60 Minutes With Tom Cruise
Q: While flipping the channels the other night, I heard this big-haired woman on “STUDS” describe her ideal man: “Tom Cruise.” Earlier that same day, I’d heard that Jeffrey Katzenberg urged the animators at Disney to redesign the hero of Aladdin to look more like you.
A: [Laughing uproariously] Oh, Jeeeee-sus …
Q: So, has many people’s idea of the all-American hunk ever been subjected to a makeover by a lover? You know, like, “Can’t you do something about that bone-straight hair?”
A: Yes, Nic. [Laughing] Oh, man. I mean, Nic likes to see me in certain clothes. She’ll say to me, like, sometimes before we go out, “Oh, don’t wear that,” or “I’m wearing this, don’t wear that.” But no one has tried to do the whole “dye your hair blond, get your busted nose fixed” number on me. [Laughing] Well, maybe they’ve said, “Can’t you dress a little more English?”
Q: And you do it?
A: Oh, yeah. I mean, if she wants it…I really don’t care. Maybe I’ll be wearing a suit and she’ll say, “Put your jeans on.”
Q: Actually, I’ve seen you out together a couple of times and you’ve looked like old-time movie stars on their way to EI Morocco or The Brown Derby.
A: Oh, thank you very much. You know, I do miss those times, even though I never lived through them. I talk about this all the time. I talk to [Paul] Newman and see pictures of the way Hollywood and New York were in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s–you know, when men wore tuxes to dinner. I just like that level of dignity, of style, not that I wear tuxes or anything. [Laughing] As you can see, I wear a lot of jeans and T’s. But Newman told me he used to walk from the theater to where he was living in New York, wearing a suit all the time. If you were taking someone out on a date, you wore a suit, got all dressed up. ‘Cause, sometimes, Nic and I will talk and say, “Well, what do you want to do tonight?” and decide, “Let’s go dancing,” but there’s only one place in Manhattan where you can really dress up and see ballroom dancing.
There used to be 30, 40 places to go. That’s something we love. When I see movies like Sweet Smell of Success or read a script like What Makes Sammy Run? I long for that. You know what? Barry Levinson’s movies have great style, and Martin Scorsese’s too. When I did The Color of Money, I was surprised how Scorsese insisted on certain details in my shirts. Rob Reiner, too, every day on the set of A Few Good Men, wore white pants and a white shirt. He could almost be John Huston on the set. He didn’t want to think about anything else, so he always wore white.
Q: Let’s talk about Far and Away, which seemed to me a perfectly enjoyable, old-fashioned movie, made with lots of care. Still, not many ticket-buyers seemed to care.
A: Just about 30 million will have seen the movie by the time it’s all over. Look, for me, I don’t know what’s going to do well and make a big bang or what isn’t. So, ultimately, you’ve gotta go through it and feel happy with what you’ve done. For me, I’m proud of Far and Away. I have no regrets on it. I mean, that was last month. Right now, I’m thinking about the movie I have coming out, A Few Good Men, and the one I’m about to make, The Firm.
Q: Were there any particular challenges in making A Few Good Men?
A: I finished Far and Away and started immediately on it. So, the first time I met Rob Reiner–I’d been told, “You know, Tom, he’s a pretty aggressive guy.” He’s a big guy. Big hands. Very bright, articulate. When he talks his points, he gets very loud because he gets very excited. He’s just so fucking smart. He’s very intense, but he’s also like a teddy bear you want to hug. We read the script together–I’d already planned on doing it, but we were working on things like structure– and he would read it imagining the nine different characters. And he started imitating Jack Nicholson. That’s how he found out that Jack Nicholson should play the role.
The character I play, Kaffee [a glib, brilliant Navy lawyer who defends two Marines accused of murdering a platoon member], is a very tough, complex role to play. You’re either going to hit or miss with this guy. All of the scenes, all the rhythms, come from character and even though Rob worked so hard on it himself, he trusts the actors to breathe life into their roles. You’ll look over at him on the set and he’s saying the lines along with the actors. You become really bonded with this guy because there’s nothing more he wants for you than to be great. And you feel that.
