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For the gung ho star of ''A Few Good Men,'' his unabashed optimism keeps the actor revving in high gear
Tom Cruise is standing in the doorway of nobody's living room on a bright, hot November day at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and I'm surprised. Negotiating to see him has been like arranging to meet the President, so it never occurred to me that he'd answer the door himself. Yet here he is, sweet-faced and smiling, directing me to a chair in the hotel room, offering me a drink, being a perfect gentleman. He dances over to the bar and begins fixing me a glass of water. He looks good — white T-shirt, jeans, cowboy boots, a brown tweed jacket with disconcertingly wide lapels, scruffy hair, color in his cheeks, eyes like the sea when it's cloudy and green.
We've never met, Cruise and I, but we have a mutual acquaintance, the director Sydney Pollack, for whom I'd worked, and who's about to begin shooting Cruise's next picture, The Firm, based on John Grisham's best-seller. Cruise wants to know about my connection to Pollack and begins lobbing questions at me.
''You worked for him?'' he asks from the bar. ''What did you do?'' ''When was it?'' ''What's your relationship to him now?'' I find myself surprised that such a smiley puppy dog of a young man can be so relentlessly nosy. ''Is he married?'' Cruise continues. ''For how long?'' ''Does he have children?'' ''What's his wife like?'' I begin to feel uncomfortable, telling a perfect stranger about someone else's business, even if that stranger is Tom Cruise.
He has taken a seat on the couch across from me, his knees spread wide in a manly position, his elbows set comfortably on his thighs, and he's talking and smiling and laughing and talking — trying to get me to call Pollack from the hotel room after the interview (''Tell him you just interviewed Tom,'' Cruise says) — when suddenly I notice the glass he'd put in front of me. It isn't just a glass of water, it's a towering parfait made of mountains of tinkling ice and clear spring water. I'm embarrassed: How could I have let Tom Cruise make me this — this bribe.
So I say, ''Let's start,'' and he says, ''Okay, let's go,'' and he slaps his knees with his palms, and rubs his hands together, and kind of bobs up and down in his seat like a guy about to get the million-dollar question.
One obvious topic is A Few Good Men, Rob Reiner's new film (based on Aaron Sorkin's play), in which Cruise plays Daniel Kaffee, an amoral Navy lawyer who has languished in the shadow of his enormously successful attorney father and now finds himself faced with a life-changing dilemma: Should he defend two loyal Marines charged with murder, or should he plea-bargain the case and get off easy? With the help of a passionate internal affairs officer (Demi Moore), Kaffee suddenly comes face-to-face with his own passivity, his lack of commitment, and his fear of failure.
EW: How was it working with Rob Reiner?
EW: And Kevin Bacon (who plays the prosecuting attorney in the film)?
TC: Terrific. He's terrific in the movie, too, isn't he?
EW: How about working with Demi Moore?
TC: It was excellent.
The fact of the matter is, I hadn't expected to like this 30-year-old millionaire movie star; being cynical is an occupational hazard. I'd seen him do interviews on television, and he seemed annoyingly gung ho about everything. I knew he was a Scientologist, and I'd heard that it was Scientology's Dianetics — what some people see as a dubious prescription for ridding oneself of physical and mental ''aberrations'' — that was behind his excessively positive posture. But I knew there was something about him that made some of the most respected directors in the country-Francis Ford Coppola (in The Outsiders), Martin Scorsese (The Color of Money), Barry Levinson (Rain Man), Oliver Stone (Born on the Fourth of July), Ron Howard (Far and Away), Rob Reiner, Sydney Pollack — want to work with him.
Almost anyone you ask has a favorable opinion of Cruise. ''Tom is a perfectionist,'' says Kevin Bacon. ''For me, to work with someone who's looking out for the best interest of the film is a joy. I like to be with someone who wants to act, not someone who stays in a f---ing makeup trailer.''
Don Simpson, who with Jerry Bruckheimer produced Top Gun (1986) and Days of Thunder (1990), says that he and Bruckheimer did everything they could to ensure that Cruise would be on their side. ''He was invited by Jerry and me on both movies into any element, any aspect he wanted,'' Simpson says. ''We'd never given that to an actor. We did it because we think Tom has big plans.'' And because having Cruise on your side, Simpson knows, means having power with the studios.
To find Cruise's power, I see, I'll have to avoid questions that he can answer with a few positive adjectives.
EW: Did you use your relationship with your own father to get into the role of Daniel Kaffee?
TC: Kaffee's relationship with his father was probably a lot saner than the relationship that I had with my father. Because with my father (an electrical engineer who divorced Cruise's mother when Cruise was 11), there wasn't a lot of communication. My father, actually, unlike Kaffee's, was not very successful at living life. I loved him, you know? But there's people that lack an ability to live life. I mean, life just pummels them, and they die. A lot of people, they just get hit — (Cruise slams his fist into his hand, hard, every time he says the word hit) hit! hit! hit! — hit so much their perspective on life is so altered that they can't even come up for air. I believe this: When people do things that are mean, or, even unintentionally, that aren't good towards life and people — they're the ones that suffer more than anybody else. If they're a good person, they will really eat themselves alive. And I think that's what happened to him. He had a very unhappy life, got cancer, and I feel — my heart went out to him.
EW: When did he get sick?
TC: Late '70s. But he didn't realize it until the '80s, right before he died.
EW: Did you see him at the time?
TC: No, I didn't see him for about 10 years...I didn't know anything about him.
