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I fly 7500 miles and almost
blow my appointment with Tom Cruise. "Meet me at the Ritz at noon,"
he says, and so I arrive 10 minutes ahead of the appointed hour to find myself
surrounded by chandeliers and chintz and tinkling Muzak, an atmosphere pretty
much like a Ritz-Carlton anywhere, in other words, although this one happens to
be in Sydney, Australia, where, in a few days time. Cruise is set to start
Impossible 2. Directed by Hong Kong action
wizard John Woo, the film will be produced by Cruise and his partner (and
onetime agent) Paula Wagner.|
By 10 past 12:00 I'm getting a little nervous, having heard that Cruise is scrupulous about his time and other people's. It occurs to me—one of those sinking, ohmigod moments —that there might be another Ritz-Carlton in Sydney, a fear quickly confirmed by the concierge, who puts me in touch with the other place and a colleague of his who is, at first, decidedly snooty. "Oh, yes, sir," he says, "and how do you propose that I set about recognizing this party you're supposed to be meeting?"
I explain. You've never heard a concierge melt and literally simper until you encounter one in the process of realizing that he's got the world's most famous movie star loitering in his lobby. The man gasps. "Tom Cruise! He's here! I just saw him!"And so I arrive in the lobby of this second Ritz-Carlton, 40 minutes late. Cruise is perched nonchalantly on a bench making a call on his cellular phone. "Can we please make sure that this is done today," he says, a man very much aware of his own power but wearing it lightly. One can only assume that things that Torn Cruise wants done today usually get done, today.
At the moment he's working round the clock—nailing down locations, adjusting sets and wardrobes, editing the script, doing makeup tests, staging read-throughs with the cast. To this has been added the not-inconsiderable hitch of a freak storm that occurred the previous night. Hailstones the size of cantaloupes plummeted from the sky, shattering roofs, inflicting hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage throughout Sydney, battering and trashing many of the cars that had been rented for the cast and crew of MI2."
Did you see that? If I tried to put that in the picture, people would say, 'Get outta here,'" Cruise says. "I rushed out of a meeting to see that the kids were okay." Cruise and his wife, the actress Nicole Kidman, have two adopted children, Isabella, six, and Connor, four. "They were staring up at the sky, saying, 'Daddy, this is so freaky.'"
Cruise's eyes are blue, shading to gray; his black hair is long and unkempt, and he wears a black baseball cap backward. Beneath his black T-shirt his chest and arms bulge with muscles (he works out and, famously, does a lot of his own stunt work), and although he's not tall, he looks like a very strong guy. He wears big clumpy boots yet moves with the physical dexterity of an athlete, bouncing up the hotel stairs to the mezzanine. The first thing that strikes you about him is his ease, his unassuming courtliness to strangers, his seeming lack of self-consciousness. The second thing is the sheer physical fact of his presence, which is almost like a shock. I've been around a lot of movie stars, but Tom Cruise's charisma is something else: It's like a blowtorch.
He lolls in a chair in front of a white-clothed table in the restaurant and starts talking about Eyes Wide Shut, which he and Kidman spent three years making with Stanley Kubrick, a movie that was attracting obsessive attention even before the 70-year-old director's sudden death this past March. Now Cruise is not merely promoting his own latest release, he's ushering into the world the final legacy of certainly the most mysterious movie director in history and—as the creator of Dr. Strangelove, Spartacus, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, The Shining and Full Metal Jacket—one of the greatest.
Eyes Wide Shut was made, like all of Kubrick's later films, under conditions of almost military secrecy in England, and Cruise makes it clear that the cat is going to stay in the bag. "Stanley wanted us to protect the story, and I'll honor the promise I made to him because I always keep my promises," he says. (Cruise utters cliches with the utmost sincerity and pretty much gets away with it.) "What I can say is that it's about sexual obsession, jealousy, guilt and that it is a thriller."
Kubrick himself revealed that Eyes Wide Shut is based on the 1926 work Traumnovelle by Arthur Schnitzler, the Viennese novelist and dramatist most famous for his play La Ronde(which was the basis for The Blue Room, a play by David Hare in which Kidman recently performed in London and on Broadway). The movie involves a married couple (he's a doctor, she's an art curator) who fantasize about other partners, and, probably, includes scenes of sadomasochism and drug use, It also explores sexual ambivalence, and Kidman has said that it is going to make everyone view her marriage to Cruise from an entirely different perspective, as if any more fuel needs to be thrown on that fire.