Q: Any lasting impressions of Jack Nicholson?
A: He’s crafty. We were all nervous. I get nervous even now when I call up someone I respect. If you told me right now, “Tom, right after we talk, you’ve got to start fresh on a new role,” I’d be like, “Where do I start? What do I do?” You have to get your confidence. When you’re starting a new role trying to find out which way it goes, make choices, there’s a lot of work getting up to that. Nicholson, just by his presence and his humor about himself, made that scarier. I went to his house for lunch and he and Rob were working on the scenes together. Jack said he was a little nervous going in, too. I’ve talked with a lot of actors about this, but I know, for myself, there’s always a point where I feel I know nothing.
We shot the end scene–which is, basically, a 20-minute brawl, a verbal tango, between Nicholson and I–in the first three weeks of shooting. There were a lot of character choices that I had to make working up to it. I worked very hard on it. I went in on Saturdays with Reiner and Nicholson and we’d work on it together. The scene, as it’s written, is music. One person cannot be out of sync. Every time Nicholson did the scene, you’d think, “Jesus, that’s a keeper.” But, you see how he honed it and honed it and honed it until, all of a sudden, both of our performances came into focus. You’d just go, “Shit, this is great, this is why I’m an actor.” It’s rare moments like that you have on movie sets where you just fly.
Q: There’s good buzz on A Few Good Men. How do you think it stacks up?
A: Just see it yourself. I’m really proud of it. Who knows?
Q: It’s clear that you work very hard to get better at what you do. Do you set impossible-to-reach goals for yourself?
A: Every day, when I’m working on a script or I’m working as an actor, my inabilities…well, I constantly find that I want more. There are moments, though, when you’re making a movie and suddenly you feel like a race horse. You’re just stretching out and, all of a sudden, you hit a pace and you’re head of the pack. For that second, it’s easy. But then, there’s the next scene, or the next day and you don’t hit it. It’s never that I wake up, get out of bed and it’s an easy day. But it’s the challenges of life that I love, you know? They bury me and depress me and make me feel excited about life. When the scene comes in and you read it and it works, it’s just like–wow! But, Jesus, all the hours and days of sweating over, “I know nothing, I’m terrible…”
Q: Some have suggested that you’ve handled your career–especially given how few really exceptional scripts and directors there are around these days–like a classic movie star.
A: My choices are sometimes dictated by many considerations. I’m interested in making different kinds of movies. My path is very simple: I want to challenge myself, find something that lifts me up and makes me want to get out there and work out. Sometimes, you might look at something I’ve done and go, “Degree of difficulty: not so great.” But, every time, man, it’s a new ring with a hell of a lot of work to be accomplished in it.
Q: You’re basically the guy directors go after when they’re casting a role in your age range. Being so competitive, do you ever wish there were 10 other guys vying for those same roles, like in the days when Gable, Cooper, Tracy, Cagney and Bogart might all be trying to corner certain parts?
A: There were some really great things about those days that I would have liked. I would have enjoyed going to work with a real sense of community. Today, there’s a shared reality among moviemakers, but I sometimes wish there was more community. I mean, I imagine going, “Hey, there’s Spencer Tracy having lunch over there, and here’s all these great actors and directors working full blast.” It was dog eat dog; you’d make four, five movies a year and you’d have a studio who’d really get behind you because they’d have such a vested interest in you. I’ve done two pictures recently for Universal and you get to know these people–actually, I have a lot of respect for them–but, as far as developing properties for you, it’s not the way it used to be. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to be treated like a piece of meat, being traded off, loaned out, sold in different areas. There was such a vicious brutality as to the way sometimes they treated these artists. Ultimately, that’s why [the studio system] had to go.
Q: But do you wish you had 10 contemporaries whose box-office track record, not to say talent, matched yours?
A: My point of view is this. The more people directing, the more writers writing, the more opportunities to make movies, the better chance I have. I’ve got nothing on other people working so that, hey, I’ve got to go in and read for this or I have to fight a little harder for that.
Q: Do you read for directors or go up for parts you don’t get?
