. "They've got to be held accountable for what they print."
Twenty-four hours after his visit to H.E.L.P., Cruise is at work, standing in the middle of his tennis court, brandishing a sword. In his next movie, The Last Samurai, he will star as a 19th century American mercenary in Japan. He has been training with Nick Powell, the film's stunt coordinator, who taught Russell Crowe how to use a sword for Gladiator. Cruise is ambidextrous, and he is already able to wield two weapons at once.
"The samurai would test their blades on cadavers," says Cruise, who pauses to apply sunscreen to his face and catch his breath after a series of lunge-and-chop moves across the court. He's starting to sweat in his long sleeves, black Adidas pants and spanking-new Adidas sneakers. "I admire the samurai spirit. Your honor is more important than your body."
After Powell leaves, Cruise sits on the deck overlooking the tennis court and pours himself a glass of lemonade. He signed a lease on this well-manicured west L.A. estate a year ago, right after his split with Kidman. Since moving in, he has ripped the net out of the tennis court; a basketball hoop sits at one end for his kids and their cousins and friends. "They bring bikes down here and scooters," says Cruise. "It's always a party."
As with everything else, Cruise works hard at being a father. When son Connor and daughter Isabella are in his charge, their schedule takes precedence over his. During a series of interviews last week, he was never interrupted, except by them. When an assistant appears to tell him "The kids are on Line 1," he stops and takes the call, kneeling close to the ground and whispering so the reporter can't hear.
He is still adjusting to the role of ex-husband. He is not amused when reminded of Kidman's talk-show zing after the split. "Well," she told David Letterman, "I can wear heels now." He seems a little surprised that such a thing has been brought up, but after a moment says calmly, "I don't care about that. She always wore heels. Truly, I like her in heels. That's never been a problem for me." And how are things going with Kidman? "It's going well. I love Nic. I will always love her. That hasn't changed."
When he's not working, Cruise isn't on the Hollywood scene. He keeps to himself or a small group of intimates. Asked to name his best friends, he pauses. "My family," says Cruise, who is close to his mother and three sisters. "Cameron Crowe, Steven Spielberg. And some people that I work with. Penelope, of course." He's referring to Penelope Cruz, his current girlfriend. The romance has been met with equal parts skepticism and speculation. "If you believe the media," says Cruise, "she's pregnant, we've broken up three times, and we've been married already." For the record, he says they have no plans to marry. "She's a lovely person," he says, and leaves it at that.
At the very least, she should feel at home at Cruise's place. Before he moved in, the imposing stone mansion was used in the movie Blow, in which Cruz appeared with Johnny Depp. Walking across the front lawn, which is shielded by a line of trees and dotted with picnic tables, Cruise calls the estate "a great space for the kids."Sword training is over. The conversation has wound down. Cruise seems ready to get back to work. Standing at the foot of the driveway, he waves to the guard's station, and the gates slowly swing open. He doesn't shake hands--he hugs you goodbye and laughs when you bend the sunglasses he has hooked to his collar. He has been a perfect host, a forthcoming interview, unfailingly cordial. As you are driving away, you feel that you know him; that you have seen at least some of the man behind the curtain. But as the guard closes the gate behind you, and the house recedes into the distance, you realize that he never invited you inside.
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