Tom Cruise's toughest role ever: acting like a regular humble dude


Actor/producer Tom Cruise basks in the warmth of a standing ovation from the audience in the Debussy Theatre at the Cannes Festival May 18. The applause was led by Thierry Frémaux, the festival's general delegate.


Peter Howell

Movie Critic


CANNES, France — Tom Cruise is being celebrated at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival for an extraordinary career that has seen him profitably play characters that include a flying ace and a vampire, a rock star and a samurai warrior.


But there was one role the actor/producer couldn’t pull off here, despite how hard he tried: humble regular dude.


Dressed in shades of dark grey and looking as lean as a greyhound, Cruise arrived to a hero’s welcome May 18 at the Debussy Theatre in the Palais des Festivals, for an event variously billed as a master class, a rendezvous and a tribute. Let’s call it what it really was: a love-in.


A 15-minute sizzle reel of his 41-year movie career was shown, opening with the triumphal strains of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” from “2001: A Space Odyssey.”


Scenes flashed by from such Cruise hits as “Risky Business,” “Rain Man,” “Jerry Maguire,” “Interview With the Vampire,” “Born on the Fourth of July,” "A Few Good Men," the “Mission: Impossible” franchise and, of course, “Top Gun” and it’s long-awaited sequel, “Top Gun: Maverick,” which opens in theatres May 27 following its Cannes premiere.


He’s one of the world’s most popular and bankable stars, having garnered three Oscar nominations and earned billions of dollars for Hollywood studios. He’ll turn 60 on July 3 yet he looks to be in his mid-40s, with no trace of grey in his full mane of dark hair.


When Cruise finally sat down to chat with French journalist Didier Allouch, for a rare interview, he was pushing the angle that he’s just an ordinary guy who got lucky and who works very, very hard.


He talked about being “very humble” and “very privileged” to do what he does.

“It’s not about me, it’s about the story,” he insisted, but nobody was buying it. You don’t go to a Tom Cruise movie because of the story.


Cruise took control of the interview. He answered questions at length but only gave out information that’s already well known and unlikely to provoke a troublesome headline or tweet.

No mention was made of such hot-button topics as his leading role in Scientology, his failed marriages to Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes or how he did a profanity-laden rant on a “Mission: Impossible” set last year when he thought COVID safety procedures weren’t being followed.


The omissions were understandable: the audience was there to praise Cruise, not to vex him. Just to be safe, though, there was no audience Q&A.


Cruise told the story about how as a kid he was such a fan of action heroes, he jumped off the roof of his family home, narrowly avoiding serious injury because the grass below was wet.


As a teenager he mowed lawns, shovelled snow and sold Christmas cards door-to-door to earn money to help support his family and so he could go and see more movies.


When he landed his first major movie role, as a military cadet in “Taps” in 1981, Cruise decided he would interview everybody involved in the film, from fellow actor to set decorators to writers. He feared it might be the only one he would ever make.


“I went to every single department and I studied every single department.”


Cruise said he remembers every take of every movie he’s ever made and sometimes spends years preparing for a role: “Preparation is everything.”


He always tries to think of what the audience wants in a movie and a character. He often sneaks into films to judge reactions: “I’ll put my cap on and sit in the audience.”


Cruise got into producing because he realized it gave him far more control. And it was while wearing his producer’s cap for “Top Gun: Maverick” that he declared that the film, which was due to be released at the start of the pandemic, wouldn’t be released until movie theatres and moviegoers were fully back.


That was two years ago, and the decision not to sell “Top Gun: Maverick” to a streaming service might have cost studio Paramount a lot of money. Cruise doesn’t care.


“I make movies for the big screen,” he said firmly.


The closest Cruise came to candour was when Allouch pressed him on the topic of why he insists on doing many of his own stunts, despite the risks of injury and the high insurance costs.


Cruise seemed a bit annoyed by this.


“You know, no one asked Gene Kelly, ‘Why do you dance?’” Cruise replied. That’s true, but Gene Kelly didn’t hang from skyscrapers and mountains and jump onto departing aircraft, as Cruise has done for his movies.


Cruise did allow that if he’s in doubt about doing something, “it’s always better to go for it.”


He intends to go for it for a long time to come: “I want to make every kind of film I can … I’m here to learn.”


And with that, he left the stage, to prepare for an elegant evening premiere at the Palais of “Top Gun: Maverick” that included a precision flyover of military jets.


You know, just like humble regular dudes do. 🌓


(This story originally ran in the Toronto Star)


@peterhowellfilm



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