A: I haven’t read for anything, but I’m not opposed to it. When I look at a script, what I do is have a reading of the script. Just get a bunch of actors together with the director there, the writer, and read it aloud. That helps.
Q: You nearly played for Steven Spielberg a guy who grows younger and younger while everyone he loves is growing older. It was based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and it’s one of my favorite unproduced scripts.
A: That was a heartbreaking, very complex script and Steven was concerned, structurally, about how to do it. I’m developing a project now where I would be aged to about 55, and Nic is looking at this picture where she’d have to age to 70. Stuff like that is tough because it’s about prosthetics and that’s really out of the actor’s hands. Look at the technology in Death Becomes Her and you realize it’s going to get weird over the next 20 years because you’re going to be able to take an image of the President, theoretically, and have him do just about anything.
Q: Are you as shy around famous people as I’ve heard?
A: [Covers his face and laughs] I really enjoy talking to other actors and directors. Sometimes, if I see their movies, I’ll call them up or write them a note saying, “I enjoyed it,” or asking, “How did you do that? How did you make that work?” I just saw Billy Crystal’s movie Mr. Saturday Night a couple of weeks ago–he did a phenomenal job directing this–and afterwards, I talked to him for a couple of hours. It’s true, I can be very shy around famous people. I remember, Sean Penn and Emilio Estevez and I used to drive by Brando’s house and Nicholson’s house. We’d see a light go on inside and go, “There he is–let’s go knock on the door,” then go, “Nah, nah, they’ll never let us in.”
Q: Did you ever knock?
A: No. I told Dustin Hoffman about it years later and he said, “Wrong. You should have knocked.” That’s Dustin. And you know, damn it, I should have.
Q: Young hopefuls probably drive past your house night and day debating the same dilemma.
A: [Laughing] I honestly never thought about that until this second. Yeah, you’re right and that’s really strange. But, you know, I’ve learned over the years to take advantage of that. I mean, I called Martin Scorsese and sat down and talked with him about New York, New York and Raging Bull. I even remember talking with Rob Reiner about his movies. One of the great things about being an actor is getting to meet all these other directors.
Q: “Other” directors. That may be a place you’re headed, right?
A: Nothing’s set, but I will direct.
Q: Any projects in mind?
A: They’re secret.
Q: When you saw the finished movies of some projects to which your name was once attached–Bright Lights, Big City, Rush–did you have any regrets about not doing them?
A: I really haven’t. I’m very careful in choosing things. I’m not one of those people that’s in, that’s out. Once I make a decision, nothing will stop it. It’s not something that takes me months to make a decision either, but I evaluate it very carefully, specifically, at the time, taking into account a lot of things. I haven’t felt, “Oh, I should have done that,” but we’ll talk years from now and remember to ask me the same question.
Q: How satisfied with your career are you at this second?
A: At this second, I feel fairly satisfied, although, right at this moment, I’m in the midst of developing a couple of things that I feel frustrated by.
Q: You’ve recently formed your own production company.
A: Yeah, but we’re not set up anywhere. It’s just that a couple of things I’m working on aren’t–[he twists and interlocks his fingers]–it’s not because of the writers or anything, it’s the storylines. [He screws up his face in frustration.]
Q: Care to drop a few hints about your plans?
A: They’re too secret.
Q: So much is secret with you.
A: [Laughing] Well, I’m looking forward to doing the movie of The Firm with Sydney Pollack.
Q: That’s pretty revealing, Tom.
A: [He laughs raucously.]
Q: Why is an all-male law-firm thriller being rewritten so that one of the key characters is a woman–a role for which Meryl Streep was once mentioned?
A: Sydney hasn’t decided who’s going to be in it. It’s a tough thing to translate to the screen and he’s doing a terrific job on it. He’s a great director. Like I said before, that’s the great thing about being an actor: you get to work with wonderful directors. Besides, I’ve never made a thriller. Oh, you remember when you asked me if I had a word of the day?
A: I’ve got one for me: “garrulous.” [His publicist signals that the hour is up.]
Q: I’ve got another for you: “circumspect.”
A: [Shaking hands] Thank you very much. Great talking with you.
Stephen Rebello interviewed Keanu Reeves for our November cover story.