Tom Cruise on ‘War of the Worlds,’ ‘Napoleon Dynamite’

Jason LeRoy

Credit: Jason LeRoy

In Steven Spielberg’s upcoming rendition of War of the Worlds, Tom Cruise must truly stretch himself as an actor. He must act afraid.

While Ray Ferrier (Cruise’s character) must run and hide from aliens intent on world domination, it is quite difficult to imagine Cruise running from just about anything. The relentlessly self-assured actor/mogul/legend has built his esteemed reputation on being utterly uncompromising in his vision, demands and, above all, confidence.

While the 42-year-old began his career as a teen heartthrob in films like The Outsiders, Risky Business and All the Right Moves, he used the major Hollywood collateral he earned with the 1986 megahit Top Gun to work opposite such established legends as Paul Newman (The Color of Money) and Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man), rather than continue pursuing traditional blockbusters where he could be the main attraction.

In the ensuing years, Cruise has continued to display a predilection for more character-based films rather than meat-and-potatoes action flicks. Rather than opening a different summer action flick year after year, Cruise went after such high-profile fare as Born on the Fourth of July and A Few Good Men. However, Cruise said that at this point in his career there is no specific intentionality in what sort of film he chooses, as he can basically do whatever he wants.

“I just read (scripts) and see if I connect with the material,” he said in a phone interview. “There is no large, big scheme of if I want to do a big movie or a little movie. It doesn’t matter to me. It really starts with just an instinct, because there have been a lot of great directors that have offered me things where I haven’t been interested in the material. So it does really start with the material.”

While his name is synonymous with blockbusters, there are surprisingly few traditional megahits on his roster. Rather than wasting himself on the latest Jerry Bruckheimer trifle, Cruise would rather develop the careers of such auspicious auteurs as Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire, Vanilla Sky) and Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia), assuming the mentor role that Newman and Hoffman played for him.

Tom Cruise clearly believes in film as an art. This is, after all, the man who has no films on his filmography between 1996 and 1999 because he had surrendered himself to the filmmaking process of Stanley Kubrick for Eyes Wide Shut. So with Cruise’s affection for character films, what was one of his favorite films of last year?

“I tell you, Napoleon Dynamite,” he said. “I laughed … I saw that film three times. Great movie! (as Napoleon) ‘Idiot!’ I thought it was just hilarious. So much fun. I loved it, and it was a great character comedy. Very unique.”

However, the summer of 2005 finds Cruise releasing one of his most conventional, straightforward summer blockbusters yet: Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. Very loosely based on the H.G. Wells novel (they share a title) and not at all a remake of the Orson Welles classic, Worlds finds Cruise collaborating with Spielberg for the second time after the 2002 sci-fi hit, Minority Report. Cruise said he was eager to work with Spielberg again, since their combined power is evidently enough to rule the world.

“Who doesn’t want to work with Steven Spielberg? He’s not only a great friend of mine, but he is a great filmmaker that I tremendously admire. I think he is without a doubt our greatest storyteller in cinema. The two of us together, it is a creative combustion. As soon as we finished Minority Report, we said, ‘Okay, what movie are we going to make next?’”

While some might think Cruise might be intimidated by the expectations placed on him by Hollywood and the film-going public, they are obviously forgetting that Tom Cruise has long since transcended any such sign of human weakness, emerging from his long career like some sort of grinning, alpha-male cyborg.

“(No matter how high other people’s expectations are) my expectations are higher,” he said. “When I go to do something, I feel totally responsible for it … No one could put more pressure on me than myself.

“I hope this film resonates with people. It resonates with me as a human being, as a man, as a father and as a person here on Earth. It is a film that is pretty scary. It is going to be intense. I think if something is done well, it will translate to an audience. All I can do is make a movie that I believe in.”

Contact Pop Arts reporter Jason C. LeRoy at [email protected].