When I say to Cruise that everyone is agog, wondering just what this movie will be, he throws his head back and laughs. As someone who is pursued by the press in a particularly obsessive and sometimes vindictive way, he appreciates the PR value of mystery; and while he's coy about revealing plot details of Eyes Wide Shut, he's willing and even eager to talk about what until now has been an unavailable subject— the business of working with Kubrick."He didn't want robots," Cruise explains. "He wanted someone to question, to challenge, to explore. He didn't come in with the result of a scene in mind. He wanted room to be creative. He wasn't indulgent. He watched us and he would work withus and he would allow us to play the scene, and then we'd get together and we'd write. He liked filming things in long takes, so we did scenes over and over again until we got them right. Sure, there were scenes that we did 60, 70 takes. And there were times when, contrary to popular belief, we'd get something in only a few takes."It was just me and Nic and Stanley for years," he continues. "Sometimes the three of us were literally alone in the room together. He would man the camera himself. The sound guy would mike us for sound and leave.
"There are things that you do because they're so personal," Cruise says of the movie's overtly sexual theme, "and there were things that we did that were sexy for the two of us and there are moments that he got that he wouldn't have got had he not created this intense atmosphere of intimacy. It's confronting for me to have to see it. Nic sometimes said when we were going through it, 'Oh, jeez.' It was like running marathon after marathon, emotionally. I was beat at the end of it, absolutely whipped."
As he tells me these stories, Cruise is entirely without attitude or, seemingly, any pressing awareness of the sensational drama of his own life. Tom Wolfe couldn't invent a character as good as Tom Cruise: the impoverished background that provides him with a controlling sense of excellence and the urgent need for success, the break into the big time that comes while he's hauling trash as a building superintendent on the edges of Harlem—these are stories straight out of Horatio Alger. Born Thomas Cruise Mapother IV on July 3, 1962, inSyracuse, NY, Cruise, from the age of 11, helped his divorced mother raise his three sisters as the family moved around the country. A knee injury removed the possibility of a career in sports, and when his break as an actor came along, in Taps, he grabbed it with a ferocity and panache that pointed to his fear that it might be taken away.
A defining moment in Cruise's early career came with Risky Business (1983), in which he bounced around in his underpants, receiving sex education from Rebecca De Mornay and becoming a star. Three years later he broke through the roof with Top Gun, less a movie than an MTV poster for navy flyers. In 1990 he was Oscar-nominated(and should have won) for his role as a crippled Vietnam vet in Oliver Stone's Born on the Fourth of July.
Cruise has had something of a parallel career—as a lifesaver. In 1996, besides starring in Mission: impossible and the splendid Jerry Maguire, he rushed to the aid of a hit-and-run victim in Santa Monica, saved a seven-year-old boy from being crushed at a premiere in London and directed the crew of his yacht as they rescued a family from a burning sailboat in the Mediterranean. In the last two years he confined himself to one known rescue, chasing muggers who attacked a female neighbor near the house that he and Kidman were renting in Regent's Park in London —but, then, at the time he was rather busy with Mr. Kubrick.
It's been reckoned that Cruise may have lost as much as $60 million in fees on other projects because of his commitment to Eyes Wide Shut, a fact that doesn't bother him at all. "I did my homework; I knew what it was going to take," he says. "Look, I never thought I'd be where I am now. When I was a kid, movies were another world that seemed unimaginably distant, Other people lived in that world. Now I do, and I'm lucky enough to be in a position to make the movies I want to make, so every time I go out I'm careful. Because it takes a lot out of me, and I give a lot, and that's what I care about. I knew that Eyes Wide Shut was going to be one of the greatest adventures of my life."Cruise was in Australia when he heard of Kubrick's death and says he spent something like 90 hours in the air in the next five days, flying to New York, then to England tor the funeral and then back to Sydney. "The funeral was devastating," he says. "It's still unreal to me that he's not here. Nic and I always laugh when people say he was a recluse, A recluse is someone who doesn't communicate. That's the exact opposite of who Stanley was. He would get on the phone to a theater owner directly. People will be talking forever about the times they spent with Stanley. And we got invited for that ride, to that party, for a long time."
