Film and TV

Valkyrie's star and director, Tom Cruise and Bryan Singer

Page 4 of 5

Collectively, it was enough to put Cruise on the radar of ascending uber-producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, who were then looking for a lead for their Top Gun -- the role, passed on by many a bigger name of the day (including Mickey Rourke, Matthew Modine and, yes, Scott Baio), that would cement Cruise's status as the pristine embodiment of sky's-the-limit, Reagan-era masculine ethos. As has been said of many of film history's greatest movie stars -- and make no mistake that Cruise is one of them, which is different from (but by no means exclusive of) being a great actor -- women wanted to be with him, while men wanted to be him. Just as the sight of a bare-chested Clark Gable in It Happened One Night had, a half-century earlier, caused a financial crisis in the undershirt industry, so Cruise's turn as fighter pilot Pete "Maverick" Mitchell did wonders for the sales of Ray-Bans and leather bomber jackets -- to say nothing of the U.S. Navy, which reportedly saw its biggest uptick in new recruits since World War II.

The variables are not that different today. Sure, Cruise is older now, but if he so much as changes his hairstyle, the effect on the nation's barber shops is analogous to the butterfly that flaps its wings in China and causes a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. The interest and innuendo surrounding the arrival of his first biological child, Suri (born to Cruise's third wife, Katie Holmes, in 2006), may be unrivaled by any such birth since that of a certain carpenter's son in a Bethlehem manger. So to talk about Cruise is really to talk about the nature of celebrity -- the status it grants the bearer, the influence it exerts on the beholder, and the ways in which celebrities, wrapped in their carefully spun cocoons of prosperity and perfection, become vessels for our own fantasies, ambitions and desires.

Reviewing Cruise's performance in 2006's Mission: Impossible III (in which, among other things, the daredevil star performed his own jump across a fifteen-foot gap in the Chesapeake Bay Bridge), I wrote, only semi-facetiously, "What I'm saying is that Cruise really is superior to us mere mortals, that he's faster and stronger and more focused -- and, well, just better -- than you or I could ever hope to be, and that this is the very thing that draws us to him, and probably what repels us too." And that remains, I think, a reasonable encapsulation of Cruise's enduring public fascination. Some people love Tom Cruise. Some hate him. Others claim not to pay attention -- yet sometimes they are the ones who seem to know the most about him. Simply put, we can't seem to get enough of Tom Cruise, and yet we search for cracks in the gleaming facade, reminders that he, too, is only human.

In the post-couch-jumping era, this has arguably gotten easier. It has been suggested that the star isn't quite as potent at the box office as he once was, delivering a third Mission: Impossible that, while a hit by almost any measure, failed to exceed the gross of the second. Meanwhile, he has been criticized for being the outspoken advocate of a religion – Scientology -- that some say has changed their lives, that some mock for sport and that some say isn't really a religion at all. Never mind that Cruise is hardly the first Hollywood star to champion non-mainstream beliefs or to engage in the occasional act of eccentric public behavior. And never mind that, as Bill Maher ably demonstrated in the otherwise specious documentary Religulous, there isn't a major religion on the planet that can claim to have its underlying tenets verified by scientific fact. (That's where a little thing called faith enters in.) The point, of course, is that we are talking about any of this in the first place, which is a far more compelling barometer of Cruise's staying power than any box-office chart.

Cruise, for his part, is accustomed to the scrutiny by now. "I've had this on movies, this attention," he says. "It's accelerated today, because of the nature of communication, how things get twisted and spun and thrown out there. And also Bryan," he says, momentarily deflecting the focus back to his director. "He's Bryan Singer. He's very famous."

"What he means to say," says Singer, "is that my apartment was near to the hotel where Tom was staying, so occasionally, when he was taking one of his very brief rests, I'd get some of his spillover paparazzi."

"I don't know what to do about it," Cruise adds. "When you're making the film, you can't worry about that. You've just got to always go back and make the movie."

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Scott Foundas
Contact: Scott Foundas