EW: Was that your mother's choice?
TC: No. Now we're getting to a complicated area. Just because
there are certain confidences in terms of my own family that I...
For the second time I find myself embarrassed. Cruise had been speaking to me in almost a whisper, and I'd been lulled into feeling that he was really talking to me, not just telling me something he wouldn't mind seeing in print. Now, when he puts on the brakes, I feel caught in the act of caring. This is Cruise's power as well as his talent: to always make you care, whether on screen or in person, about the complicated young man, coming from a painful nowhere, who uses everything he has — looks, charm, wits, maniacal ambition, and superhuman energy — to succeed.
EW: Don't you think it's true — that you're good at living?
TC: Yes, it is true. I mean, my mother's very good at living. My family is. And I think...I want to live. You know, I want to have a good, full life. That's how I've approached it.
EW: But you had a difficult childhood — your mother raised you and your sisters alone, you didn't have much money — how did you manage to keep from being pummeled by life?
TC: I just surrounded myself with people who wanted to see me succeed. You're only as good as the people that you surround yourself with. And you better be careful about that.
I look at certain people that aren't doing well and say, ''Well, who's around him? Do they want to see this person do well?'' And often I might find one person that really doesn't want to see this guy succeed. And I've been very careful — and lucky — in avoiding that. Because sometimes you can waste your life dealing with problems that you're not even making yourself. You know? There's a lot of fat in life that you don't want to have to deal with.
Look at your own life: Who really is there when you're up? Who's going, ''Congratulations! I'm really happy for you''? Or who's the person that sits back and goes, ''You know, your work was good for the scene, but you could have been 10 times better if it was written differently.'' Those are the times you just go, ''Why? Why? Why is this person saying that? What's happening here?''
Cruise begins to talk very fast, and the room fills up with words that seem secondary to the singular, passionate earnestness of the movie star sitting on the couch, soaring on conviction and adrenaline. I find myself entirely won over by his energy, which has a pounding, engorged quality, like a young man in the last few minutes of making love. It's no wonder that Cruise plays fighter pilots and race car drivers and men who beat other men to pulp — like his characters, he's got a 12-cylinder engine and an irrepressible need to open it up.
TC: Good directors, if they don't have the solution to a problem, they say, ''I don't know, but I'm going to do everything to make it go right.'' That's the way I am.
The next thing I know, there are people in the room — Cruise's employees — and though he doesn't acknowledge them, I know the interview is over. We shake hands. ''Thank you,'' he says, and I head for the door.
I think I've seen the last of him when he suddenly appears again, holding open the door and saying, ''Hey — again, thank you for everything. It was a real pleasure.'' And then he flashes his eyes at me, a signal from the guy inside the movie star, wishing me — a friend of a friend — a genuine goodbye.
I come away not knowing whether Cruise is someone who just doesn't talk about his darker side, or whether he's a soldier of a pseudoscience that asks him to repress his more chaotic feelings. I wonder whether he ever wakes up in the middle of the night, suddenly aware that his life is more complicated than he'd like it to be, or less satisfying. I wonder whether his gung ho approach won't someday get in the way of his growth and authenticity as a man and as an actor. Whether he knows that life sometimes pummels you — and that sometimes even the people whom you love and trust betray you. I wonder whether he'll be able to play deeper and more complex characters without first confronting his own depth and complexity.
A week later, Cruise calls from Memphis, where he has just started working on The Firm. This is my chance to ask some of these questions.
EW: Do you think that being as successful as you are, at such an early age, is dangerous?
TC: No. I don't think success is dangerous at any age, as long as you don't allow it to overwhelm you.
EW: Do you think there's a ''Tom Cruise movie''?
TC: Yeah, whichever one I'm doing at the time. (He laughs.)
EW: Is there a danger in making too many Tom Cruise movies?
TC: No. Only if I'm not in 'em.
EW: How is to work without Nicole (Kidman, his wife and costar in two films)?
TC: I miss her. But Dead Calm is playing here in Memphis — they put
it on for Nic. Here I have this document of her life before she knew
Up to this point Cruise has been answering my questions like a professional ballplayer hitting practice balls to no one. But now he's getting defensive, as if I'm accusing him of something by asking these somewhat pointed questions.
EW: Do you think your success has insulated you from the types of experience that fueled your creativity in the past?
TC: It's not like I don't interact with people. It's not like I live in an ivory tower. I mean, hell, I don't go to screenings, I go to the movie theater. And I talk to people every day.
EW: Do you think that after a while, this — your career, your success — could become anticlimactic?
TC: For me it's still very exciting. I don't think I could ever get bored acting. I was thinking about it today: the hours that Sydney (Pollack) has worked on The Firm, and everybody working on the set, coming together to tell this story. I love that interaction. I don't think I could ever not feel that adrenaline. Everyday, there's something new. You've got to have an iron stomach. Sydney said to me before we started shooting, ''Well, let's put on the steel jockstrap and let's go.'' When you're working with directors who care about what they're doing — like Sydney or Rob (Reiner) — you see their faces. And they're not bored. And they've been doing it for their whole lives. It's not going to go away.
I believe Cruise, and I tell him so, and he laughs, relieved to be understood. What I hadn't gotten before was that it's his love for what he does, and not, say, Scientology, which is the most important inspiration behind his optimism. So I stop wondering about him, and accept that he's lucky and he's talented, and he has good reason to be happy.
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