GRIN WHEN YOU’RE WINNING - A ROUGH GUIDE TO BEING TOM CRUISE
On the eve of War of the Worlds Hotdog takes on its own mission impossible and attempts to get behind the toothy smile of this planet’s biggest star. By Leigh Singer
He’s relatively short; unfashionably evangelical about his religious convictions; has never cracked comedy; and few would compare his dramatic range to sometime co-stars Newman, Hoffman or Nicholson. Yet for almost 20 years, Thomas Cruise Mapother IV has been about the biggest movie star in the world.
From Top Gun in 1986 to the present day – No.14, the highest actor on Premiere magazine’s 2005 Top 100 Power List – Cruise has sustained a level of popularity comparable to any of the past movie greats at their peak. Pretenders to his throne (Costner, Schwarzenegger) have come and gone. Only another Tom can compete - or perhaps not. After all, Cruise could have done Cast Away but could Hanks do Minority Report?
Born on the third of July, Cruise’s fans laud an all-American icon (who else would Hollywood send out at the 2002 Oscars to justify itself in the wake of September 11th?), risk-taking action man and clean-living family man, a game and gregarious interviewee. Think Jerry Maguire. His critics, however, pinpoint something vaguely grim behind the famous grin, a relentlessly self-publicising control freak, ruthless with relationships (including marriages), along the lines of Collateral’s callous hitman Vincent. So what exactly makes Tommy run?
All In the Family – a nomadic clan’s only son among four kids, Cruise’s relationships with his mother, who raised them single-handedly for a time, and his three sisters are woven tighter than Nic Cage’s hairpiece, whilst his strained relationship with his now-deceased father may well have influenced several of his screen roles (see below). Family is an unequivocal priority and source of stability for Cruise; sister Lee Anne is now his personal publicist; cousin William Mapother has benefited with roles in several Cruise films. And despite divorcing Nicole Kidman, the two remain devoted to their adopted children Isabella and Connor.
Let’s Go To Work – The old “hardest-working man in showbiz” moniker is regularly slapped on numerous backs in shamelessly sycophantic Hollywood but according to anyone who’s ever toiled alongside Cruise, his work ethic is unsurpassed. His relentless appetite to nail Rain Man led notorious perfectionist Dustin Hoffman to brand him “a demon” (a compliment); sticking out two years and sometimes triple figures of takes for Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut; 4 months prep for a week and a half shoot on Magnolia. And would any other 24-year old up-and-comer demand – and get – two months personal script development time on Top Gun?
Using My Religion – a teenage Cruise trained for the priesthood in a Franciscan seminary but it was after first wife Mimi Rogers introduced him to Scientology that he truly saw the light. For 20 years he’s been the highest-profile devout member of sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard’s controversial (brainwashing cult or genuine church?) “applied religious philosophy”. Increasingly vocal in its staunch defence, Cruise attracted criticism for claiming Scientology “cured” his long-standing dyslexia and recently even provided a fully-staffed Scientology tent on the War of the Worlds set. Yet still somehow escaped fellow Scientologist John Travolta’s disastrous Hubbard tribute Battlefield Earth.
Cruise Control – Team Cruise guards his privacy like a pack of rotweilers. Cruise refuses his likeness to be used on video games or action figures. Former ueber-publicist Pat Kingsley used to send out detailed confidentiality contracts that journalists had to sign – or be escorted from interviews. Employees had to sign secrecy agreements tight enough to satisfy the CIA. And watch what gossip you spread. Legal eagle Cruise sues and usually wins. One Michael Davis, who allegedly offered to sell videotapes of himself having sex with the actor, was hit with a $100 million defamation lawsuit. Respect the cock, indeed.
Lighten Up – For all his po-faced privacy policies, Cruise cannily mixes them with highly public displays of accessibility – his premiere walkabouts, signing autographs and chatting into mobile phones now reach the 2 1/2 hour mark - and a willingness to laugh at himself: arriving in stilettos to collect his 1994 Harvard University Hasty Pudding Award; or genius parody Mission: Improbable (2000) with Ben Stiller playing 'Tom Crooze', Cruise's supposed stunt double for M:I2 and, er, Cocktail. Put on the spot by Michael Parkinson and asked to sing, tone-deaf Tom gives it a shot. Imagine Russell Crowe’s reaction to the same request…
Respect Your Elders – Few young actors took such advantage of their “apprentice” status as Cruise, mixing his early solo leads with prestigious supporting slots alongside Hollywood royalty – Newman (and Scorsese – calling both “Sir” on set) in The Colour of Money, Hoffman in Rain Man – letting them scoop the Oscars while gaining credibility by association. And his onscreen penchant for D.F.S (“Dead Father Syndrome”), playing characters linked to absent fathers and present mentors – see also Days of Thunder, A Few Good Men, The Firm, Magnolia – has allowed him to work and improve with greats like Duvall, Nicholson, Hackman and Jason Robards.
No More (Only) Mr Nice Guy – most movie stars construct a screen persona that audiences love and spend – often reluctantly - their entire careers embellishing it, fulfilling the unwritten contract: if you rebuild it, they will come. Cruise’s all-American goodness, first as cocky young Top Gun, moving into more mature heroics, honour the pact but he also consistently pushes against his image. Interview with the Vampire, Eyes Wide Shut, Magnolia and Collateral aren’t the moves of someone scared of challenging his fan base or himself. No big deal? So how come Cary Grant, John Wayne or Harrison Ford rarely bothered?
Grin and Bare It – Hardly smacked in the face with the ugly stick, Cruise doesn’t fight his natural advantages, flashing that toothy, shit-eatin’ grin and meticulously sculpted physique when necessary. He doesn’t look bad in shades either, as Ray-Ban, whose sales soared after both Risky Business and Top Gun, can attest. Interestingly, since Rain Man, virtually every poster for a Cruise film is marketed with his unaccompanied facial close-up and almost exclusive above-the-title billing (ex-wife Kidman the rare exception), relegating such luminary co-stars as Hackman, Brad Pitt and Cameron Diaz to also-ran status. Apparently overexposure only applies to other people.
Go Direct To The Top – Spielberg (twice), Scorsese, Coppola, Oliver Stone, Ridley and Tony Scott, Sydney Pollack, Ed Zwick, Cameron Crowe, Ron Howard, Barry Levinson, Brian De Palma, John Woo, Stanley Kubrick… - there’s an advantage to being the biggest movie star in the world – you get first pick of the A-list directors: pretty much all of them, judging by this list. Even when Cruise gives a break to a new talent, it’s Paul Thomas Anderson, rather than Paul W.S Anderson. Which is surely one way to ensure you star in War of the Worlds rather than Aliens Vs. Predator.
Produce the Goods – Commitment to his work meant “just” acting would never satisfy Cruise for long and in 1993 he formed Cruise / Wagner Productions with former agent Paula Wagner. From their first release, Mission: Impossible (1996), Cruise / Wagner has developed an impressive, diverse, highly lucrative roster of credits, increasingly incorporating Cruise-free efforts like Narc, The Others and Cameron Crowe’s upcoming Elizabethtown. For those he does headline, it’s pay and play. Why take your usual $25 million salary, when a 30% gross participation deal on acting and producing, as on M:I 2, can make you $75 million? Go figure.