Suddenly he says, "Gee, I wish you'd seen it. It would be so cool to be able to talk through a couple of scenes and tell you how we achieved what's in the movie," and I get an unexpected glimpse of another, less guarded Tom Cruise. This is the part of him that wants to shout out, Hey, I worked with Stanley Kubrick, man, and it was weird but it was so damn great.
To date, Tom Cruise's 1999 will go down as the year of Kubrick's sad demise and Cruise's self-proclaimed jihad thai he and his lawyers recently launched against supermarket tabloids thai have been foolish enough to publish damaging stories about the couple. The Star, for one, alleged that two married London sex therapists were hired by Kubrick at one point during the shooting of Eyes Wide Shut "to teach Tom and Nicole how to make love." The therapists swore out affidavits stating that they'd never met Cruise and Kidman or been anywhere near the set. So it looks like The Star will have to answer for it, which is bad news for no one, least of all for Cruise and Kidman, who last October won a suit against London's Express on Sunday over a story that said their marriage was a sham to hide the fact that Cruise is gay. The paper paid an undisclosed sum and made a public apology, saying the story was "entirely false."
"I don't like suing people. I take no pleasure in it," Cruise says. "But there comes a point where it's beyond silly; it's destructive. I will sue. I will sue every single time that I can until it stops. And when they stop, I will stop."By now Cruise isn't sounding so genial anymore. He sounds like Tom Cruise with a sore head, or Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt in the first Mission: impossible, leaning across the table with those disconcertingly intense eyesand saying, "You've never seen me upset," moments before he blows the entire restaurant to smithereens."I don't care if someone prints the truth," he continues. "But there's not a lot to print about us outside of the fact that we're two people who love each other and love our family and want to work. When we read some of what's been written about us, Nic and I look at each other and just go, 'What?'"
Cruise married Kidman while making Days of Thunder with her in 1990, shortly after his divorce from actress Mimi Rogers (who had introduced him to Scientology and had bad things to say about him in the aftermath). He and Kidman ride go-carts, fly airplanes and parachute together, and he gave her kick-boxing lessons for her last birthday, the precondition being that she not kick him. "I have both happiness and unhappiness with this person," Kidman has said of Cruise. "It's a complicated relationship, but I'm glad it's complicated because otherwise I'd be bored, It's been nine years and I'm past the seven-year itch. When you're loved for your flaws, that's when you really feel safe. I have a lot of flaws and I'm difficult to live with and he still loves me. He is my favorite person in the world,"Cruise echoes the sentiment. "My wife is one of the most generous people I've ever met. She's unique, supportive, special. The first time I saw her my reaction was, 'Wow!' I thought, I'm having her, that one's alright, come over here, girl. It's what happens."
I ask Cruise where he and Kidman and the children live these days (they own homes in Los Angeles, Teliuride, CO, and Sydney's Darling Point neighborhood). The family spent more than three years in London, a stint that included the first Mission: Impossible, Portrait of a Lady and Kidman's appearance in The Blue Room as well as Eyes Wide Shut. "Everywhere," Cruise says nonchalantly. "It'll be rented houses forever. Wherever the movies are."
The immediate future is Mission: impossible 2 and Sydney, where they're close to Kidman's roots and where she will be rehearsing with Australian director Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet) for Moulin Rouge, in which she'll costar with Ewan McGregor. Cruise came here for the first time when he was promoting Top Gun,and he came back before he and Kidman were married, for her family's stamp ofapproval. "We spend a lot of time here, and the kids like it. It's great for MI2 because visually we've never seen this city in a big Hollywood movie."
Two hours into our conversation, a waiter arrives with club sandwiches and french fries, which Cruise scarfs back with the same gusto and concentration he seemingly brings to everything. He's still only 37, perhaps less than halfway into a career that already has demonstrated extraordinary longevity.
"The most important thing is not to do things that don't interest or excite you, no matter how heavy the pressure or what the price may be. It's not what I've tried to do. It's what I've done," Cruise says, sounding again a little like Ethan Hunt contemplating some restaurant redesign. "So I know that all the mistakes and the thrill of it are mine. And if it all goes away," he concludes, "that will be because of me, too."
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