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The actor discusses ''Jerry Maguire,'' working with Stanley Kubrick, and his marriage
He is the most successful film star of his generation. Makes $20 million a picture. Married one of the most beautiful women in the English-speaking world. Has even been known to save a life from time to time. And right now, lunching at the posh Dorchester Hotel in London, he's got a little green leafy thing dribbling down the corner of his mouth.
Oh, well, nobody's perfect — not even Tom Cruise.
And yet, oddly enough, his famous smile is none the worse for the foliage. ''Man, I'm so sorry I was late,'' he offers, flashing his billion-dollar choppers. Cruise and his wife, Nicole Kidman, are in London starting Eyes Wide Shut, an erotic thriller directed by cinema god Stanley Kubrick, and he's still getting used to the auteur's famously exhausting production schedule. ''We're working 14-hour days,'' Cruise explains between bites of antipasto. ''You work on a scene and you work on it and work on it. He'll do 20 takes — that's not unusual. You are not leaving until he gets it right. It's intense, but as an actor, that's exactly what you want.''
Cruise, it should be noted, knows a bit about getting it right himself. Riding what has to be the longest recent winning streak in Hollywood, he's released 18 movies in 15 years with hardly a bomb among them. The Firm, A Few Good Men, Rain Man, Top Gun — you have to go way back to the 1983 Porky's rip-off Losin' It to find anything resembling a complete flop. Cruise's films have grossed close to $1.5 billion domestically, making him the most bankable star in show business. Also one of the most powerful, able to greenlight $100 million projects with a single phone call. Bigger than Arnold, bigger than Brad, bigger than Bruce — in a town full of 800-pound gorillas, he's King Kong, a grinning alpha ape in Ray-Ban shades.
This week, Cruise opens his 19th film, Jerry Maguire, and you don't have to crawl too far out on a limb to predict a hit. A sweetly offbeat romantic comedy, it has him starring as a hotshot sports agent who decides to change his shallow, back-stabbing ways. Naturally, he gets canned, loses his fiancée, and spends the rest of the movie scrambling to make a comeback. It's a classic Cruise performance, chockful of the usual cocky charm and boyish charisma. But there's a new flavor here as well, a taste not found in his previous characters — a tang of desperation.
''I love the idea of Cruise playing a guy on the ropes,'' chuckles director-writer Cameron Crowe (Say Anything..., Singles), who spent more than three years tapping out Maguire. ''Cruise's name is so synonymous with success, I thought it'd be entertaining to watch him fail on the screen.''
It is — and not just for the joy of schadenfreude. You can also look at Maguire
as a sort of mid-career breakthrough for Cruise, 34, even something of
a bold self-revelation (in fact, the role has already won him this
year's Best Actor prize from the National Board of Review, an Oscar
bellwether). For years he's played irresistible smoothies, turning the
world on with his smile while piloting fighter jets and driving race
cars. Now he's playing a slickster whose magic charms have lost their
power. Jerry grins beguilingly, shrugs his shoulders adorably, even
slips into a pair of sunglasses — and he still can't catch a break.
It's as if that kid who strummed air guitar in his underwear in Risky Business had finally grown up and gotten a real job. As if Cruise were poking holes in his own screen image, deflating his own myth.
Then again, that would be news to Cruise. ''To be honest, I never thought of it in those terms,'' he says. ''I just related to the character emotionally. I meet all these people in the business world — in all lines of work — and I see how they get compromised over and over again. How it slowly chips away at them. I meet these people and I wonder what their lives are like. Is this the person they want to be? Are they where they want to be? That's what appealed to me about Maguire. Jerry's one of those guys I've always wondered about.''
As it happens, Maguire was originally written with an altogether different Tom in mind: Hanks. ''But it took so long to write that Hanks [now 40] was too old by the time it was finished,'' says Crowe. ''The part is really for a 35-year-old.'' For the director, switching to Cruise must have seemed slightly terrifying at first. During the filming of Mission: Impossible — on which Cruise served as a first-time producer as well as star — the actor had picked up a reputation as a budding control freak. His creative spats with Brian De Palma were supposedly so ferocious they pushed the director AWOL during Mission's press junket last summer. ''That's bulls---,'' Cruise says. ''We had one bad argument on the phone. I don't even remember what we were fighting over. But suddenly we started yelling at each other and we hung up on each other. Nic came in laughing, saying 'What was that about?' So I called him back and said, 'Brian, we just had our first fight.' We were both exhausted and under a lot of pressure. It was no big deal. Just one of those things.''
Happily for Crowe, it was one of those things that never happened to him. ''I did wonder about that before I met Tom,'' he says. ''But he loved the script. He would always say: 'You spent three years on this, how do you want to do it? I'll do it any way you want.' I was amazed.'' Renee Zellweger, who plays Cruise's single-mom girlfriend in the film, was also amazed, although for different reasons. ''His acting was so good it was almost bizarre,'' she gushes. ''You'd look into his eyes and he'd really be there, he'd really be in love with you. You could see his heart and soul.... And then the director would yell 'Cut,' Tom would leave the set, and you'd have to go into therapy for six months.''
Hanging up on De Palma is one thing; hanging up on Kubrick would be quite another. The renowned recluse responsible for Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and A Clockwork Orange is arguably the planet's greatest working filmmaker — and also one of the most difficult. His production schedules have been known to stretch on for years (Eyes Wide Shut, in fact, is his first film in a decade). And his relentless perfectionism — shooting retake after retake — has been said to drive even the hardiest actors completely batty.
