Cruise, Tom: Celebrating 40

Though hard to believe, on July 3, 2002 Tom Cruise, the biggest movie star in the world, turned 40. Still boyish, Cruise is known as much for his track record as for his billion-dollar smile. There’s something new, however, other than his sexy crew cut he’s sporting after Minority Report. Cruise wears braces. Yes, braces.

One gets the impression that the biggest personal news for Cruise during the past tumultuous year was not his divorce from long-time wife, actress Nicole Kidman. Nor was it his new passionate affair with Spanish (and now American) movie star, Penelope Cruz, whom he met on the set of Vanilla Sky but began dating after the shoot was over. At 39, Cruise was told that he needed braces.
 
How did it happen? When Cruise took his two kids to the orthodontist, the doctor looked at the star’s mouth and said, “the reason why you have hard time closing your mouth is that your lower teeth are fracturing.” With the efficient attitude of a pro, the orthodontist offered to “fix” the problem right away with braces.
 
Does it affect his glorious smile? Not at all. Does it affect his speech? Barely. Yet insiders in the movie colony were humorously comparing the corrective treatment to what’s easily Hollywood’s most famous and profitable set of jaws–perhaps equivalent to Marlene Dietrich’s shapely legs!
 
The ultimate professional, Cruise takes the whole thing with stride, looking ahead to the time when the braces comes off (in two months) and he’ll be able to close his mouth properly again.
 
Tinseltown Titans
 
Not that Cruise is quiet or willing to close his mouth right now, while he’s promoting Minority Report, his first collaboration with Steven Spielberg, a team described in Hollywood as Tinseltown Titans. The new movie is a dark sci-fi that follows his previous film, Vanilla Sky, also a sci-fi, albeit one with fantasy and romantic elements.
 
Is he sensitive to age? Does 40 mean a turning point in his life?
 
Not in the least.
 
Says Cruise: “I feel good about my age. I am very happy with everything right now.” Most men experience their first terrifyingly tingle with mortality,” but he seems comfortable being a “40 year old Tom Cruise.” People have warned him that it was supposed to be a big rite of passage, but he claims not to think about it too much. “I don’t get it,” he says, referring to more traumatic stories he had heard about young middle-age.
 
Will it be a big celebration?
 
“Not really,” says Cruise, “Friends want to throw me a party. We’ll have a big party. But I am getting ready for a new picture, and I was thinking there’s a climb I wanted to do for a while. So, I finally might have some time this summer for that climb.
 
Cruise doesn’t expect any big or particular presents, claiming, “I’m pretty simple like that.”
 
Does Cruise feel any different?
           
“The only thing that’s changed is that I have more opportunities in my career and my life.”   
 
Even when he was 20, Cruise was always “looking forward” to the future, and that has not changed. “I’m realistic about the future,” he says, “when you look at where we’re going, I think there’s a lot of things to be excited about.” At the same time, there are things, such as excessive government control or invasion into privacy–themes that are explored in Minority Report–that makes Cruise “a little tentative.” But, overall, “I’m optimistic about the future.        
 
Like most parents, he is concerned about the future of his two kids, adopted by him and Nicole Kidman.   For Cruise, “the key is education, because you look at the level of illiteracy that we have in the world. The most important thing I can do as a parent is to educate my children to the point where they can make their own decisions and to reach a point of conceptual thought for them to be able to look at information and data and find out what is real to them and what is truth.”
 
Ever active, Cruise admits, “I loves pressure, which is part of making movies.” That said, “Every day that you shoot, you lose that day. Once the day is gone, the day is over.” But Cruise not only thrives, he also finds “grace under pressure.” “All you can do is do the best you can and be prepared, because sometimes it’s a great day of shooting and sometimes it’s not so great.” It’s part of the process.
 
How was working with Spielberg?
 
Cruise is a fan of Spielberg, the filmmaker. “He’s like a kid when he’s working. He is extraordinary. He has total command of his craft.   He’s got tremendous amount of energy. He never loses sight of the story, and as an actor, it was so easy because he gave great notes to me.” 
           
Spielberg recalls the first Cruise movie he saw in detail, Risky Business, particularly the scene between Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay in the subway, a scene that in its erotic appeal reminded Spielberg of Bertolucci’s audacious and scandalous film, Last Tango in Paris.
 
The two movie giants met years back through David Geffen, Risky‘s producer who later became Spielberg’s partner in DreamWork (the third one is former Disney honcho, Jeffrey Katsenberg.)
 
Over the years, Spielberg has been wanting to work with Cruise, but every idea he proposed the star rejected–until Minority Report, which was actually Cruise’s initiative.
 
Minority Report 
In Minority Report, there’s a creepy, really scary surgery scene, in which Cruise gets his eyeballs replaced.
 
“That was my eye,” claims a proud Cruise. No stand-ins, stunts, or special effects involved. “They numbed my eye and I couldn’t see. It was blurry for about an hour or so. My eyes were a little sore for a day.”
 
Next on line for Cruise is the movie, The Last Samurai, about a mercenary who goes to Japan to train the imperial army. “We start shooting in October, and it’s going to be a wild ride,” he says. Known for his attention to detail, Cruise is learning now “all about the samurai and their culture, including learning how to use swords.
 
Cruise also plans to produce with his partner, Paula Wagner, a new version of The War of the World, the 1950s cult sci-fi, based on the famous H.G. Wells’s story about a Martian invasion.
 
Is it a coincidence that he has made two back-to-back sci-fi features and now intends to produce a third one.
 
“I enjoy science fiction,” says Cruise. I enjoy seeing it, and I remember when I read Dune, the book, which is a great book.” (The movie, directed by David Lynch in 1984, was a major disappointment).     
 
If you want to excite Cruise, just mention the new developments in film technology?
“Did you see the new Star Wars picture in digital?” he says, with the enthusiasm of a young movie buff. “It is extraordinary where we’re going, and I’d like to fool around with some of that stuff myself.”