The world's most powerful star meets the world's most demanding
director. Should be interesting. And to ratchet up the stakes a little
more, escort Mrs. Cruise to the set; she'll be costarring as —
typecasting — Tom's mate (for more of a stretch, check her out in Jane
Campion's The Portrait of a Lady, opening Dec. 27). Like all of Kubrick's works in progress, the plot of Eyes Wide Shut
is currently the best-kept secret in England; Kubrick, who almost never
grants interviews, isn't talking, and even Cruise has been sworn to
silence. This much has been leaked, however: It's a melodrama about
obsession and jealousy that also stars Harvey Keitel and Jennifer Jason
Leigh. Intriguing, for sure, but perhaps not the sort of therapy most
couples counselors would recommend.
Cruise, ever the daredevil, remains undaunted. ''That stuff about Kubrick being difficult is overplayed,'' he says. ''I don't know how he works with other people, but I can tell you he doesn't have to push buttons on me or Nic to get a performance. He doesn't have to be manipulative, and he hasn't been at all. He is intense, that's true. But he's also very funny. He's incredible. The guy is 68 years old and has amazing energy. I see how he directs my performance. He's just stunning. Stunning!
''Nicole and I talk about this so much at night,'' he continues, getting fired up. ''When we're 70 years old, sitting on the front porch, we'll be able to look back and say, 'Wow! We made this movie with Kubrick!' We know it may take a long time to finish, but we don't care. We really don't.''
Kidman concurs. ''Nobody's had a nervous breakdown yet,'' she laughs. ''We're five weeks into the shoot and Stanley has been incredibly generous to us. He's not emotionally abusive or anything. He deals with Tom and me separately — and when you see the film you'll understand why — but it's actually quite relaxed. You feel like you're making a student film. There are usually only six people on the set and you just kind of work and work and work.'' She won't reveal plot details either but offers this tasty tidbit: ''When people see the film, they're going to have a field day analyzing our relationship.''
Meantime, while the Cruises are holed up in the Dorchester Hotel, toiling for Kubrick six, sometimes seven days a week, their future projects are stacking up like jumbos over Heathrow, waiting for that unknown date when Eyes Wide Shut finally wraps (earliest prediction: June '97). For starters, Cruise/Wagner Productions, the company Cruise founded with his ex-agent Paula Wagner, has been spending heavily to acquire the film rights to a number of new novels. There's also talk of a reunion with Oliver Stone — who directed Cruise's only Oscar-nominated performance, in Born on the Fourth of July — for a film about Alexander the Great (''We're in discussion'' is all Cruise will say) as well as the possibility of another movie with A Few Good Men's Rob Reiner (''We're talking''). And, of course, there are plans for a Mission: Impossible sequel, although Cruise may distance himself from the project, at least on screen (''I'm not set to act in it,'' he notes). De Palma, incidentally, definitely won't be directing.
Midway into lunch, the conversation turns to regrets — as in, does
he have any? It is a question crowded with possibilities. After all,
Cruise's life has not been entirely agony-free. There was his estranged
father, who died of cancer in 1984; his mother's narrow escape from a
bad marriage (she packed 11-year-old Tom and his three sisters into the
family station wagon and drove off in the middle of the night); his
rootless teen years (he attended 15 different schools). Not to mention
his battle with dyslexia, his failed first marriage to actress Mimi
Rogers, and those embarrassing green tights he wore in Legend.
''Regrets?'' he ponders. ''That's a hard question. Let's see.'' He pauses to scour his brain. ''I guess I wouldn't have gotten my nose broken when I was a kid. I got a fastball on my ninth birthday. I had this party and this girl was up in the stands. I was up at the plate and I gave a look over to my girl and the ball knocked me off my feet. I was gushing blood all over the place.''
Gee, just think: If not for that fastball, he might have been a good-looking guy. Of course, you can't blame Cruise for being cagey. He and Kidman, who have adopted two children (Isabella, 3 1/2, and Connor, 1 1/2), have endured an invasion of privacy so galling it would have George Clooney organizing a march on Washington. Rumors have been printed about Cruise's sexual preferences, his marriage, his controversial religion (Scientology), even his virility — none of them remotely substantiated. ''I think people must sit in a room and make it up,'' he says. ''I know they do. They sit there and wonder, 'Okay, what can we say next?'''
''There's a big jealousy factor working here,'' says Crowe. ''Tom's been able to put a lot of successes back-to-back. When somebody has that kind of success, this Greek tragedy thing kicks in. People start searching for a dark side.''
Good luck. Not even the IM Force could crack the enigmatic vault of Cruise's interior life — and even if they could, they probably wouldn't download many dark secrets. It's not that Cruise is excessively coy or psychotically upbeat. It's just that he seems almost blithely oblivious to the complexities of his own personality. Oblivious to his power. Oblivious to the effect he has on people (like the two waiters hovering by the table, so nervous their trays are practically rattling). Oblivious to subtle hand signals regarding that green leafy thing on his mouth. Oblivious, in short, to the fact that he's Tom Cruise — which, when you think about it, isn't a bad way to be when you're the biggest movie star in the world.
''He has no idea how people perceive him,'' says pal Rob Reiner. ''It's one of his most endearing qualities. He forgets he's a star. He just goes along like a normal person.''
''Yeah, that's true,'' says Kidman. ''I'll take him to a party and I'll find him standing in the corner by himself. He assumes people don't talk to him because they aren't interested. I'll have to explain that it's because they're too nervous to come over. That just never occurs to him.''
And yet, there are times when Cruise seems anything but oblivious...
A few weeks later, he calls. ''Listen, about that question — do I have any regrets? I walked out of the restaurant and felt bad about my answer. My nose? I don't give a s--- about my nose. It's not a regret.'' What's his replacement regret? ''One thing does stick out,'' he says. ''We had only 20 days to cut Days of Thunder. My regret is making a movie to meet a release date like that. Big mistake. I won't do it again.''
And there you have it — the dark, brooding coils of Tom Cruise's tortured soul laid bare.
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